Idi Amin of Uganda gave all Asians in East Africa a wake-up call in 1972; if you live in Uganda, we don’t want you because you are not black. So he expelled Asians, some of whom were third generation born in Uganda, 90 days to leave the country, virtually penniless.
In neighbouring Tanzania, President Julius Nyerere was aggressively implementing his socialist policies which included nationalizing properties, homes and businesses owned by Asians and Kenya was pursuing its Africanization policy making it difficult to get jobs or engage in business for Asians.
Asians in Tanzania and Kenya feared that their governments might turn against them one day and expel them, Idi Amin-style, stripping them of their wealth and citizenship.
Uganda’s Asian exodus was followed by mini-exodus from Tanzania and Kenya where desperate Asians sent their educated children to Canada, the U.S. and United Kingdom as insurance in case they have to flee their countries. I was among those who left Tanzania for Canada, fleeing from Nyerere’s nationalization policies.
But the tables are turned now. The penniless Asians of the 70s have become prosperous business tycoons, professionals and successful hoteliers in western countries. Amin’s successor, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda made special trips to Canada and United Kingdom to lure Asians to return, dangling an offer to return their nationalized properties back as a carrot. Museveni realized the importance the Asians made to the economy. Many have gone back and are now running some of the biggest enterprises in the country.
It appears that after 50 years of independence, Tanzania’s political leadership has realized the importance of diaspora Asians to the development of the country. Recently, I was among 300 registered delegates in attendance in Edmonton to hear Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete, who led a high powered delegation consisting of ministers, ambassadors and heads of leading bank and government departments aimed at wooing Tanzanian diaspora to come back and help the government build the nation.
Tanzanians living in Canada were urged to return home to invest and use their skills and technology for the growth and development of their homeland. He assured the delegates, which included some Asians whose homes, properties and businesses were nationalized under President Julius Nyerere, that Tanzania was open for business and that “there will be no more nationalization.”
He rolled the welcome mat, saying Tanzania was encouraging involvement in private sector based on market economy. Investments are already guaranteed by law and the government has recognized private sector as the “engine of growth.” The government had realized that its role was to govern, maintain law and order, and provide suitable environment for sound economic policies.
In remarks aimed at Asian Tanzanians, which included successful businessmen, hoteliers, community leaders and professionals, President Kikwete recognized that they had left the country under “different” circumstances. “Those times are gone. Those circumstances are no longer there,” he assured them. However, a questioner, who wanted to be anonymous, was disappointed when he was bluntly told that properties nationalized earlier would not be returned or compensated as was done by President Museveni in Uganda.
In a later interview, an Asian businessman questioned whether they could trust Tanzanian politicians and take their word seriously. “Mr. Kikwete can guarantee what is happening during his term of office. Three or four years down the road, he’ll be gone. Can he guarantee what his successor is going to do? We don’t trust the.”
Another Asian, whose family lost properties under Nyerere, said if the government was serious, they should return nationalized properties as was done in Uganda as an act of good faith. The fact that they said no to return them shows they are a bunch of thieves who want to keep someone else’s properties.”
Tanzanians living in Alberta were urged to make a special effort to return home to boost the country’s economy since Tanzania needed their expertise in oil and gas. “You have the experience and skills that we need.”
He identified mining, tourism, telecommunication, manufacturing and construction as areas of great opportunities. Tanzania was developing its agriculture sector and food production by focusing its attention in six regions, considered to be the “grain basket of the country.”
He urged the Tanzania diaspora community to become partners with the government to develop the country. “We need investors. Come and invest. If you can’t, may be you know someone who can. Encourage them to do so.
We need technology and skills. Some of you are in technology; some of you have skills we need. Please bring the technology and your skills. Don’t forget home, sweet home.”
The government has been giving so much importance to the contribution of disapora that it has established a department of diaspora with a fulltime ambassador. Five decades after independence, the government has seen the need to bring the constitution up to speed with present realities of the country. He invited the diaspora Tanzanians to share their views in reforming the constitution with the commission, which is currently seeking views from Tanzanians. The new constitution, expected to be in place by 2015, will also examine ways to offer dual nationality to Tanzanians living abroad.
Tanzanian Asians and Africans were praised for coming together to make the three-day Edmonton conference, attended by heads of immigration, tourism, finance, mines, housing, social security, land, human settlement and petroleum most successful. It was the first diaspora meeting ever held in Canada.