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Many Indians established themselves as traders in East Africa especially in the settlements that sprang up alongside the railway. Lord Lugard saw golden opportunities in emigration and settlement for the expanding Indian population in the territory. Recruits for the Uganda Railway came mainly from Karachi, but it was not until 1901 that a Protector of Emigrants was appointed there. Over half the coolies returned to India at the end of their indentured term while others returned home as invalids. About 7% died and the remainder became traders or bought small tracts of land to work for their own purposes.

The life of the railway coolie was very like that of the plantation labourer; the indenture period was only three years with payment of Rs. 15 a month, plus rations. There were no restrictions on off-duty hours and workers made their own living arrangements