"Immediately after he pulled off his '72 coup against President Oboto in Uganda, strongman Idi Amin -- full title: His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular (and also, curiously, King of Scotland) --decreed Africa should be for Africans. One of his first decisions as lord of beasts and fishes was to eject all the Asians -- some 40,000 or so, who were third generation descendants of Indians who had come to work for the British colonial administration during the days of Empire and who, when the British Empire was dissolved, created commercial enterprises.
Not for nothing had Amin been mentioned in a dispatch, when he was on the British side during the Mau-Mau uprising, as "virtually bone from the neck up, and needs things explained in words of one letter."
Having decided to eject the country's wealth-creators, he further ruled that these people, uprooted from their country of birth, could take with them only what they could carry. They had 90 days to get out.
The crisis this provoked in Britain at the time has been softened with the passing of the years, but because they were Commonwealth citizens with British passports, the government, in the face of almost universal opposition at home, did the right thing and decided to give them refuge. So 40,000 ethnic Asians arrived in an alien, monocultural group of islands in the clothes they stood up in and the one suitcase holding the meager possessions they had managed to carry with them. Their confusion and distress at having had to leave their country of birth and all their possessions to come to a cold, damp, hostile island must have been almost unendurable.
Back home Idi Amin distributed the property they'd been forced to leave behind among his friends and presided noisily over the decline of Uganda. The Asians, meanwhile, were billeted in drab refugee centers until they found their feet, and they displayed a resilience that still astounds.
What a difference two generations can make.
The British high-circulation Asian newspaper Eastern Eye, in conjunction with The Daily Telegraph of London, has just published its annual list of Britain's richest Asians. In all, six from East African refugee families made it into the top 10.
Number one is Mike Jatani, one of four brothers who started the Lornamead Group (beauty products) in 1978, eight years after the Amin explusion. Today, their company, started from scratch, is worth £650 million ($1.2 billion).
According to The Daily Telegraph, the pharmacy sector is the biggest, with the Mehta brothers (8th) and husband and wife team Navin and Varsha Engineer (12th) between them accounting for £300 million -- over half a billion dollars.
In the fashion segment, one of Britain's best loved women's clothing chains, offering outstanding fashion value for money, is New Look, owned by one Tom Singh, whose Indian parents brought him to England when he was one year old and set themselves the task of peddling goods from door to door. Tom Singh and his wife opened their first store in 1968. By the mid-1990s they had 200 stores. In 1998, they sold the chain to a venture capitalist for £156 million and Singh took a role as non-executive director. In 2004, New Look returned to the private sector and Singh rejoined as managing director. Sikh Tom Singh's in the No 6 slot. Also in fashion, Shami Ahmed, who created Bloggs jeans, comes in at No. 13.
Another Sikh, Jasminder Singh, born in Dar-es-Salaam, with his Radisson Edwardian Hotel chain, comes in at No 5.
The only new entry to the top 20 this year is an entrepreneurial travel boss at no. 18 with £95 million, displacing the fetchingly described "curry magnate", Sir Gulam Noon. Last year, Noon was 16th on the Asian rich list with £100 million, but now with just £85 million doesn't merit a place at the Asian top table. (The displaced Noon has been otherwise engaged in the traditional British rich man's sport of trying to buy a peerage under the table -- the second such Asian businessman caught in Tony Blair's latest wheeze to raise money for the Labour Party -- an encouraging demonstration of just how integrated Britain's Indians have become.)
Steel parts tycoon and cricket-enthusiast Lord Swraj Paul (he rather sweetly lists his membership of the MCC -- the world famous Marylebone Cricket Club -- on his resumé and contributes time and money to helping disadvantaged boys take up the game), is No 3 and worth £450 million. He and his wife recently managed to get Non-Resident Indian status from the Indian government, which means they will have the right to settle in India one day. Who comes around goes around.
Those expelled from East Africa were third generation immigrants to Africa, and had created assets and wealth. Which is why Idi Amin was so interested in them. Now, those families are again third generation immigrants, this time to Britain, and again they are rolling in wealth. How was this extraordinary feat accomplished twice?
How does one account for a group of people who came from the Third World to the First World with nothing but a suitcase, within three generations, overtook around 99.5 percent of the natives in terms of wealth?
Like the Chinese, ethnic south Asians have a reputation for possessing shrewd commercial instincts and a willingness to sacrifice short term advantage (i.e. going to work for someone else in return for a regular salary) in the service of a long-term goal. The entire family stays focused.
Those families in the 1970s were indeed strangers in a strange land. They didn't waste time on regrets. They hunkered down and got to work. The parents of Tom Singh traipsed around neighbourhoods peddling goods from door to door for years. As did others. They were thrifty. They worked long hours. They saved their money and reinvested it in themselves. Indians keep it all in the family and the mates of their children marry into the business also. Tom Singh's parents amassed some money from their door-to-door peddling, but it was their son Tom and his wife who opened the family's first store, and subsequently 200 more.
Another key to ethnic Indians' success is, they do not look to banks for money. If money is needed, they look within the family or extended family, offering a part of the business by way of repayment.
The three richest British Asians were excluded from the Eastern Eye/Daily Telegraph list because their business interests lie primarily outside the United Kingdom. Numbers two and three would be the notorious Hinduja brothers, whose fortune is estimated at around $8 billion.
Finally, not only the richest British Indian, but Britain's richest-ever individual come together in the person of international steel panjandrum 54-year old Lakshmi Mittal, born in Rajastan and whose £14.8 billion fortune puts him third in the world after Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.
Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain is worth $818 million. "
Val MacQueen is a TCS contributing writer. "http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=050906A