KAMPALA CENTENARY PROGRAM (26th September – 3rd October 2023)

The tyres screeched as we landed at Entebbe airport, disembarking with trepidation for it was here, almost exactly 51 years ago, when we had been forcibly removed by the then President Field Marshall Idi Amin Dada. We passed through customs with the efficiency of an African country, still anxious of our previous experience of being looted at checks points and at immigration desks. Today, however, we were greeted with a smile and welcomed. For those who arrived first time after over two generations, it was a moment to savour, ponder and shed a few tears.

As we collected our luggage and headed for the exit we were received as dignitaries and welcome by the Kamala Jamaat officials. They had patiently been waiting for all their guests, each one received warmly and escorted out of the airport and driven to Kampala in comfort to their designated hotel accommodation.

The Kampala Centenary Programme 2023 was the biggest event ever held in the history of Kampala Jamaat. It was a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity, for all those that were expelled in 1972, to come for a reunion and participate in an impressive schedule of events which had taken months to plan and prepare.

From the moment we landed we were treated as very important people. There were over 200 guests from all over the world who were intrinsically connected to Uganda and had come to partake. All our needs were fully catered for with lunch, dinner and excursions all arranged and organised with precision and to a very high specification. Shuttles were arranged to and from hotels on very comfortable buses. All excursions were interesting and exciting and had a police escort for security purposes and traffic easement. The food was always sumptuous and the settings were lavish and ostentatious. Clearly, a lot of thought and money had been spent on every event.

The itinerary set out by the organisers was, to mention a few: a flag raising ceremony, tree plantation, visiting beach resort, boat ride and day trips to a farm and nearby towns.

Entering the Masjid first time brought back fond memories of the past. Our minds went back two generations remembering the many events and occasions of the golden and glorious days before September 1972 when the community was over 3000 strong.

The visit to the orphanages was heart wrenching and a life perspective experience. It made us realise how fortunate and blessed we were and it created awareness of those in need.

The visit to the Kabrastan was a moment of reflection and contemplation. It was a time to soul search, remember our loved ones and recite the glorious Quran.

The Kampala Tour was an experience of mixed feelings. We were more interested in the neighbourhoods we had left behind than the Parliament building or the King’s residence. There were so many landmarks which we remembered vividly, now sadly erased permanently. Luscious green parks were replaced by buildings and our own Khoja Shia Ithnasheri Primary school turned into a shopping mall. The vast number of people and vehicles on narrow roads invariably created congestion and stand still traffic jams. The roads, which were immaculate back in the day, now had crater like potholes. Even the wonderful Kampala Road looked old, tired and in need of repairs.

On Thursday evening, Panjo Uganda talk show was held; a discussion forum consisting of a panel of distinguished speakers who presented the history of Kampala Jamaat and some of the trials and tribulations faced during the expulsion and after. We received graphical and informative accounts of the challenges involved during the 90-day expulsion deadline and the period of rebuilding and reclaiming Jamaat properties in the 1990s. Members of the panel spoke effectively giving their experiences and perspectives. The debate was followed by a lively and, at times, animated Q&A session that brought further insight into the predicament of the community and their assets.

The highlight of the Centenary Programme was the celebration on Saturday which brought together very distinguished guests. Minister of Justice, Members of Parliament and the representatives of Ayatullah Khamenei and the Aga Khan just to mention a few. The speeches were short and impressive and the programme finished with dinner and a spectacular firework display.

The expulsion of Ugandan Asians was a tragic, seismic and a catastrophic event in the history of the Khoja community. It was a great leveller in that it turned merchant princes into blue collar workers. Further, it led to a creation of many Khoja Jamaats in the West. Most importantly, it allowed everyone access to the world class universities and renowned industries of leading-edge technology, offering opportunities never thought possible. The expulsion, as destructive as it was, had an unintended outcome in that it provided opportunities to those who were financially challenged, and for them it turned out to be a blessing.

Barkat Ali Ismail Walji (17th December 2023)