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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I’m a serious enemy of tribalism’

Mr Gerald Karuhanga [pictured], was on Monday elected the new president of Makerere University Students Guild for the 2006-'07 academic year. Karuhanga, who stood on the FDC ticket, defeated 13 other contestants for the post. He becomes the first serving guild speaker in the history of the university to be elected president. Dennis D. Muhumuza interviewed him. Excerpts

Who is Gerald Karuhanga?
I’m the son of Mr and Mrs Jacob Kafureka. I was born in Itojo Sub-County in Ntungamo District. I studied in Kitunga Boarding Primary School, St. Mukasa Preparatory School, Kitabi Seminary and St. Mary’s College Kisubi before joining Makerere University where I’m studying Law. I’ve also been the campus guild speaker besides being the national speaker of Uganda National Students Association [UNSA]. In national politics, I’m an ardent supporter of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). I also served in the transitional national youth council.

Why did you contest?
When I was the guild speaker, I realised there were many things I would have done if I were the president. So I said I must come in and try to change a situation gone bad.

What are those many things and how are you going to achieve them as president?
There are issues that need urgent redress. These include the security of lady students and their halls of residence. I also want the university to involve student leaders in policy making and implementation. For instance, the hiking of retake fees and tuition were never resolved - it was pushed to this academic year. I tend to ensure that before decisions on such matters are reached, student leaders are consulted. I also promised to provide a shuttle to medical students. Besides, the state of lavatories in students’ halls of residence and sanitation in some hostels leaves a lot to be desired. I appeal to the university authorities do something to address this very unfortunate situation. I believe we need a students senate where at least two student representatives from each faculty come together and form a body similar to the Guild Representative Council (GRC) that is recognised by the university. This new body should handle students’ academic problems.

What really prompted Jet John Tumwebaze to petition the guild electoral commission to disqualify you?
My opponents raised many issues to discredit me before the voters. I was branded a Movement candidate because a Movement person here at campus can’t sell. However, students who have worked with me know that I’m not a Movementist. There was also tribal sentiment but I told students that I’m the most serious enemy of tribalism and divisionism based on race and religion. Now my friend Tumwebaze was uncomfortable with my candidature because I belong to FDC and he belongs to the NRM. He wrote a petition to the electoral commission, copied it to the Dean of Students, Dean of Faculty of Law, the Academic Registrar and the Senate chairperson. The Academic Registrar said there was a difference between missing an examination and having a retake. The word retake means you are re-doing. You don’t retake what you’ve not done. Prof. Ekiirikubinza, who holds a PhD in Law and also the chairperson of the Senate and the Guild Constitution, confirmed that I do not have a retake. She said that it is the Senate that determines the normal progress of the student. Their aim was to disorganise my campaigns and get me disqualified.

Students from western Uganda have for long been associated with 'Musevenism' and rejected at the polls. What was your winning strategy?
I won in 11 out of the 12 polling stations [halls of residence] and my trick was simple - I associate with students from other regions because I believe in objectivity; where one comes from is of no consequence to me. Besides, when I was a guild speaker, I organised the Gulu Walk; it was a very wonderful event that showed the whole world that northern Uganda is also part of Uganda; that the region shouldn’t be suffering the way it is. Students from the north, east and even central concluded that even though I come from western Uganda, I had a nationalistic spirit.

Who sponsored your campaigns?
My physical and financial support came from all walks of life. I appreciate the support from FDC, especially from the party’s president Dr Kizza Besigye. Do you have political heroes?Locally, I admire Dr Besigye - I think he’s strong-hearted and a man of his word. Internationally, I admire Nelson Mandela because he’s not a politician but a statesman. Whereas a politician looks forward to the next election, statesmen look forward to the next generation.

What was your childhood like?
I was a very stubborn child and my parents wondered whether I would finish school. Had I not gone to a seminary, I think I would by now be a rebel leader.

What do you do with your free time?
I read political books. Currently, I’m reading a book titled Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent. I enjoy reading books that have some relevance to Africa and explore the theme of unity. Biographies are my favourite. I’ve read Kwame Nkrumah’s Africa Must Unite, Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, Yoweri Museveni’s Mustard Seed and many others.

What are your future political aspirations?
I expect to be legislator in five years time. I will also devote my life to the unification of Africa.
Last wordI promise to work for students’ rights. I believe in consultations and dialogue and appeal to all students to support me so that at the end of this academic year, everyone will say we had a guild leadership that performed to our expectations. As we build for the future. For God and my country.

Published in Sunday Monitor, March 1, 2006.