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Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West

by Mansoor Ladha

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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.