“I was in a small place in Uganda called Fort Portal. We were going to leave that day when the army showed up looking for me, and my husband would just not let them take me. So they took him. It was awful, even now when I think about it. For years I had nightmares because there were two army men at his head with rifles and two pointing at his stomach. They forcibly took him in a jeep.”
– Senator Mobina Jaffer
In August 1972, Idi Amin, military dictator of Uganda, stunned the world when he announced that the South-Asian population of Uganda, numbering some 80,000 people, had 90 days to get out of the country or else.
Lives, families and businesses that were established in Uganda for generations were torn apart in a matter of weeks.
South-Asians first arrived in Uganda in the late 1800s, brought in by the British to build the railway from the Kenyan coast to central Africa. They went on to establish themselves as merchants and entrepreneurs, a central part of Uganda’s economy when it achieved independence from Britain in 1963.
For Ugandans of all origins, Amin’s declaration 50 years ago was the start of a descent into hell. The economy collapsed, and a reign of terror by Amin, by then nicknamed the Butcher of Uganda, saw hundreds of thousands lose their lives.
More than six-thousand of the Asians expelled by Amin came to Canada, restarting their lives here, some as early as September 1972.
One of those is our guest today, Mobina Jaffer. In 1972, she was part of Uganda’s Muslim Ismaili community. Her story is both terrifying and inspiring, as she and her young family escaped to re-establish themselves in Canada. Here she began a long and successful career as a lawyer and politician, working closely especially with Prime Minister Jean Chretien, and dedicating a large part of her career and time, unsurprisingly, to the plight of refugees.
In this captivating interview, she remembers the lead up to the expulsion, the disbelief and horror when it happened, the difficulties and benefits of starting a new life in Canada, and the important lessons to be learned by Canadians in how we treat refugees today.