Makerere Guild Elections: Seven Arrested as Tension Rises

The Police in Wandegeya have arrested seven students of Makerere University for holding an unlawful assembly.

The students were arrested from Emerald Hotel in Wandegeya where they had gathered to address a press conference.  The event which had been planned to take place at the University’s Guild canteen was moved to Emerald Hotel after heavy security deployment at the planned venue.

Led by Vice Guild President Margaret Nattabi, and Guild Minister for Information Muzafaluh Kabuulwa, the students are accusing the University administration of impeding their freedom of association by depriving them of their right to associate with their preferred political parties and forbidding them from conducting in-person political campaigns during elections.

According to the Deputy Police spokesperson, Patrick Onyango, the seven arrested students are charged with holding an illegal assembly and they are currently being detained at Wandegeya Police Station.

This comes a few days after the disqualification of two Candidates from the forthcoming Guild election slated for April 14 2023 for allegedly holding a public debate in contravention of the students’ guild statute, which stipulates declared that student elections at the University shall be virtual unless otherwise determined by the University council.

The two candidates include National Unity platform- NUP flag bearer Margaret Nattabi and independent candidate Sulaiman Namwoza who were part of the 11 nominated Candidates.

Shortly after disqualifying the two students, the University’s Electoral Commission chairperson, Levi Tshilumba released another letter dated April 7, 2023, asking all the remaining guild candidates to release disclaimers in form of video dissociating themselves from partisan politics.

Subsequently, Vice Chancellor Professor Barnabas Nawangwe suspended two other students Isaac Byaruhanga alongside his colleague Arnold Muganga for holding an unsanctioned guild presidential campaign debate dubbed “Kimeza,” which ultimately led to a violent altercation that resulted in one student being hospitalized.

In July last year, Betungura Bewatte a student from Uganda Christian University lost his life during the Makerere guild campaigns. From this incident, the University banned physical elections and ruled that going forward, student leaders will be voted virtually. The University also recommended that partisan politics in student leadership must be prohibited because oftentimes, political identities tend to override the fundamental identity, which is being a student.

Before the arrest, Kabuulwa said they are asking the University administration to revoke the suspension of the two students and promptly reinstate the two disqualified individuals for the upcoming Guild election. He added that the Electoral Commission Chairperson should come out and explain the disqualification of candidates.

Nattabi equally states that their disqualification from the race was unjustified because the University failed to provide the rationale for their disqualification. She insists that they were allegedly singled out and disqualified on the basis of their political affiliations.

Nattabi added that they have given the University an ultimatum of 48 hours, which expires on Tuesday morning, to provide a satisfactory response to their inquiries. Failure to do so will reportedly result in a demonstration at Freedom Square, where the students intend to peacefully express their concerns and grievances.

Sulaiman Namwoza, whose candidacy was also disqualified said that by precluding physical campaigning, candidates may face difficulty in reaching out to their prospective electorates who do not have smartphones, therefore such platforms like Kimeza are important.