Introduction to East African Lives

We at Crescent Community Radio are passionate about heritage and in particular, Oral History. Having previously successfully completed an Oral History project aimed at Kashmiri Heritage, we thought we would tackle a much less documented and smaller community – the ‘twice migrants’ from East Africa. The term ‘twice migrants’ is often used for this community as they originally migrated from the Indian sub-continent to East Africa before then migrating again to the UK.

When Idi Amin seized power in Uganda in 1971, an estimated 60,000 people of South Asian origin were displaced.  Of those, around 30,000 were British passport holders, who migrated to the UK. The numbers of displaced people increased as unrest spread to neighbouring countries such as Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia.

“It was very, very difficult, because you had to leave everything behind; the only amount of money one family could bring was £45.”

Mohammed Hanif Arien

‘They sealed the banks; we couldn’t sell our household goods, we couldn’t bring our gold.”

Shamim Akhtar Ansari

‘… We didn’t once turn back. At the airport the solider questioned why we were leaving. We said ‘To study’. He said to me ‘You stay and marry me’. My heart was in my mouth.’ 

Shagufta Arien

Our East African Lives project documents some of these stories through video and audio interviews in English as well as other home languages. Subjects include family and community life, political unrest, migration, resettlement, employment, housing and racism.

The project began in February 2020 – just before the first ‘lockdown’, so we had a bit of a stuttered start, for example, we were unable to have a Live Launch and instead had an online and live radio programme launch. Furthermore, we have had to delay the start of interviews due to social distancing and self-isolation requirements. Therefore, although initially due to end in April 2021, we are now due to complete the project by July 2021 with a Final Celebratory Event on 31st July 2021 (dependant on Covid restrictions).

We have completed 29 full video interviews that have been converted as audio interviews and available on Mixcloud, Youtube and Facebook. We did aim to complete 30 interviews in total. We have also completed 15 live radio shows to promote the project and raise awareness of heritage amongst the East African community. For our final event, we will be producing an exhibition involving A0 size placard posters, artefacts, banners and an audio/video presentation. All content with be archived by the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre as well on Crescent Radio’s website, and social media.

The importance of oral history cannot be under estimated. Recording oral history first hand is a vital resource which documents the lives of local residents in an historic context. Not only is this academically vital, but for younger members from these communities, it is a vital part of understanding ‘what makes them who they are’.

As a result of our last two heritage projects, we are now a member of Heritage Compass which will build our capacity as a Heritage specialist organisation. Furthermore, our projects have also led to work with the University of Manchester to look at musical memories from early childhood, to today. In the near future, we will be looking at other communities to document and record their stories, such as the Punjabi community in Greater Manchester.

Faheem Chishti, Managing Director, Crescent Radio