Roots of Radicalism


Part 1 (Part 2 appeared in issue 16 of Vanguard)


THE situations in Fiji and South Africa are such that Britain may, once again, be made to play host to a large influx of other countries' unwanted Asians, reminiscent of the early '70's when Asians from East Africa were thrust upon us. They came to a country that was already one of the most overcrowded in the world, and one where there was a net outflow of its native whites for this very reason.

In the face of massive objection the liberals told us that the only reason they were in East Africa was because of the British Empire. We therefore had no right to complain when they eventually turned up on our doorstep, or, as The Guardian of the 19th August 1972 put it; "What we are seeing is the flotsam and jetsam of the imperial era which somehow never seems to get completely tidied up".

Theirs was a particularly stupid line of argument since it didn't answer the original objections, is incapable of answering any objections one might have about the Empire and completely dodges the issue of not only Black 'racism' but also Indian culpability since India refused point-blank to accept the Asians as their own kinfolk, genuine refugees, or even displaced persons of the Commonwealth.

Stupid or not the case was sustained though, and all manner of persons disembarked at Heathrow asking the way to the Social Security offices. Already by the start of the '70's the immigrant population of England and Wales was well over a million, (even counting only the more visible coloured types), and was increasing, despite measures that had been taken to reduce the inflow.


The original immigration, legislation was meant to deal with a backflow of white settlers, in case of trouble after the Black colonies were given independence. It was never intended for an inflow of new black/brown ones. Under the leadership of Duncan Sandys, however, a view favouring a wider definition that granted the Asians similar status found its way on to the Statute Book. It was probably true that these East African Asians depended upon British largesse more than any other misplaced ethnic group (and even more so after our departure) hence Sandys 'concern'.

So what exactly were they doing there? Was it our fault? Do we owe them a favour? Do they have some sort of 'right' to be here?

Well, according to the liberals, the Empire shipped them over as cheap indentured labourers, to build the Ugandan Railway system, and so the responsibility for their continued welfare, even after Uganda became independent, was ours. The railway was built, it is true, largely by Indian labour, but this labour formed only a small proportion of the total Ugandan Asian population. It took six years to build and of the indentured labourers 2,493 died, 6,454 were sent back to India as being unfit for work and 16,312 returned to India once their contract finished. Out of a total of 32,000 workers only 6,724 stayed in Uganda. Nor were they particularly cheap, the Indian authorities inserted a clause within their contracts that forbade their payment to be based on productivity. It would have been cheaper to employ the native Africans but they were either unable, or, more likely, unwilling to do so.

The imported labourers were poor, illiterate peasants, but those that came during, and then after them, were not. They were clerks, craftsmen and commercial agents, and together they formed a self contained community. The effect of the railway was to create, in the words of Sir Harry Johnston, Commissioner of Uganda, "a wedge of India two miles wide right across East Africa from Mombasa to Victoria Nyanza". None of the immigrants, except those employed at the time as railway builders, received any form of government assistance from either India or Uganda. The migration of these other Indians, in other words, was not only voluntary but also unofficial and largely spontaneous, encouraged as it was by friends, relatives and fellow countrymen already established there. These railway workers were not the first contact that the Africans had had with the Indians however. And it is this aspect that is the most interesting, since its the one that the liberals seem least ready to acknowledge.

For two thousand years, at least, there had been trade between the African East Coast and traders from Western India. Along with Arabian and Persian Muslims they exchanged ivory, animal skins and slaves for ironware, beads, cloth and spices with African tribal chiefs.


The Arabs moved steadily southwards, establishing their own domains and trading towns in the East African coastal areas, the Asians following suit. By 1300 AD there were around 70 towns, each with their own resident Asian merchant population, forming a flourishing immigrant coastal culture. Portuguese Europeans ventured round the Cape at the beginning of the 16th century (looking for a route to China) intruded into the area, and, realising the possibilities, quickly took control. Although the slave trade largely died out because of this intervention it never completely disappeared, nor did the Portuguese expel the Asians and Arabs. Slavery only too quickly resumed when they were able to sell slaves to the French for agricultural work in the He de France.

Zanzibar rapidly became a centre for this renewed trade. All the more so when Said bin Sultan eventually moved his domain's capital from Muscat to the island. Muscat was extremely popular with the Indian merchants (in 1865 there were well over 5,000 of them living there), and when the Sultan decamped they went with him. These Indians re-asserted themselves economically very quickly; one 'firm', Wat Benia, ended up acting as customs collector for the whole of Zanibar, for instance.

As the Sultan sent his caravans deep into the African interior in search of new slaves the Indians tagged along because, apart from anything else, they largely financed them. In this way they ended up controlling almost the whole Zanzibar slave trade which, again by 1865, had become worth around £1.5 million per year! Their overall investment in the trade can be seen from the fact that one Indian company alone farmed out over £400,000 in loans to the Arabs. According to a standard text book on the subject, 'Asians in East Africa' by G. Delf (pub. London 1962), they had become the "commercial agents of Arab power".

The slave trade was ended by the British exercising their power over the Indians, who, being British subjects, were technically not allowed to participate in it. This caused serious difficulties for all immigrants throughout East Africa. Without their money source the Arabs were not nearly so tolerant of the Indians. Not that the Indians were over friendly with me Arabs when, in turn, their usefulness to them was over. The Indians "seized the opportunity afforded to them by the abolition of slavery to oust by loan and foreclosure the ancient Arab trade of which Zanzibar was the centre" - C.F. Andrews, 'The Indian Question in East Africa' (pub. Nairobi 1921).

Throughout East Africa they became known as crafty, cunning, unscrupulous dishonest and the purveyors of stolen goods, Sir Richard Burton dubbing them, "The local Jews". The result of their economic blitz was that the Indians monopolised practically the entire commercial life of Uganda. Thus before a single railway worker set his overpaid foot in Uganda he was hated by both Arab and African alike.

This hatred, coupled with his economic domination, was to be the reason for the Asian's expulsion as we shall see in part two.