Now, however, the Belgrave Road, indeed, Leicester itself, is once again transformed because of another quirk of Empire. The arrival of Asian immigrants has made Leicester a kind of micro-tiger economy, at whose hub sits the Belgrave Road, called locally "the Golden Mile", an oriental market of glittering sari shops, halal butchers and grocers, where you can buy everything from an Indian music cassette to a chum-chum (a Gujarati sweet made from full-cream milk). It hosts the biggest Diwali festival outside India and, of course, it has plenty of newsagent shops, many of them run by Patels.
The renewal of this one road, which is echoed in many other British cities, has much to do with a brutal and arbitrary act in Africa 25 years ago this August when the then new dictator of Uganda, General Idi Amin, expelled nearly 80,000 Asians. Soon after, during a bleak British autumn, some 38,000 Ugandan Asians arrived. Most were looked after in hastily organised reception camps and were then gradually housed. Many of them made their way to Leicester, where a small Asian community, with familiar foodshops and religious places, already existed. Yet, in a pattern which was to be repeated elsewhere, they found little in the way of welcome.
One of those refugees was Manzoor Moghal, a tall, courteous, well-spoken man now in his fifties. "When the Ugandan Asians first started to come to Britain, Leicester's local authority took out a full-page ad in the Ugandan Argus telling refugees not to come to the city because there was no housing or schools for their children. Those people came to see why the authority did not want them."
Moghal, now a JP, a Leicestershire county councillor and a leading figure in the local community, says: "Racism was rife in 1972 - the looks, the taunts and the atmosphere in Leicester was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Our approach was one of dialogue. That began to change perceptions, and race relations improved. Asians were educated. They were skilled craftsmen or clerical workers, and were not going to rely on hand-outs. I'd say the only reason Leicester is vibrant today is because there's a large Asian population."
Keith Horton, of the Leicester Chamber of Commerce, agrees and says that the Ugandan Asians have been "central" to revitalising the city and the rest of the Midlands, where it's estimated that Asian businesses have created at least 30,000 jobs. Indeed, throughout Britain, these once impoverished refugees are now one of the wealthiest, most successful and best educated communities.
The story of the Ugandan Asians began in the late 19th century, with the British encouraging Indians to go to Uganda in order to help build the railways and develop trade. Over the next 70 years, these emigres assumed control of most of Uganda's economy. One figure often quoted is that just 0.1 per cent of the Asian population controlled 93 per cent of all businesses. Such families as the Madhvanis and Mehtas owned huge tea and sugar estates and were building substantial industries. The Asians created jobs, hospitals, schools and other civic amenities. But at a cost. Among the native Africans, they had a reputation for racism, corruption and exploitation, an accusation that survives to this day. Khalid Sheikh, who owns a packaging company in Leicester, says it was inevitable that a small, non-native group with such wealth would cause resentment. "If you look at similar history," he says, "you can see that one of the prices you pay for affluence is animosity."
For these Ugandan Asians, the warning signs were there at least a year before the expulsions. In 1971, General Idi Amin, the bumptious chief of the army, had taken power in a coup. On 4 August 1972, Amin stepped up to the podium to address his troops at Tororo Barracks and announced, "I am going to ask Britain to take over responsibility for all Asians in Uganda who are holding British passports because they are sabotaging the economy of the country." He gave them three months to leave. Those holding British citizenship would go first, then all Asians would be expelled.
Very few people believed him in the beginning. Jaffer Kapasi, who runs a multi-million-pound garment company, was then a young boy. He recalls how his parents thought it was just a joke: "So we continued with our business. But, as the days passed, it became clear that he was serious."
In England, meanwhile, it was a time of anti-immigration fever, whipped up by Enoch Powell with his "rivers of blood" speech and by the activities of the National Front. In November 1971, Powell had told a meeting in Southall that "Asian immigration was more dangerous than Black Power". In August, those reactionary working-class stalwarts, the Smithfield porters, held an anti-immigration march protesting against "the invasion" of the Ugandan Asians. Few had the prescience of The Observer's Anthony Bambridge: "General Amin, your loss is our gain," he wrote.
In the teeth of opposition in the Tory party, Prime Minister Edward Heath agreed that Britain should accept all those with British passports, and those whom Amin had rendered stateless would go to a number of other countries, including Canada and the United States.
The refugees were not without some support. Praful Patel, now a leading member of the Asian community, had left Jinja in Uganda in 1958 and moved to England as a student. By the late 1960s, he had set up the All-Party Committee on UK Citizenship to fight anti-immigration quotas. When the Ugandan crisis broke, the committee turned its attention to helping the refugees. "We knew there would be resistance to a sudden influx of immigrants," he says. "They would need all the help they could get."
In Uganda, Asian families began to accept Amin's force majeur; they packed their bags and made their way to the airport. Amin allowed them to take pounds 50 each. His army set up road-blocks all over the country. Families left behind their homes and businesses only to have their personal belongings looted at the sentry posts. In a few cases, there were murders and rapes. "The soldiers were mainly after gold and jewellery. We were treated like animals," says Jaffer Kapasi.
A steady stream of lightly dressed refugees began to arrive at Stansted and Heathrow, where they were met by a major humanitarian operation. Each was given a warm winter coat and practical assistance. Many were taken to special reception camps while proper homes were found. Praful Patel was asked to join the Government-backed Ugandan Asian Resettlement Board. "When the British people see a genuine humanitarian crisis, they rise to the occasion," he says.
Refugees were re-settled in towns as far apart as Bristol, Guildford and Glasgow. Paresh Bhadeshi was eight when he arrived with his family. His father, who had been a successful building contractor, spoke only Gujarat and Bantu. They found themselves in Cheltenham, the spiritual home of Middle England. On their first day at a local school, Paresh and his sister were given sausage and mash for lunch. They were the only Asians in the school. "Although we tried to explain that as Hindus we were vegetarian, the headmistress insisted we eat up."
Many refugees felt isolated, understandably, and began to move to towns where they had friends or family, such as Leicester or Southall in west London, even though it often involved living in cramped and expensive accommodation. Despite their high level of education, adults often had to take menial jobs. As quickly as possible, many started their own businesses, usually small shops since they required little start-up capital.
The Ugandan Asian industrialist, Manubhai Madhvani, had no doubt that his people would succeed. "I told them that they would not stay in the camps long. We made our own way. The Asian is by nature an entrepreneur. A whole family worked in a shop. In those days, at five o'clock in the afternoon, British shops shut. This gave us our opening." In a decade, Britain became a nation of Asian shopkeepers and by 1990, several Ugandan Asians had made the top 500 list in The Sunday Times Book of the Rich, including the Madhvanis (worth pounds 55m in 1990), PR Patel (pharmaceuticals, pounds 30m) and Nazmu Virani (financial services, pounds 60m). Another, Abdel Shamji, who had arrived at Stansted in 1972 with just pounds 58, built, within 10 years, a business empire which encompassed a large share in Wembley Stadium, the Mermaid and Garrick Theatres in London, and various engineering and property interests.
Many Ugandan Asians succeed by taking calculated high risks. The downside has been the risk of scandal. In 1985, Abdel Shamji saw his Gomba group of companies forced into receivership by the Bank of England. Then, in 1991, Virani's Control Securities Group ran into serious problems and went bust. About the same time, the Bank of England suspended the UK operations of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which had attracted the custom of thousands of Asian businesses, big and small.
The collapse of BCCI had a bad effect on the Asian business community, says Philip Beresford, author of the Book of the Rich. "Many Asian businessmen lost a lot of money," he says. "It was only because the Meghraj bank, owned by the Shah Brothers, withstood this cataclysm, that it prevented even more going out of business." Now, he adds, a new Asian generation is about to make it into his book: "There's a whole raft of Ugandan Asian businessmen doing major deals, particularly in the second generation."
Manubhai Madhvani talks of the parallels between the Jews and British Asians. "They've taken over the position that the Jews used to occupy. Like them, I'm sure the next generation will be entering the professions and going into politics."
But what exactly makes the Ugandan Asians so successful? Their resilience, for one, but also their espousal of a strong family ethos, with its emphasis on entrepreneurial flair and a grasp of the importance of education. Typical in this respect are the Jatania family. Mitesh Jatania, 32 years old and educated at Dulwich College, is managing director of Lornamead, a company marketing wine, food, spirits and cosmetics, with a pounds 14-million-a-year turnover. He works alongside his three brothers. "We live together, we dine together, we keep our wealth together. There is no ego about who is head of the company. Our motto," he jokes, "is `Let dynasty not become Dallas'." These are businessmen who can even sell British vodka to the Russians under the trademark "Perestroika".
"If you look at Ugandan Asians, you'll see they have the drive to regain what they have lost. I certainly do," says Leicester travel agent Nick Kotecha, who arrived here at 16, "alone, penniless and frightened", and is now a prosperous 40-year-old driving a black Mercedes with a personalised number plate.
Others breaking new ground include Tarique Ghaffur, now the most senior British police officer of Asian origin; he joined the police in 1974 and last year became the Assistant Chief Constable of Lancashire. His junior colleague, Paresh Bhadeshi, is now British Tae Kwon Do champion, and is due shortly to marry an Englishwoman. And among the Ugandan women, several have been very successful in the public sector, such as Sushila Patel, 37, who has pioneered the ethnic health unit in Leeds, a national ministerial initiative.
But Leicester businessman Jaffer Kapasi sounds a note of caution: "The community at large has been very successful, but that doesn't mean that many haven't suffered. The older people were more affected; they found themselves in a culture they didn't understand. Many did not, and still do not, speak English. Worst of all was the cold climate - the short winter days. Many died early."
But it is at least arguable that they were better off out of Uganda. As appalling as the expulsion of the Asian community was, the real pain of the Amin years was felt by African Ugandans. Some 300,000 people died under Amin. Entire villages and families were wiped out.
Amin was overthrown in 1979 and now lives in exile in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Six governments quickly followed his until, in 1986, President Yoweri Museveni came to power. In a decade, he has made Uganda the most stable country in East Africa.
"When Amin was thrown out, we were invited back," says Manubhai Madhvani. "Museveni realised that without increased economic self-reliance, the country would face increasing problems. He wanted us back and helped us to re-establish ourselves." Madhvani's companies once again dominate Ugandan business, producing refined sugar, tea, steel, glass, matches, textiles, flour, cooking oil and soap. But, he adds, "the Asians are not beloved or welcomed by everybody. By and large, they're viewed as a necessary evil."
This summer, the Ugandan Asian community in Britain is planning a series of events to commemorate the anniversary of expulsion. Nick Kotecha is organising eight-day trips for those who want to make a pilgrimage, most of them for the first time since they were sent packing at gunpoint. Many have renewed business links with Uganda, but few have gone back to live there. Jaffer Kapasi led a trade delegation to Uganda in 1992, but when he was asked by President Museveni if he would return permanently, he replied that his home was in Britain: "To my children, Uganda would be an alien culture."
It's an opinion shared by Khalid Sheikh, who says, "I spend a lot of time trading abroad, and there is no greater pleasure than when I'm flying back to Heathrow. I have a recognition, when I see that carpet at Heathrow: This is my home, and I wouldn't live anywhere else."
Additional research by Bhavesh Hindocha
Manubhai Madhvani, mid-sixties, entrepreneur
Madhvani was the joint head of the family business, the largest in Uganda, when he was imprisoned by Amin. He was held in jail for three weeks, to show his fellow Asians that Amin was serious about expelling them. At night, he saw other prisoners being taken out of the cells and shot. He also saw how the Asian prisoners sat reading, each from their own religious texts. Madhvani, a Hindu, resolved that, if he was ever freed, he would organise a multi-religious festival in celebration.
He was as good as his word. In 1994, he created the Festival of Spiritual Unity in Roundwood Park, Willesden, which attracted more than 15,000 people for each of its 10 days. Spiritual leaders came from around the globe. "I think fundamentalism in religion is the greatest enemy," he says. "We should be open to all religions."
The family business in Uganda had been founded by Madhvani's uncle, who went in 1896 as a trader. The rest of the family followed. The Asian role in East Africa, then, was as a middle man between the British and the African: "My uncle's skill was how well he could work with both groups."
By 1972, the Madhvani group owned 52 industrial and agricultural concerns, including the 25,000-acre Kikira sugar estate. Their head office was in the nearby town of Jinja, famous for the Owen Falls Dam near the source of the Nile. Idi Amin was known to Madhvani as a lance corporal in the town. He helped him once to travel to India. "But after he came to power it was a different matter," he remembers. "I had to explain to him why, with all the people I employed, so many were Indians." Shortly after, he was arrested.
He doesn't believe Amin hated Asians; he merely sought power. And he never thought, he says now, that Amin would kill him. When Madhvani's late wife asked Amin what he was going to do to her husband, he told her, "Don't worry. He is my brother." Madhvani was released, and then Amin announced on television the family's expulsion and confiscated all their businesses and belongings. "We had pounds 62 million of property in Uganda when Amin threw us out. We lost it all," he recalls.
After the expulsions, the Madhvani group was split between the brothers, and Manubhai set up his own company in London called Indeco, dealing in glass, property, technology and electronics. He kept a 20 per cent interest in the Ugandan-based Madhvani Group, and that is once again booming.
The Madhvanis are now rated as Britain's fourth-richest Asian family, with assets worth pounds l40m, but Manubhai, a small, friendly and unassuming man, lives in a discreet house in a quiet street in St John's Wood. His London office is anonymous and plainly decorated, although it is central to a multi-million pound international empire with interests now in Kenya, Tanzania, India, Saudi Arabia and Canada.
In a community that distrusts attention-seeking, his ability to blend into the background has won him a great deal of respect. His only vanity seems to have been to publish a recent book of landscape and portrait colour photographs called A Reflection, which were taken on his travels to India. But it would be wrong to underestimate his importance. Although he describes himself as semi-retired, he is one of a small group of leading Asian businessmen talking to the Midland Bank about a new bank aimed at ethnic communities. He is also a Conservative party supporter and has often met Margaret Thatcher and John Major. "The mistake we made in Uganda," he says, "was to concentrate on business and not get into politics. It's a mistake we are in danger of making again. I don't blame the British. It is for Asians to take this in hand. To me, it does not matter which way an Asian votes as long as they get themselves into the mainstream of British society."
Nonetheless, he says he owes it to his family to get back some of the millions they lost, and that he has a moral responsibility to help rebuild Uganda because "I was born a Ugandan citizen". The Madhvanis now contribute 10 per cent of all the revenues of the Ugandan government, and provide jobs for 15,000 people. The majority of the family, second and third generation, live in Uganda, although their children are educated in British public schools, notably Charterhouse, and Manubhai himself prefers living in England. "I now think of myself as a British Asian," he says.
Later this year, to mark the 25th anniversary, he is organising a series of events and publishing a history of the expulsions, "to tell the second generation what happened to their parents, so it will not be forgotten".
Tarique Ghaffur 40, Assistant Chief Constable, Lancashire police
Tarique Ghaffur is on his way to becoming Britain's first black Chief Constable, but at present he is Assistant Chief Constable of the Lancashire police. This makes him the most senior Asian police officer in the UK. "By far, unfortunately," he adds.
He joined the police almost by accident. In 1972, he was studying as a 17-year-old in Manchester. But then came the expulsions and he was joined by his parents and three younger brothers. As the eldest son, he started looking for a job. "I used to play sport with police officers and I just thought it was be a useful stopgap," he says. Serving with the Greater Manchester police, he made sergeant in four years and Chief Superintendent three years later. He has also had postings with the FBI, and picked up a BA in public administration at Manchester and a MA in Criminology at Keele. He was chosen for his current position from 22 applicants.
Fiercely competitive (he still plays squash for the force), Ghaffur is Muslim, but not orthodox: "I am religious," he says, "but I do not go to pray five times a day." Asked about racism in the force, he replies carefully, "I have occasionally experienced some barbed comments from colleagues, but much of it is that you feel people may think you are a token, successful because of your colour. This has driven me on to prove myself, to be more professional and above such criticism. I also think attitudes have improved considerably since I joined."
His three younger brothers have also been successful. Two have their own businesses, and the third is a quantity surveyor. In his opinion, they have all benefited from the Asian values of education and self-reliance. "I think Asians have made a tremendous contribution to Britain. I was in the Leicestershire police for a while, and they really made a difference to Leicester."
Shop of horrors
Arun Patel,48, newsagent
It was not so long ago that Arun Patel owned the Finlay chain of newsagents, some 300 shops, bought for pounds 23 million. Now he works as a business consultant from a small office above a shop in Chiswick, west London. His business went belly up in 1989, but Patel remains optimistic. He embodies the Ugandan Asian desire to succeed, several times over if necessary, and he continues to send his two sons of 16 and 15 to a public school in Ealing.
In 1972, he was already living here as a student when his family were expelled. He remembers going to the airport to pick up his mother and four elder brothers, their wives and children. He took back 24 people to a small terraced house in Harrow. But the family quickly set to work to rebuild what they had lost, beginning with one newsagent in west London.
"I used to start work in the shop at 3.30 in the morning, take a shower, and then go on to do an accountant's work at 10am. Then come back to the shop at 6pm and do the books. If we wanted something, we had to work for it," he says.
By 1987, he was able to borrow pounds 16.5 million towards paying for Finlays. But everything was lost when, on 13 October 1989, the base rate was raised to 15 per cent and he was forced into liquidation. "I lost the house, the cars, my life insurance, and I was even stripped of my Chartered Accountant's qualification and fined pounds 300 by the Institute for investment-related matters." Now he can only do accounts for un-incorporated companies.
He is angry at what the Government has done to small businessmen. "When the Conservatives agreed that supermarkets could open on Sunday, the bottom dropped out of the corner shop market. Before that, you could sell a corner shop for pounds 50,000. Now you cannot even give them away."
Still, this has been good year so far for him. He has just bought back the family home. "It's a hard slog," he says. But he's beginning the climb back.
A future PM?
Shailesh Vara 33, City lawyer and Conservative party candidate At 33, Vara has already been described in the broadsheets as an "Asian Michael Howard". Like Howard, he takes a hard line on law and order: he believes it should begin in the home. "The failings of the young should not be met with mere reprimands to parents," he says. "The full weight of the law should be brought to bear upon them."
At the last Blackpool Conference, Vara opened the Tory debate on the economy and received a standing ovation. Kenneth Clarke described his performance as "brilliant". And Lord Alexander, chairman of NatWest, has described him as a potential Prime Minister. He has already earned the support of a group of rich Asian businessmen who are quietly helping Asian Conservative candidates.
Vara, now the candidate for Birmingham Ladywood, was selected after making his reputation in his local Hampstead constituency association. Although Ladywood is a Labour safe seat, with a much-liked MP in Clare Short, Vara can expect to make enough of an impact at the general election to ensure selection for a safer seat next time.
He was nine when the family left Uganda, shortly before Amin's expulsion order; his father, who worked for the Madhvanis, had seen it coming. But, at first, life in Britain was very tough, and his father had to work on building sites before eventually moving into property development.
When he went to grammar school in Aylesbury, Shailesh was the only Asian. He ended up as head of house and deputy head of the school. Then, after a first-class degree in law from Brunel University, he was scooped up by McKennas, an international law firm in the City.
He says he has never experienced racism among the Tories, and that there are no such things as black or Asian issues. "Asians are naturally Conservative. They are family-minded, entrepreneurial and have firm religious convictions. It was a Conservative government that allowed the Ugandan Asians to come in to the country as refugees and created the climate which allowed them to flourish. Asians, particularly Ugandan Asians, believe in free enterprise and survive best in societies where business is left alone to get on with it."
Passing Tebbit's test
Asif Din 36, county cricketer
Din was 12 when his family was expelled from Uganda, too young, really, to appreciate the seriousness of the situation. It was all just a great adventure. And anyway, probably the highlight of his life, certainly his career, came in 1993, scoring over 100 runs for Warwickshire against Sussex at the NatWest final.
Sussex, 7-1 favourites, had batted first. Warwickshire looked in a bad way. Then Din came into bat. Later, it was written of his performance "this ordinary man played an extraordinary innings to win a game which has a claim to be regarded as the best one-day cricket has produced."
Retired now after 15 years of first-class cricket, but working as a schools' coach for Warwickshire, Din treasures the memory. "When I started, I was the only Asian at Warwickshire. I am pleased to say that another three Asians have come up through Warwickshire to play first-class cricket. Go out around the parks in Birmingham on a Sunday and you will see loads of Asian teams. And more and more are coming into first-class cricket."
So what does he think of Norman Tebbit's notorious "cricket test", challenging the loyalty of immigrants to their adopted country?
Din smiles. "In many offices and workplaces here, Asians used to find the British very aggressive, assuming your loyalty was to India or Pakistan. They would say, `England, will beat your team'. I think Asians living here found that offensive." He says he supports England, as do more and more Asian children in the schools he visits. "But, like everything, it takes time and love, not nasty comments."
Memories of Amin
Zarina Bhimji 34, artist
Zarina Bhimji is an up-and-coming artist, working mainly with installations and photographs, who has sold works to the Victoria & Albert museum and has had several exhibitions. In her Mile End studio, she is currently working on a prestigious commission from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
With her leather jacket, short, black hair and anti-fashion aesthetic, she certainly looks a product of the art school dance, but it is her experience as a Ugandan Asian which drives her work. "I'm primarily interested in space, especially interior space, such as the body's," she says. "In the beginning, my work dealt with what it meant to be in hiding in Uganda. The burning images I used were to do with that. Now Uganda has stopped being painful. Now I'm more interested in institutions and power, and that again draws on my experience in Uganda. I found having two cultures and two languages very useful to get a different perspective."
For two years, her father, a shopkeeper, refused to leave Uganda with the other Asians. This period she remembers as "two years of living behind closed curtains while civil war raged outside". Periodically, Amin's troops would raid the house and the shop they owned to steal money and goods. On one occasion, troops burst into the house and held a machine-gun to her father's head, demanding money.
Marina Warner, reviewing Bhimji's work, wrote of its "acts of unpredictable cruelty. Small white kurtas of three-year-old children, hanging as innocently as laundry, are scorched, defiled by burns."
In 1974, the Bhimjis fled to England, leaving everything behind. Her teenage years were marked by dislocation and family trauma. In Leicester, she went to a "horrible" secondary modern school. Not until she attended Bosworth College, a liberal school in the city, did she become interested in art. That led to a Fine Art degree at Goldsmith's, and then the Slade, where she took her MA. In less than a decade, she has made a reputation and a reasonable living, though her father, who died last year, would have preferred her to become a nurse, like her sister. She feels vindicated, all the same.Reuse content