In 2014 I was privileged to join Makerere University to pursue my undergraduate degree. Seeing my name shortlisted among the successful applicants to join this prestigious university was very exciting.
On a random Monday afternoon, I received terrifying news. I was joining Lumumba Hall. My entire existence was brought to a standstill after I remembered all the stories I had been told by those that went through the University about this hall. I was prompted to miss out on the first day of University because of the stories about morning jogging. Fast forward and all I can say is that Lumumba was kind towards me and I fitted in like a glove.
Halls of residence are the bedrock of politics at Makerere University and Lumumba was famous for having a strong political spirit that drove its desire for participation in politics and agitation for student rights. During my stay at the university, I was involved in guild politics from the onset.
From standing for the Guild Representative Council (GRC) and failing at it twice to being part of the inner circle of the Guild Presidential Candidate’s team and crowning it with acting as a speechwriter for a candidate that might have qualified as the worst speaker to have ever graced the race in the history of the university. Makerere had placed me in the right place to start my political career, alas the same ended in repeated failure.
A few days ago, a tragedy happened in the run-down to the guild presidential election at Makerere University that led to the death of a second-year law student, Betungura Bewatte of Uganda Christian University (UCU) that was present during a campaign.
The narrative is that two opposing groups of supporters were caught up in a scuffle after the final rally and as a result one of the supporters lost their life after their throat was slit by another supporter. The news raised a lot of questions from why anyone would be walking around with a knife during a university leadership rally to whether Makerere University has become a den of hooligans and whether it is time to ban political parties’ involvement in student leadership at the institution.
The death of a UCU student raised a lot of questions on whether Makerere University has become a den of hooligans
Uganda’s politics is one filled with violence and Makerere University is not any different. Our political history is tainted with violence meted out by the ruling class against the common man and violent political contestation between common people that have led to the loss of life and destruction of property.
The history of violence originates from the political relations between our colonial master and the state. The Milton Obote regime ratified the violence before Amin’s regime pursued it with more fury and the current regime has not tried to discard violence and oppression as a tool for achieving or maintaining political power.
Like in all other elections, we can never downplay the failure of Uganda’s Police Force to perform their mandate of crowd control in an escalation of violence in Makerere. The highhanded methods used by the police to manage student strikes and political rallies do not help in deescalating any form of conflict but instead escalate it.
The role of the police in any developed democracy is to create and promote peace using the existing structures within society. Instead of offering support to halls and their security wings during rallies, the police in Makerere University always seek to emphasize their rank through the use of brutal force that spills over into more chaos and violence. The failure of the police to pursue community policing has become a catalyst for violence in not only Makerere but the entire nation.
The scene of this atrocious act was at a hall of residence and this should not be taken lightly. Halls of residence play an important role in determining who the next leader is. A guild election is a contest of hall residence egos with Lumumba trying to emphasize its importance as an Empire, Nsibirwa or old day North Court reminding the university that they are a state and Mitchell Hall doing its best to highlight how it’s the city.
Throughout the ages, these Halls have been centres of political organizations either against the state or the University Administration which has over the years been used by the state to do its bidding. Therefore, the nature of politics at the national level has always informed the style and tools used to pursue political power or solve political differences at the University.
Halls of residence have been centres of a political organizations either against the state or the University Administration
An argument has been mooted that political parties should be banned to achieve nonviolent politics at the University. This argument is premised on the logic that the existence of political parties directly translates into violence. Examples in more developed democracies would refute this argument.
Would the proponents of this argument agree that the security organs that brutalize opposition candidates in presidential or parliamentary elections should be banned? The proponents of this argument can assert that the ruling party should be banned for the documented atrocities done by its candidates in very many elections at the national level.
The university is a good place to nurture meaningful political discussion that allows for dissent that does not lead to violence. It is important that university students are interested in the politics of their own nation given the fact that the NRM during the Bush Liberation war benefited from a politically aware student body at the university.
The nation is served well by a Makerere University that cares about the civic rights and politics of the nation. What harm does the nation suffer if its finest minds desire to get involved in the governance of the country?
When thinking of multi-party politics at Makerere University, I am drawn back to the memory of my brilliant friends in the Uganda Young Democrats, Forum for Democratic Change’s Anne Adeke Ebaju, National Resistance Movement’s Noble Mayombo, the younger Gerald Karuhanga and the late Jacob Oulanyah. As we moan over the violence in this last election, let us not forget the many politicians that the Guild elections have birthed over the years. Let us not throw away the baby with the bathwater.
Interesting read: How Today’s Trauma In Africa Is Linked To The Legacy Of Colonialism
Author: Emmanuel Luwaga
Emmanuel Luwaga is a lawyer, passionate writer, debate coach and adjudicator.