By Markson Omagor
From the time Uganda attained independence on October 9th 1962 to date, only President Apollo Milton Obote has appointed Indians to cabinet. Obote must have been aware not only of the numerical strength of the Asian community in Uganda that includes Pakistani, Indians and Arabs but their contribution towards Uganda’s economy.
President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni likewise acknowledged the very important role played by the Indian community while receiving the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July 2018.
“Over the years, Indians have made their mark on Uganda’s economic and business landscape. They have established industries, banks, hotels, insurance firms, agro-processing plants that have provided employment and tax revenue to the Government,” Museveni said.
He added: “Most of the major companies — almost 80 per cent of the top-level companies — are either owned by Indians or people of Indian origin who settled here for many, many years.”
Todate, Uganda has many Ugandans but of Indian origin. These Ugandans of Indian origin have all the rights that befit Ugandans. Some of these rights include participation in the political dispensation of this country implying that they have the right to vote, to contest for all political offices in the land and to participate in the governance of Uganda.
Interestingly, only Former President, Apollo Milton Obote seemed to appreciate the role played by people of Asian descent. Not only did he provide a conducive business environment to them, he also appointed them to cabinet.
The two Indians that Obote appointed to Cabinet were; Narendra Patel and Shafiq Arain. According to sources, Obote had personal friendship with the two long before he became the first Prime Minister of Independent Uganda.
For instance a one Praful Patel, who was part of the Indian community which supported UPC in Mbale, Narendra Patel was actually the one who clandestinely drove Obote to Kampala to be sworn in as Prime Minister after winning the election.
When Apollo Milton Obote’s political party, the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) defeated the Democratic Party (DP) to win the biggest number of parliamentary seats in Uganda’s first post-independence general elections in 1962, what was left was UPC uniting with Kabaka Yekka.
The latter party had swept all the Parliamentary seats in Buganda and its union with UPC gave birth to Uganda’s first independence government. The union was the only way UPC and KY could keep DP, their common nemesis, out of power.
But the news that Obote was to form the first post-independence government of Uganda found him in his hometown of Lira, where he had just won elections as MP for Lango North East.
According to Praful Patel, who was part of the Indian community which supported UPC in Mbale, Obote was afraid for his life over the journey he had to make to Kampala. So, for precautions about his safety, he took a public bus to Mbale via Soroti. Mbale was at the time one of UPC’s most vibrant strongholds in the country.
When he reached Mbale, Obote then had to find a trusted UPC colleague who had a car to drive him to Kampala. He settled for Narendra Patel, a Ugandan of Indian origin, who was one of UPC’s leading lights in Mbale. Other UPC stalwarts in the Mbale region were Balaki Kirya and others.
Praful reminisces that Obote entered the Narendras’ family car, with his friend and fellow UPC diehard, Narendra by his side, and, with the family driver, set off for Kampala where Obote was welcomed with loud cheers at the Parliament.
When, after a few days, Obote named his 17-man cabinet, the first post independence cabinet of the country, Narendra was appointed the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs. He was the only Ugandan of Indian origin on the cabinet list. The following year (1963), Narendra was unanimously voted to become Uganda’s first post Independence Speaker of Parliament. Narendra steered the August House till Amin’s coup in 1971.
ARAIN SHAFIQ, MINISTER OF EAST AFRICAN COMMUNITY AFFAIRS
Arain Shafiq meanwhile, was appointed Minister in charge of East African Community Affairs where he directly reported to the three Presidents of the Community; Uganda’s Obote, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and Kenya’s Jommo Kenyatta.
In 1971, when President Obote was toppled by Idi Amin in a bloodless coup, it was Arain who received Obote at the Nairobi Airport. He also went into exile only to come back in 1980 to be appointed Uganda’s High Commissioner to London.
According to a close friend of Arain;
“Shafiq was an unusual African High Commissioner – Asian in origin. But this was deliberate on the part of President Obote. Not only was he repaying the great political debt he owed Shafiq. He was also dissociating himself from the deplorable actions of Amin in humiliating and expelling the Asian community, which had contributed so much to Uganda.” He wrote in an eulogy, adding that;
“President Obote had actually wanted Shafiq to be Minister of Finance but he wished to continue his children’s schooling in Britain. So, in addition to being High Commissioner in London, Shafiq was Minister Without Portfolio in the President’s Office, and he was in Uganda quite frequently. The task facing Shafiq Arain as High Commissioner was to present a new Uganda. Idi Amin had made this most beautiful Uganda a sick joke in the world.”
Therefore considering that the Indians have been tested with political responsibilities, their contribution towards Uganda’s Industrialization unquestioned, tax contributions, active participation in NRM politics, what is stopping President Museveni from appointing an Indian into Cabinet?
WHO IS NARENDRA M. PATEL?
Narendra M. Patel was born and raised in India in a small town called Pij, in the Kheda district of the Gujarat Province of India.
He studied in India, graduating with a Bachelor of Laws Degree from the University of Bombay in 1947. After graduation, he worked as an advocate of the Bombay High Court for one year, before moving to Uganda to join and work with his father at his law firm in 1948.
His father, Manhubai, had been practising law in Kampala since the turn of the 1940s decade. In 1954, Narendra went to the UK for further studies and qualifi ed as a barrister at law. Upon returning to Uganda in 1957, he moved to Mbale where he opened a branch of the family law firm.
Narendra’s law practice in Mbale made him very popular with the locals, especially as he always argued cases on their behalf. Praful says that the lawyer at times represented the locals against the colonial masters free-of-charge, thereby earning immeasurable popularity among them.
Narendra also, together with friends, set up a paper and book manufacturing firm in Mbale, called UGESNA, where many locals were employed. It is additionally said that natives were treated well and paid handsomely at the factory.
So when nationalism started growing among the natives, with the Asians on the side of the locals, Narendra was one of the Asian-Ugandans who joined UPC and strengthened its hold in Mbale.
When the 1962 general elections came around, Narendra rode on his popularity among the natives to get elected as an MP for the constituency then called Mbale.
Becoming first non-British Speaker of Parliament
In 1963, the British expatriate whom the colonialists had left behind as the Speaker of Parliament, Sir John Bowes Griffi n, left the country and Narendra was unanimously elected by fellow parliamentarians as the Speaker.
Narendra was to see the country through the turbulent early post independence years of the 1960s, until 1971 when Idi Amin usurped power and dissolved Parliament. Many people blame him for having failed, as a Speaker, to stand up against Obote’s autocratic policies, which were forced onto Parliament and the country at large, in the 1960s.
It was during Narendra’s time as Speaker that President Milton Obote abrogated the Constitution after falling out with the Buganda Kingdom and introduced the pigeonhole constitution in 1966.
Narendra was also the Speaker when Obote banned all political parties and declared Uganda a one-party state in 1969. Some actually argue that Narendra was privy to Obote’s machinations. But
Henry Kyemba, who was the prime minister’s principal private secretary at the time, disagrees with this view.
For him, if Narendra is to be called ‘weak’, it should be on grounds that he allowed opposition MPs to challenge the prime minister on claims that they couldn’t substantiate the Gold Scandal in which the opposition MPs failed to prove Obote’s wrongful involvement.
On the whole Kyemba acquits Narendra of ‘weakness’, saying he simply tried to be fair to both the ruling and opposition sides by allowing them to argue out whatever accusations they had against each other.
Praful says that Narendra was a very outspoken and articulate man who liked arguing over different issues, but one who, nonetheless, was intelligent and wellinformed on many issues.
Life after Uganda
Following a coup by Idi Amin in 1971 and the dissolution of Parliament, Narendra remained in the country doing his private law practice, until Amin passed the decree ordering all Ugandans of Asian origin to leave the country in 1973.
Narendra left for India, and after a few years settled in Darwin, Australia, where he continued his legal practice. Narendra still lives in Australia, retired and too old to communicate.
He married his wife in India before moving to Uganda in 1948, and on moving to exile, left with her and their three sons.
Ever since he left Uganda in 1972, Narendra has returned to the country once, in the late 1980s, when he came with his wife and visited several national parks as well as his former favourite haunts in the city. But he remains a lifetime member of the Indian Association of Uganda.
WHO IS ARAIN SHAFIQ?
Shafiq passed away at his home in Spain on Sunday 20th March 2005 at the age of 71. He was a great man who, like a meteor, soared through this world blazing a trail and lighting up many lives in his wake.
In the late 1940’s Shafiq grew up in the Nsambya Landis, the Railways staff quarters in Kampala.
He would trek daily down the beautiful valleys of Kampala and up the hills to cross over the Museum Hill in old Kampala to reach Old Kampala S.S at the foot of Mengo hill.
This is the same school where he met his wife Leana whom he wedded in 1966 in a memorable occasion with Mzee Serwano Kulubya and Mzee Obote as witnesses.
After his studies in England, Shafiq returned to Uganda in the late 1950’s, and rented a house on Mbuya Hill and later on at Kololo Hill. Both these residences became an open house for aspiring Ugandan politicians and activists especially from up-country.
When in 1960 the Prime Minister, the late Honorable Harold Macmillan sensed the ‘wind of change’ in Africa’s political make-up, Uganda was excited at the prospect of freedom. This however, led to a scramble within the country where entrenched groups such as various kingdoms, religious and minority groups sought protected niche in an independent Uganda by lobbying for separate electoral roles and reserved seats in Parliament, etc.
To counter this mischief, Shafiq along with likeminded young people, mostly Asians, launched the Uganda Action Group (UAG) a dynamic, vocal, progressive, left orientated political movement dedicated to promote one nation, one people independent Uganda.
The Uganda Action Group sought inspiration from the founding fathers of the Uganda National Congress such as the much respected I.K. Musazi, Enoch Mulira, Jolly Joe Kiwanuka and the up-coming stars on the political horizon such as Apollo Milton Obote, Abu Mayanja, Benedicto Kiwanuka, and Godfrey Binaisa.
The Uganda Action Group was well represented at the founding meeting of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) in early 1960 at the Indian Women’s Association hall on Nakasero hill. Most Uganda Action Group members in due course joined the UPC.
In May 1962, on the way to independence, the UPC won the parliamentary elections and Shafiq became a member of the national Parliament. He was a core group member of the UPC and a close confidant of the President.
He was actively involved in the Party organization including the concept of the party associated Trust – The Milton Obote Foundation (MOF). MOF gave us two new newspapers, a publishing house in joint venture with Macmillan’s of the UK, a cultural and heritage centre, a multipurpose high-rise in the city centre to house, interalia, the UPC headquarters.
In the mid 1960’s, Shafiq became a member of the East African Community Legislative Assembly at Arusha in Tanzania and a Minister thereof in-charge, among others, of the East African Railways where his father, was a middle level cadre in the racially segregated staffing of the railways in the colonial days.
During Idi Amin’s tyranny, Shafiq played an active part in the fight against Amin.
Founded in 2017, EAST NEWS is published by a group of media practitioners with its head offices in Mbale Uganda and other offices around Uganda. It is among Uganda’s most authoritative online news media publications available on all platforms and has since become a public trust dedicated to the pursuit of truth and reason covering a range of issues from breaking news to politics, business, the markets, the arts, sports and community to the crossroads of people and society.