24 April 2019

Uganda: Army Deployment Angers Makerere

Today, as one enters the gates of Makerere University, there's a noticeable presence of heavily armed military police troops.

At each of the three main entrances, groups of three-to-five military police officers stand sentry. Even on the various passages within the university, groups of military police officers roam around. They normally start patrols around the university when it clocks 6pm.

Their main camp is near Livingstone hall, where about 100 military police soldiers set up tents. Another group of about 50 are camped close to the nearby Africa hall. The impression one gets is of an academic institution under siege by the state afraid of its growing reputation as a hotbed for political opposition activities.

Averting strikes?

For years, Makerere has seen several student and staff strikes, some of which turned out deadly. Ordinarily, the military police is supposed to be the last resort force to be deployed when regular police fail to contain an unruly situation.

However, insider sources within the staff body intimate that: "Government cannot take chances anymore because a student strike in Makerere can easily spill over to the city centre to create an [popular] uprising... "

"So, the plan is to have the military police to intimidate everyone under the guise of keeping security."

They settled in at the invitation of the university administration in November 2018 after a students' strike over tuition increment loomed. Prof Eria Hisali, the deputy vice chancellor, authored the invitation to the forces with the claim that one of the prominent political forces in Uganda was plotting an insurgency through Makerere.

His view drew on Makerere's contribution to political activism dating back to the 1980s when the NRA recruited majority of students to actively take part in the bush war which brought Yoweri Museveni to power.

On that basis, Hisali warned that history would possibly repeat itself and that the emerging 'People Power' movement would take advantage of the masses at this hill to champion a revolution to overthrow the incumbent regime.

So, about 50 military police soldiers were dispatched to Makerere University with their first mission being strict restriction of both students and members of staff from accessing university premises.

Inside sources reveal that among the deployed were plainclothes officers for espionage. All this went on almost unnoticed but it was in December 2018 that the soldiers' stay at the university started to bite.

They started by limiting access to St Augustine and St Francis chapels. Whoever didn't abide by the orders faced the soldiers' wrath.

"I was forced to roll over the stretch of Livingstone Drive. My friends were frog-jumped, slapped and asked to vacate the university with immediate effect till we all complied in fear," says a brutality victim who preferred not to be mentioned.

Consequently, the clergy of the two churches penned complaints to the university administration. However, no formal response to the matter has ever been produced to-date. In the same month, former deputy vice chancellor in charge of administration, Prof Ernest Okello Ogwang, also fell victim to the brutality. He was beaten after failing to identify himself to the inquisitive troops.

Interviewed for a comment yesterday, UPDF spokesman Brig Richard Karemire said military police troops are camped at Makerere with the full knowledge of the university administration. Karemire said they have never received any formal complaint about soldiers beating up students or residents at the institution.

"It's not true that soldiers beat up people; if you have that information, please give us a specific case to create action," he said by telephone.

The brute force of the military police extended to the students' social events. On the night of February 15, 2019 as students had gathered for merrymaking at the annual Mitchelex carnival, about 50 baton-wielding military policemen raided at 11:50pm and ordered the students to disperse.

The students protested. What followed was a violent confrontation that culminated in beatings as students pelted the soldiers with empty bottles. Ironically, it was regular police which came in to calm the military and tried to save the students from sustaining further injuries.

On the evening of March 18, Dr Ronald Luwangula, a senior lecturer at the School of Social Sciences, nursed wounds after he was beaten by military police. Luwangula was a victim of military police's high-handedness as they were disbanding students from a guild rally held at Freedom Square.

Luwangula had just finished conducting a lecture. As he moved towards his office, he was ambushed by three soldiers who beat him senseless before security guards attached to Senaca Security group rescued him.

Neither Prof Okello nor Dr Luwangula has opened cases against the perpetrators of violence which they suffered. A police officer attached to the university police post said the military have usurped police powers. He also intimated that the military police has no plans of vacating the university.

"Our budget and facilitation was cut and no explanation has ever been given... we are also idle these days because all assignments have been taken over by the military," he said.

"Actually those guys are still around because the 2021 general election is around the corner."

Student leaders are unhappy with the way military police took over security at all halls.

Arthur Twesigye, a resident at Mitchell hall, said: "As hall residents, we have our own culture where we formulate local security teams but the military doesn't allow them to function."

Newly-elected guild president Julius Kateregga told The Observer on Saturday that he is going to make every effort to force the military out of the university.

"This is not a military base and we are going to appeal to parliament to order for their removal because they have made our life miserable on campus," he said.

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