The student leaders of Makerere University on the 16th of April 2018 declared the start of an indefinite industrial action aimed at addressing the main issues facing the students. In a widely circulated eight minute audio, the Guild President Papa Were Salim articulates nearly fifteen reasons for the industrial action and demands they be addressed as early as yesterday.
Among these is the issue of the inconsiderate increase of tuition, the alleged scrapping of evening classes and end of semester exams, the issue of meals for resident government sponsored students and the new internship policy which students claim not to understand.
The underlying issue in all this is the concern by student leaders that the university council and the Vice Chancellor Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe are passing policies which affect the students without consulting the student leaders. They want to be consulted before any policy is passed. They want the student voice to be heard and respected.
Such a simple request I would think! Such a simple thing the University council can solve without this negative representation of the university in the media and internationally.
You would think that the reputation of our great university has been tarnished enough without even this! You would expect the university to address these issues before the students resort to a strike!
But when the Vice Chancellor arrogantly intimidates and gets into childish wordy battles with students on social media, then the problem becomes immune to the reasonable medicine and calls for higher prescriptions.
And the students, who have been seasoned as such, happily oblige. When the students feel frustrated and ignored, they resort to the time tested method of strikes to put their issues across.
The strike started on a cold rainy Monday morning with all halls of residence duly cordoned off by our very dedicated police, who were arrogantly showing off their guns and teargas trucks. The Police had deployed in the night and we woke up completely surrounded by our protectors. Who were they protecting us from, or were they threatening us instead?
I think that the deployment was excessive, but who am I to be listened to anyway! You would think that with the increasing insecurity in the country, the Uganda Police would rethink their deployment at Makerere.
And these guys are so diligent in their duties! They fire off teargas like it’s the cheapest thing. Fancy blasting five to six teargas canisters in every crowd of ten students! For good measure I guess, or to make a statement or to use up the teargas before it gets expired!
These guys are so fierce. They arrest students, and student leaders at that, in almost the same spectacular way the Lord Mayor has always been arrested. I think they are perfecting that peculiar art!
As I was writing this, teargas is going off outside my room in Mitchell Hall at an alarming rate. But I am not alarmed. Instead, I calmly put a wet handkerchief over my face and continued to write. I guess I am used to this by now, and that’s quite a statement given that I am a first year student!
I hear talk of live bullets being fired. I see students being beaten like bandits. I see students being arrested in droves. I see property being destroyed. I have had a test paper removed from my hand and torn to pieces, along with those of my classmates.
I have seen the lecturer being ordered to reschedule the test to another day. I have seen students running in desperate fear, and some running with inflated courage wielding sticks and stones.
Could all this have been avoided? Could we have had a peaceful discussion to stop this? Could we have had Makerere walk down a different path, a path of peace? I believe the answer to the questions is a yes.
If the university had given the students the voice they are entitled to, this could have been avoided. I see the Police and the Powers That Be fighting steam without first removing the kettle from the stove. They are draining state resources that could have been used elsewhere!
Give us a voice and we will work together. No one desires the success of Makerere University more than the students who are its largest stakeholders. Give us a chance to present ideas, not sticks. Give us a chance to build for the future! Do not treat us like criminals and we will not be!
The writer is a first year student at Makerere University doing B Sc. Food Science and Technology.