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Monday, January 7, 2008

Town politicians hold their breath as Makerere votes

For the last two weeks, Makerere University has been alive in light of the 2005/06 Students Guild presidential race. Students go to the polls tomorrow, and whoever takes the day out of the 14 candidates will have overcome a tough challenge. The campaigns have been spirited - with rhetorical flourishes, praise singers and cash all making for a rich mix.

And there was a healthy infusion of national politics as well. Now the battle seems to have boiled down to between Jet John Tumwebaze and Henry Maurice Kibalya.
The grapevine has it that the Movement government is rooting for JJT, as Tumwebaze is fondly called. What with his convoys of expensive vehicles filled with "high" students flashing gigantic colour posters and swearing by his name.
JJT, however, says he has no link with the Movement government.

"I have been receiving external support from friends and also using my savings," he said.

A smooth talker, JJT is concerned that only one third of the students usually vote. He blames this on the voting system, which is done at hall level. He wants students to vote from their faculties as long as they have valid identity cards.

The tradition here is that someone believed to be pro-Movement rarely wins. But this might soon change because this third-year Law student is pulling out all the stops. He has the money, the voice, and the girls are all over him. He is promising a "new beginning" for Makerere students.

Kibalaya and the parties
During the inaugural rally at University Hall, different political parties sent representatives to figure out a formidable candidate to support. FDC sent Mr Thomas Tayeebwa and Mr Samuel Makohha, while the Uganda Young Democrats of DP deployed Mr Bernard Luyiga. For its part, JEEMA dispatched former guild president Yusuf Kiranda.

A closed-door meeting in Wandegeya zeroed on Mr Henry Maurice Kibalya, an economics student, as their man. Indeed, Kibalya, who at his first rally was clad in a cheap suit and was without any poster, now cruises around campus stumping from hall to hall in a convoy, sports shiny suits, and his full colour posters are all over. Oh, he dishes out hard cash too.

Like JJT, Kibalya's speeches are quite captivating. He is using everything his rival has employed. For example, both camps use brass bands to march around campus, announcing their serious intent to lead.

But then, of course, Makerere elections are ever unpredictable. Last year, a mulokoole, Mr Ronald Mukasa Ssenkubuge, whom many least expected to win emerged the victor - with a landslide to boot. Indeed, this time round, Mr Patrick Junah Wangura, also a mulokole and a great orator, has a huge following among fellow savedees - and the frontrunners had better watch out.

During such campaigns, master clowns take centre stage. "Ladies and gentlemen," bellowed one at a recent campaign stop, "I am ready to sleep naked until the political destiny of our great hill is realised."

Another appeared at a rally in a kanzu, while yet another from University Hall (read goat land) wrapped a goatskin around his waist and went off searching for votes. And not all students are impressed.

"We want candidates who will take Makerere to greater heights," said Mr Vincent Nuwagaba, a post-graduate student. "Clowns are getting no votes. Let them present issues and we shall vote them."

"I am yet to see a competitor who is ready to replace violence with good values, malice with mercy, hatred with love, hostility with hospitality; ¼most of them are crooks who are out to run down the Guild to satisfy their thirst," said Ms Annet Kurgat, a Kenyan student.

Kurgat may have a point because out of the 14 candidates, only JJT has a manifesto in which he talks about looking into the plight of international students, addressing university health concerns, having more non-residents on the Guild committees and raising the voices of disabled students.

That aside, the campaigns are punctuated by so much noise that students who attend evening classes are affected. "They make so much noise and interrupt our lectures. It's incensing," said Mr Godfrey Kimono, a second-year journalism student.

Little wonder, few students are interested in campus politics. Statistics show that only 4,860 voted in last year's Guild elections - out of a population of more than 20,000 eligible voters.

Published in Sunday Monitor, April 24, 2005