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Uganda: Students Demand Makerere Reopening

It appears the two-week old lecturers’ strike at Uganda’s prestigious Makerere University may not end any time soon. The lecturers are demanding a pay raise. But President Museveni’s government has reiterated it is too pre-occupied with other national issues to meet the strikers’ demands. In the meantime, Makerere University remains closed. So what is happening to the over 30 thousand students?

Gerald Karuhanga is president of the Makerere University Students’ Guild. He said the students are disappointed about the government’s decision to close the university.

“There is no student that has been convinced, and I don’t think only students, but every Ugandan. Nobody was convinced about the closure of the university because what our lecturers are asking for was just a modest pay. And government adamantly says no. And for us as students, we feel very disappointed. Our government does not look at education as a priority, and this was a denial of a right, which is a constitutional right,” Karuhanga said.

Karuhanga said the students support the lecturers’ demands for pay raise.

“We do because we don’t expect that we can be taught adequately, or you know, somebody who is hardly facilitated, who finds it hard to get food on the table, it’s very hard for such a person to teach you properly. It is important that for us to obtain adequate education, our teachers, our lecturers must be adequately facilitated, and that’s when the standards of all education will prevail at a higher level. And government should take upon itself to look into it,” he said.

The Ugandan government says it cannot meet the lecturers’ demand for salary increase because it has other demands such as the energy crisis, the country’s 20 year-old war in the north of the country with the Lord’s Resistance Arm, and hosting the Commonwealth Conference.

But Karuhanga said President Museveni of Uganda has been spending millions of dollars in unbudgeted funds.

“My friend, yes we know those are concerns. But it hasn’t stopped him from giving Bassaja Balabba, one businessman, 20 billion (schillings). The president has given him that money. It’s public knowledge. It has not stopped him from giving Kananathan of AGOA 14 billion shillings. Last year we told him that everybody wanted multiparty system, and parliament could legalize that without wasting 39 billion (shillings) for a referendum. But he insisted and went and wasted that money. So we’ve seen public money being wasted in two misadventures. But this is an essential sector,” Karuhanga said.

Karuhanga said the students would like for Makerere University to be re-opened as quickly as possible. We we’ve decided to take the government to court because we want education

“We would love our university to be opened as soon as possible. We decided to take government and the university to court because we want education. That’s all we want from government. Eight percent of the university students are private. They’ve paid their money. The 12 percent, their parents pay taxes, even themselves pay taxes,” Karuhanga said.

He said the students’ guild has already served the Ugandan government with the intent to sue notices.

“Actually we served them with notice of the intent to sue. It’s just that the legal instruments we have over here bar us from suing government until after 45 days of a notice. So we are waiting. But we served them with the intention, and after 45 days, we shall be in court,” Karuhanga said.

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