Kampala, Uganda | URN | Students and alumni of Makerere University have questioned the motive behind the erection of metal bars across the Freedom Square.
The square, which lies in the space between the University’s administrative block – the Main Building, the University Main Library and the School of Social Sciences, is a ceremonial ground, designated for recreation, demonstration, celebration and other activities, some of which augment the history of the 97-year-old institution. To many, the square is a symbol of freedom.
Bernard Sabiiti, a statistician with Development Research and Training (DRT), a local policy, research and analysis non-governmental organization says that by erecting a fence around the square, the university is tampering with its historical heritage, a move he describes as unfortunate.
“This is a symbol of the university’s might as it stands out above many of the universities in East Africa besides having the freedom square as a unique feature for student’s independence and liberty. Ideally, this open space makes students immune from punishment or oppression,” he said.
Sabiiti adds that one of the issues that made Makerere what it was more than a decade ago, was the free spirit symbolized by the Freedom Square. He argues that open spaces like Freedom Square are important landmarks and social capital to the university.
Sabiiti recollects one of his most memorable activities at Freedom Square; a political rally by Dr Kizza Besigye, then a political sensation in the run-up to the 2006 general election.
“The freedom square was filled to capacity as students showed up from all over the institution to attend the rally uninterrupted signifying the freedom of expression then,” Sabiiti adds.
Sabiiti suspects this symbol of freedom to the institution is being restricted for high political reasons, yet according to him, restricting its access is likely to cause harm to Makerere’s image.
Makerere University Guild president Julius Kateregga has asked that the fencing be halted until students obtain sufficient and convincing explanations on the motive of the exercise. Kateregga has since written to the Vice-Chancellor faulting the administration for being oblivious to the symbolism behind the Freedom Square.
Similarly, Moses Mucunguzi, a Guild Representative to Council says it is unfair that the decision on the fence was taken without consulting students and their leaders.
Doreen Buwule, a Journalism and Communication student expresses dismay that it is becoming increasingly tolerable to see symbolic objects and spaces throttled.
But the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Finance and Administration, Professor William Bazeyo advised that students should not instruct the University management on what to do.
“Why should you instruct us on what to do? Does it concern you? Does it interfere with your academics? Do your studies as a student because we were also students who studied and completed,” Professor Bazeyo said in a phone interview with this publication.