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Uganda Tells India African Nation Still Safe for Asians and Investment

Uganda has sent a presidential delegation to India to re-assure the government, the Indian people and investors that the African nation is safe after a recent outbreak of violence in which an Indian national was stoned to death. As VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi, the riot brought back memories of the expulsion from Uganda of ethnic South Asians decades ago.

There are only about 17,000 South Asians, mostly ethnic Indians from Gujarat, living in Uganda, a country of 30 million people. But their economic influence is disproportionate to their numbers. They dominate some industries as diverse as tourism and sugar.

When an Indian national was killed on the streets of Kampala on April 11 during a demonstration, some feared the country was heading for a repeat of the early 1970s when dictator Idi Amin called Asians "bloodsuckers" and expelled those with British passports from the country.

In an attempt to assure India that is not the case, Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, has dispatched a delegation of politicians here with a message that the recent death was an isolated incident and to deliver $32,000 to the family of the slain salesman.

The delegation is being led by Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda. He told reporters Friday in New Delhi that media accounts portraying lingering resentment among Ugandans against Asians were overblown.

"You have extremists. This is characteristic of any normal society in the world," he said. "It's characteristic of the Indian society and the Ugandan society. But for practical purposes the issue of race is not an issue in Uganda now."

The Indians began returning to Uganda, at the invitation of the Ugandan government, in the 1980s. Indians had first arrived in the country as indentured laborers during the colonial era when both Uganda and India were under British rule.

The mid-April violence stemmed from a protest against a plan by a sugar company, part of the Indian-owned Mehta group, to acquire land for expansion in a forest reserve. The application is pending before Uganda's cabinet.

Several high-profile Ugandans of Indian descent are part of the delegation visiting India. Ugandan member of parliament Sanjay Tanna says Indians and others who want to invest in Uganada have nothing to fear.

"Uganda has buried its past," he said. "The wounds of what happened in 1972 are healing and we are progressing at a tremendous rate."

Uganda's government sees attracting further foreign investment as critical for the growth of the economy, which is rich in natural resources but still heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture. The country's economic growth stalled at five percent last year, below its seven percent target.

Uganda has been putting a particular emphasis on attracting investment from India because of the long-standing emigrant ties and from China, which is rapidly expanding investment in Africa.