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
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.
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.
Date posted: December 27, 2018.
To acquire Mansoor Ladha’s book including the Kindle Edition please click https://www.amazon.ca/Memoirs-Muhindi-Fleeing-East-Africa/dp/0889774749.
Nizar A. Motani has a doctorate from the University of London (SOAS) in African history, specializing in British colonial rule in East Africa. He has been a college professor at Bowdoin College (Brunswick, ME) and Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI). He was the first Publication Officer at the Institute of Ismaili Studies (London, UK). He now lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Readers will be also be interested in the following pieces by Dr. Motani that were published on Simerg and Barakah:
- The Aga Khan – From an Ismaili Muslim Imam to a Global Citizen and Virtual Head of States
- The Talks, Titles, Treaties and Walks of the Aga Khan IV: Glimpses of his “Extra-ordinariness”
- A Review of His Highness the Aga Khan’s “Where Hope Takes Root”
Additional reviews of Mansoor Ladha’s Memoirs at: