y Rafiq A. Tschannen on January 2, 2019 •
Book Review of Mansoor Ladha’s Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West
28 December 2018
By NIZAR MOTANI
Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West
By Mansoor Ladha,
252 pp. University of Regina Press,
CDN$ 23.15 (at Amazon), Kindle Edition CDN$ 11.19
Memoirs of a Muhindi by Mansoor Ladha
Since the word Diaspora is encountered in many written accounts and conversations, the author has, thankfully, shed light on it.
“In Greek, the word diaspora means “to scatter,” but today we use the term to describe a community of people who live outside their country of origin or ancestry but maintain connections with it. A diaspora includes both emigrants and their descendants. While some people lose their attachment to their ancestral homeland, others maintain a strong connection to a place their ancestors may have left generations ago.”
As most of the Africa-born Asians reside in the West and their numbers are dwindling through natural causes, Ladha has taken upon himself to relate his own personal experiences and historical events about life in colonial and independent East Africa. And he has done a splendid job using his multiple journalistic skills.
I wish I had read and discussed his memoir with my family and friends much earlier.
The first generation in the West will see themselves in Ladha’s story; the diasporic generations born outside East Africa will learn about their parents’ unsustainable situation in East Africa and their dispossession, displacement and resettlement in North America and Western Europe.
Surprisingly, Ladha does not explain – for the benefit of the Western-born generations and other potential readers – “who is a muhindi?” until page 16! Muhindi is a Swahili word to describe a person of Asian descent. Simply put, it refers to a brown-skinned person.
To this reviewer, a Uganda-born third generation muhindi with a doctorate in African history, expelled by the notorious Idi Amin in 1972, Ladha’s memoir is replete with unusual personal experiences and less-known historical events.
An excellent discussion of the three-tier colonial, racially-structured system, which controlled, segregated and shaped race-relations, attitudes, behavior and opportunities in British East Africa, sets the stage for his story of navigating it hurdles. Under this racially segregated system, during and after the colonial period, Ladha takes the readers to places where most muhindis could not or would not go.
He is a self-proclaimed man with pride and principles. So when things turn out according to his expectations, he is happy; when they don’t, he is furious. Through this rather unorthodox muhindi, we get to visit: the palace of the Sultan of Zanzibar for an audience, while still in primary school; the British-controlled newspaper, The Standard, where he was the only Asian reporter and a copy editor; President Nyerere’s State House as the only Asian in the University of Dar-es-Salaam’s student executive committee, which went to protest the terms of the National Service (which he calls national servitude), resulting in their arrest, expulsion from the university, and deportation to their hometowns; the Nation House in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was given an expatriate white person’s most privileged status employment package as a copy editor; his refuge in a British pub in England to narrowly escape a lynching by a mob of skinheads shouting “Paki go home,” and many more such unpredictable or gratifying occurrences.
His brothers had similar unusual experiences. Shiraz, a Makerere University educated doctor wanted to escape his government employment in Tanzania. So he fled to Uganda, only to find himself assigned to Idi Amin’s home town to take care of his prisoners with a possibility of becoming the brutal murderer’s personal physician. He had to flee again, this time to the United States.
1970: Mansoor Ladha interviewing His Highness the Aga Khan for Tanzania’s daily, The Standard (now Daily News). Photo: Mansoor Ladha Collection. Copyright.
Mehboob (Mebs), the youngest brother, was sponsored by Shiraz and his Catholic wife to study in America. The poor chap ended up in a Catholic school where he had to “confess” his sins every week and attend mass. He left with no verdict on his sinfulness but an abiding love of wine.
Ladha himself left his beloved Tanzania as he could no longer live in the post-independence Tanzania where nationalization had rendered his family financially emasculated and Africanization had closed the doors of employment at the highest echelons for all the muhindis. Such elite positions were reserved for Africans, as they were for Europeans in the colonial period.
He did visit his beloved Tanzania twice as a tourist and also made two journeys to his grandparents’ ancestral homes in Gujarat. Canada became his new, permanent home but the barriers facing non-white immigrants surfaced often. Through determination and even daring, he became the editor and publisher of several weeklies in Alberta. Later he retired after selling his newspaper business, making Calgary his home.
Suffice to say, this interesting and enlightening memoir should be worthy of consideration by diasporic book clubs. Most of the fifteen chapters contain experiences, episodes and opinions likely to generate animated exchanges.
Besides being a valuable addition to one’s own library, it would be a suitable gift for your colleagues and neighbors who often ask the diasporic muhindis: “What is your nationality?” But they actually are curious about your country of origin, why you are not black if you came from Africa, and reasons for being in “their” countries.
Finally, many readers may be inspired by Ladha‘s memoir to tell their own stories in their own memoirs.
Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West
by Mansoor Ladha
In August 1972, Idi Amin demanded that all Asians exit Uganda in 90 days. In the neighbouring countries of Tanzania and Kenya, Asians – or Muhindi as they were known – found themselves on edge. In his second book, Calgary-based author Mansoor Ladha recounts this experience, and addresses a question that is on the minds of many immigrants in North America these days: “Will we ever be fully accepted here?”
Written as a series of reminiscences, Ladha, third generation in his family to live outside his grandfather’s native India, begins his story with his birth on the East African island of Zanzibar. He details growing up in the sheltered and privileged Shia Ismaili Muslim community, where he has little interaction with Africans except for family servants. Ethnic Indians, or Asians, who travelled to East Africa to become traders, are considered by Africans to be “people without a country, without a home” and, worse, “bloodsuckers.”
Ladha recounts his early interactions with Africans in 1961, while attending a Dar Es Salaam high school, at a time when Tanzanian independence loomed. At university, Ladha becomes a student politician, even meeting a man he worships: Julius Nyerere, the country’s first president. Expelled for his activism, Ladha finds a job as a journalist only to discover that the policy of Africanization works against him. Angry, he moves to Kenya, but with tensions rising throughout East Africa, he realizes it is time to leave the continent for good.
Canada is the destination of choice for himself, his wife, and child, but life here is not easy. His lack of “Canadian experience” shuts doors, as does his ethnic background. When he finally gets a job with the Edmonton Journal, he is asked if he will go by the name “Mike.” Eventually, he finds success as a small-town publisher of two Alberta weeklies.
Ladha can be a scattered writer, dizzying the reader with tangential asides. Memoirs of a Muhindi is constructed as a series of anecdotes; it lacks in-depth analysis. But Ladha asks important questions and ends the book with a “diasporic lament,” noting that he is still interrogated about his nationality, despite living in Canada for decades. Our best multicultural intentions notwithstanding, skin colour still trumps belonging.
Memoirs of a Muhindi
Fleeing East Africa for the West
by Mansoor Ladha
Non-Fiction - Memoir
Reviewed by Christian Sia for Readers' Favorite
Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West by Mansoor Ladha is a gripping memoir that explores a historical event that caused a lot of suffering to millions of people in Uganda in East Africa, and that hastened the exodus of many ethnic groups from the region. It was in 1972 that Idi Amin, a mindless African dictator, expelled people of Indian origin from Uganda. But the reverberations of this racial action were also felt in neighboring countries like Kenya and Tanzania. It is within these racially challenging and life threatening circumstances that Mansoor Ladha, living in Nairobi at the time, decided to flee from Kenya, seeking refuge in Canada.
This is a memoir that bears witness to history and that succinctly captures the pains and frustrations of many people who lived in East Africa under the leadership of Idi Amin. Writing in a very accessible and captivating style, the author captures the political setting with forensic clarity, bearing witness to what happens when a nation decides to draw a line between peoples of different ethnic origins, religions, and regions. This book also illustrates the trauma, the fears, and hopes of those who witnessed the ruthless regime of Idi Amin and the accompanying turbulence. This is an inspiring story, a journey of one man’s passage from despair to hope, and a succinct rebuke of dictatorship. It's a story about a nightmare, and the only difference is that it is real. Readers will enjoy the historical and political references in this memoir, the engaging social commentaries, and the protagonist’s determination to find freedom. Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West by Mansoor Ladha will transport readers to an Africa they’d never want to be part of, a story of survival and hope.
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