Gurdial Singh - think tank of the UPC- Former Mayor of Kampala 1970
My father was 72 years old. He is one person I was always proud of and grateful to be able to call a true friend. He was brilliant, kind, always generous and hospitable, warm and affectionate, soft spoken was born in Mazeresnear Mombasa, February 15, 1933. His early education was in Nairobi and Kampala. He lived with various relations and friends and finally at the Sikh Gurdwara in Kampala as his parents were stationed in remote parts of the country during those years. His father, Sardar Chan Singh, participated from a young age in the Indian freedom movement and was compelled to flee India for East Africa in 1917 to evade arrest by the British authorities. Gurdial finished his secondary education at Government Indian Secondary School, Old Kampala, with distinction and then travelled to London in 1953 where he obtained a B.Sc in Economic and Political Science at the London School of Economics. He was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1957.
He returned to Kampala in 1958 and with his close friend, Raj Treon set up a law practice called Singh & Treon. The practice continued in spite of many upheavals until the sad demise of Raj Treon in Pune, September 2005. Together with another one of his closest friends, Shafiq Arain, Gurdial and others, under the inspirational guidance of Dr MM Patel, formed the Uganda Action Group (UAG) in 1958 with the aim of changing the direction of Asian involvement in East African politics. In 1961 the UAG dissolved itself and joined hands with the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) led by Apollo Milton Obote.
In 1971 Gurdial was with President Obote at the Singapore Commonwealth Conference when Idi Amin did the coup. Obote went to Nairobi and then settled in Tanzania. Gurdial returned briefly to Kampala, but given the changed political conditions he went into exile in India and Tanzania. He continued to work with Obote in trying to reverse Amin’s coup. With the assistance of Tanzania, Ugandan exiles were able to mount a military operation that overthrew Idi Amin in 1979. Gurdial and Shafiq accompanied Obote from Tanzania into Uganda in May 1980 in preparation for elections scheduled for December. The UPC won a majority of seats in these elections and Obote became President for the second time. Gurdial was appointed Uganda’s High Commissioner to India in 1981. With the change of government in Kampala in 1986, Gurdial resigned as High Commissioner and remained in Delhi. He returned to his position as Managing Director of Twiga Industries, a fiberglass manufacturing company he had helped establish in the late 1970s.
In1995 he struck out on his own and established Simba Pvt Ltd, which continues to be run by his sons today. Gurdial became an active member of the Rotary Club and was President of Rotary Club, Delhi Garden City, District 3010. For his outstanding contribution to the Rotary he received a Recognition Award for “Outstanding President” for the Year 1994-1995 for District 3010.
Gurdial’s passionate commitment to the UPC and friendship with Obote never wavered during this time, and he stayed engaged continuously with Obote and party colleagues. In spite of Gurdial’s severe illness, he had been planning to attend the UPC party conference scheduled for August 2005 in Kampala. And days before his own passing away in November 2005 he spent many hours whilst in severe physical pain drafting a lengthy obituary of his dear friend Obote, who had died the previous month. It was a devastating blow for Gurdial to lose three of his dearest friends in quick succession: Shafiq in March 2005; Raj Treon in September 2005; and Milton Obote in October 2005. Shafiq and Gurdial were particularly close. Their fathers had traveled from India to Africa on the same ship in 1917 and worked together in the East African Railways. During the last few years of his life Gurdial battled ill health with rare fortitude and good humour. His optimism in the face of this adversity was a source of inspiration to his family, friends and associates.
In the early morning hours of the 17th of November, 2005, Gurdial died in New Delhi, aged 72. Of the innumerable messages of condolence sent to the family, a note from longtime friend and prominent advocate in Kenya, Mr Fritz De Souza, nicely captured Gurdial’s spirit: Gurdial was one of the loveliest persons I have ever met in my life, and I have met a few really wonderful people in with a lovely sense of humour, with a glint in his eyes and a smile on his face. He truly lived up to his name, GURU DAYAL, which means a merciful benevolent teacher, guide, and friend. The family felt that the most appropriate way of paying tribute to his memory was to create a charitable foundation dedicated entirely to continuing the work he so unselfishly started.
Copyright © 2006 gurdialsinghfoundation.org by permission by Hardeep Singh, Kampala, Nov 2007 and Aug 2011.