Play remembers Asian exodus from Uganda 50 years ago

Yusuf Rahim (Dhirendra) wants to remain with his shop in Kampala even as pressure intensifies for all Asians to leave in 1972.

90 Days a play by Salim Rahemtulla tells the story of an Ismaili Muslim family’s forced exodus from Uganda in 1972.


The lead character is a shopkeeper/father, Yusuf Rahim, is played by Dhirendra a seasoned actor of a TV series on CBC Jinnah on Crime fame. He says that of all the roles he has played, this character has allowed him to play a role that speaks to his own origins in East Africa.

The rest of the cast is made up of another seasoned actor Nimet Kanji (Parin Rahim), Akshaya Pattanayak (Nasser Rahim), Parm Soor (Munir Kassam), and Sabrina Vellani (Shamira Rahim).

This year marks the 50th anniversary former Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, expelling the 80,000-member Asian community. He claimed that he had received instructions from God in a dream.

The play takes us back to those days 50 years ago when Amin gave Asian Ugandans 90 days to pack one cardboard suitcase to and leave the country of their birth.

The Ismaili Imam, the Aga Khan, had always his followers to take up citizenship in the countries where they lived. So the vast majority of Ismailis in Kampala were Ugandans.

However, Amin ordered all Asians to report to the Uganda passport office to verify their citizenship. According to Rahemtulla, they would often be denied citizenship for obscure reasons, such as a document lacking a page number. “Therefore, you were no longer a citizen,” he says. “You became a stateless person.”

There were many people who were detained by the police and extorted in including Canadian Senator Mobina Jaffer’s father who was elected MP mostly by black Ugandans. Many were disappeared.

Senator Jaffer who also fled Uganda as refugee, says that although those were difficult days when they came to Canada as refugee, many refugees today have a much more difficult time.

This play recounts the fear under which people were on those last days. There was a resentment among African Ugandans’ that they were not masters of in their own homeland as the economy was largely controlled by Asians after majority of the British had left post independence. But also touches on difficult relationship Asians had with African Ugandans.

It’s a well written and acted play as the actors embody some of their own memories and stories of displacement from Africa and Asia.

The runs until September 25 at Pal Studios in Vancouver.

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