At the beginning of the week, students at Makerere University started a protest that culminated in a strike over a 15 percent tuition increment.
On the first day of the strike, over 30 students were arrested, several picked from Lumumba and Mitchell halls of residence where the strike is alleged to have started before spreading to the streets of Wandegeya, a Kampala suburb.
Police, backed by the military, deployed heavily in the night, mostly at Lumumba hall where they struggled to break the striking spirit. Media reports that several students were beaten, their properties destroyed, while room doors were kicked open and occupants picked for violent isolation.
“They are breaking into people’s rooms and beating everyone, “ one of the students said on social media.
The councilor for Muluka III, which houses Lumumba Hall, Bashir Kamugo said that the military police were caning at random whoever they found moving inside the university.
“We have over ten boys arrested as I talk. The moment you step out, they grab you. They also have switched off power everywhere,” he said.
At the height of the strike, Siperia Mollie Sasiraabo, a guild representative councilor and leader of the strike was attacked, beaten and dumped in Kasubi. In her sub-conscious situation, she was also suspended from the university for inciting violence.
The strike creped its way into day three, with tear gas and bullets used to disperse the last front line of students that had regrouped from Kikumi Kikumi to Nsibirwa and Nkurumah halls of residence.
Prof Ben Twinomugisha of School of Law also laid down tools in protest against the brutality meted out on students when the army broke into students’ rooms and started beating them indiscriminately. In a social media post, Twinomugisha said he can’t continue to look on and pretend everything is normal at Makerere when students’ rights are being tramped on.
“I will not step at Makerere today. I must rebel individually in protest against the vulgar, indespicable, horrendous mistreatment of students. What happened in Lumumba is reminiscent of Amin soldiers’ brutal treatment of students and lecturers. Anyone pretending that the situation is normal is like the proverbial ostrich – hiding his or her head under the sand.” he wrote.
“Imagine your son or daughter in a room. Military thugs forcefully open the door, pull him or her out amidst beatings. Your daughter being raped, molested or assaulted! Ladies and gentlemen, this militarization of all institutions, including the Ivory Tower, the citadel of higher learning, must be condemned by all people of good conscience. Thus, I have decided, as a matter of conscience, to stay away from the ‘torture chambers’ of Makerere University today. My heart, body, and soul are bleeding. I have no mental health to teach. Have a blessed day.”
Makerere University administration in a press statement wondered what could have caused the strike, citing the tuition increment was a resolution from the students guild, a body chosen by students to represent their interests and led by then guild president and currently people power activist, Roy Ssemboga.
Makerere University Management speaks out:
In a statement, Dr. Muhammad Kiggundu Musoke, the manager for communication and internal relations at Makerere University, said the policy being contested by the students was approved and implemented on July 2018.
“The policy was approved after a thorough report presented by the special committee of the Guild representatives appointed by the Guild leadership whose work started on 4th June 2018. The appointed Students Guild committee presented the following recommendations to Council on 6th July 2018. They have been quoted verbatim.”
“Instead of increasing fees by the tune of 49% and 91% as it were in the earlier Management proposal there should be a uniform and moderate 15% increase in tuition fees across all programmes effective 2018/19 for the next 5 years. This, however, means that a student who joins the University at a given fees structure that has a 15% factored in, shall continue to pay similar fees until he completes the Course duration. While the Visitation Committee recommended that Public Universities should charge a unit cost per program, our Committee has only considered a reasonable and moderate 15% to cater for annual inflation. This was mainly considering our unique social-economic conditions as a country.”
The student leaders urged that the increment of 15% should only apply to first-year students (effective 2018/19) going forward and not continuing students and that the revenue accruing from the above proposal if approved and implemented should reflect a change in student services especially in areas of student hygiene, Laboratory facilities, teaching facilities, WiFi, health services and customer care.
The strike is about Nawangwe and less about the fees
As the strike continued, several students on social media at the institution called for the resignation of Vice-Chancellor, Barnabas Nawangwe. These were joined by a few political heads and activists who claim the VC is a “Museveni puppet”.
“I want to have some clarity on Makerere and Nawangwe. This Nawangwe man has a calling. Not from God, but Mr. Museveni,” Augustine Ojobile, of the jobless brotherhood claimed in a post on social media.
Ojobile accuses Nawangwe of attempting to frustrate the lives of those that don’t support him or the government establishment.
“Nawangwe has recruited CMI and other security operatives as students to provide intelligence on lecturers known to be pro-opposition. These so-called students never follow lectures instructions and keep interfering with teaching periods. They are paid to cause discomfort and lead to the immediate sacking of such lecturers.”
Nile Post contacted sources close to a certain politician and they intimated that there is a plan to hound Nawangwe out because he is being used by president Museveni.
“Yes fees are part of it, but externally our problem also lies with the Vice-Chancellor,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
Hagumimana Robert, a former leader at Makerere said the problems of Makerere will not stop unless Nawangwe resigns
“If a Public University like Makerere where Some lecturers are paid by Government can hike fees to a tune of 15% every year which will make it the most expensive University in East Africa than even private Universities, What shall the poor do? Where will the Pupils and students on free Education study from? Prof.Barnabas Nawangwe you should resign with your draconian policies which are meant to cripple the University. Perhaps you could be having your own Private University where you want students.”
How Nawangwe got himself in this
Nawangwe was publicly praised by President Museveni for bringing order in the university amongst staff and students.
The president commended the VC for sacking stubborn lecturers as well as expelling students involved in violence. It is at that very point that Nawangwe earned his hate from the rest.