The Uganda National Students Association(UNSA) has added its voice to the chorus of condemnation towards security agencies for the highhandedness and brutality with which they have handled demonstrating students at Makerere University.
In a letter addressed to the Deputy Inspector General of Police Maj. Gen. Sabiiti Muzeyi, out-going UNSA President Jothan Yamurebire Burobuto expressed dismay at Police’s use of excessive force to brutalize students involved in a largely peaceful protest, urging the Police chief to call on deployed officers to proceed with restraint and caution.
On the night of 24th October 2019, security agencies raided Lumumba Hall – one of the male halls of residence at Makerere in search of suspected ring-leaders of the student demonstration that has been raging at the University since October 22nd and allegedly break into student rooms, indiscriminately beat up students, and injured others. A day before, in a video that went viral on social media platforms, police officers were seen whipping and frog-marching a group of demonstrating students, scenes which have been roundly condemned by several Human Rights and Civil Society groups.
The students are protesting a 15% increment of University tuition, a move by the University Management to enact stricter regulations to govern the process through which students elect their leaders, and the suspension of their colleagues without due process. They’re also calling for the resignation of the Vice-Chancellor Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe, accusing him of highhandedness.
Chronology of events
As the strike ensued, the University Council on 29th October 2019 held an emergency session and met student representatives including the Guild President and his Vice, the Guild Speaker and his Deputy, and other representatives of the Students’ Guild Representative Council and Cabinet to resolve the stalemate.
In a communique released later that evening, the University Council resolved to among others revise the contested 15% increment on University fees to apply to only tuition. Previously, the increment was applied to both tuition and Functional fees. The Council also resolved to refer the cases of 4 suspended students to the University Disciplinary committee for hearing within two weeks, but allow them to sit exams while their cases remained under consideration.
Additionally, the University Council resolved to set up a sub-committee to investigate allegations of threatening and battering of students involving some members of University Management. The committee is to be led by the University Council Vice Chairperson and former Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly Dan Kidega.
However, hardly a day after the resolutions of the University Council, the University Management moved to suspend 9 other students and warn 26 others, in a move analysts argued was against the spirit of dialogue necessary to resolve the stalemate.
Following the development, students moved to seek the intervention of Parliament. In a petition signed by at least 693 students and addressed to the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, students demanded for among others the immediate resignation of the University Vice-Chancellor Prof. Nawangwe together with his Personal Assistant Gordon Mulangira and Prof. Elia Hisali for being “at the center of all torture suffered by students at Makerere.” Students also demanded for the halting of “any further implementation of the 15% tuition increment,” saying the policy was inconsiderate of students and their parents’ financial standing.
On Thursday last week, Parliament debated the petition by students, resolving among others that Makerere University halt the implementation of the contested 15% tuition increment until the Parliamentary Committee on Education reviews the Policy and guides Parliament on whether the University warrants a supplementary budget to meet its funding deficit.
In a reversal of the University Management’s decision, Parliament also resolved that suspended students be unconditionally reinstated at the university saying that they had been involved in a “legal and peaceful protest.” MPs also resolved that the military immediately vacate all student units of accommodation and University facilities.
Following near-unanimous condemnation, theCooperator has learned that the military has since been withdrawn from the university premises and replaced by Police. On Friday, the UPDF Spokesperson Brig. Richard Karemire announced that a one Capt. Ronald Rubeera who commanded the violent operation at Makerere had been arrested and detained at Makindye and a commission of inquiry led by Lt. Col. Richard Ochen set up to investigate the conduct of the entire operation.
But it remains to be seen whether the stalemate at the University will be resolved in time for students to sit their end of semester examinations smoothly. The exams are set to begin on November 18th, and on Thursday last week, Nawangwe told journalists that they would go on as planned and that the University was not considering an extension to the semester despite the current stalemate.
Following a University Management Meeting on Wednesday 30th October 2019, the University resolved to request for security enhancement at the University to allow lecturers to proceed in spite of the ongoing protest. Nawangwe said that the University would deploy about 2000 police officers to guard its over 1000 lecture rooms to allow students who wish to continue attending lecturers to proceed.
In the meantime, the students’ Guild leadership has called for a Students’ General Assembly today to resolve the students’ next course of action. In a communique co-signed by Nalukwago