Ivan Bwowe, Makerere University’s newly elected guild president, could barely speak during the interview last Friday. He was exhausted and just kept straining his voice in order to talk. His face was a little pale and his lips were dry.
It had only been two days after he was voted into the position.
The elections had been conducted on Wednesday and Bwowe had managed to get 6,943 votes. Sarah Aseru followed with 1,376 votes. Eight candidates had been vying for the position, Bwowe inclusive.
I arrived at Makerere University’s Guild Canteen at 7am. This was the place and time we had agreed to meet but he ended up showing up at 9am.
“I am so sorry for being late. I have been up and down the whole morning, running different errands,” Bwowe said in a deep calm voice.
He probably had been, since his neatly polished black shoes were covered with a bit of muddy dirt and blades of green grass.
To my disappointment, Bwowe, who was smartly dressed in a white long-sleeved shirt and a black suit, told me that we could not have the interview then.
“There are students gathered at Mitchell Hall that I cannot keep waiting. Let me first go and address them and then we talk,” he explained.
Since I had no option, I told him to go ahead as I followed so that I would not lose this opportunity in case another engagement came up after his talk.
He took about 10 minutes to lecture the eagerly and excited students who had filled the hall. Bwowe was mostly thanking them for having voted him to the position.
Immediately after his speech, he came to the back of the hall where I was standing and suggested we move our interview outside, where there was less noise.
Emmanuel Wanyama Ojambo, who I later learnt was his friend, followed us. Ojambo kept reminding the guild leader that he had to talk in the shortest time possible since they had to go to town for another appointment. Bwowe’s mobile phone kept ringing from time to time.
At this point, I told Bwowe that we could reschedule but he insisted that we have it. He declined to sit down on a bench that was in the compound and opted that we stand.
Why he ran
The 22-year-old says he ran for guild president after seeing many things go wrong with the student leadership in terms of not being completely representative, whenever it came to addressing issues of ordinary students.
“I was really concerned about what was happening to the students and wanted to add a bigger voice to air out ideas and problems on a much wider platform,” Bwowe says.
One of the things he says he will focus on during his reign is to tackle the 60 per cent tuition policy which he says is affecting majority of students at the learning institution.
The policy requires students to pay the percentage of their tuition fees before sitting for any tests.
“This is an oppressive and impractical policy, especially to those from the peasantry background. I do not support it in any way,” he stresses.
Brush with the law
In fact, even before Bwowe ran for guild presidence, he had been against that requirement since he joined the university in 2011.
It was even claimed that he was one of the masterminds of a demonstration-turned-strike that transpired at the university last year in February, challenging the policy.
“I did not organise that protest but that did not stop the administration from summoning me before the disciplinary committee,” Bwowe says, adding, “With a lot of bias and disrespect to the principles of natural justice, they reached a conclusion without evidence that I was behind it. I was then suspended for one academic year.”
“I knew that they were violating my rights,” he says.
He petitioned court against the university council around March last year and the council’s decision was quashed in October, meaning he was reinstated as a student of the university.
This is not the first time that the third year law student has been outspoken.
Allan Obbo Warayamo, his former head teacher at Seeta High School in Mukono District, remembers him for being up-front with his opinions.
“He was the school’s head boy in 2009 and was quite influential in some of decision-making polices in the school. If he saw something wrong, he would not keep quiet but rather address it to a concerned party,” Warayamo says.
On a lighter note, the head teacher says that Bwowe was also very hard working as well as very inspirational to other students and did a good job instilling discipline in them.
Unlike in the past when he was just an ordinary student, Bwowe says he now has a tighter schedule since he is caught up in meetings throughout the day. Also, the attention he attracts is more than before.
It was evident by the way students kept interrupting us in order to convey their greetings and congratulatory messages to him.
The guild president says the position is just a stepping stone for many other achievements to come in the future. “I cannot, for instance, rule out the possibility of standing for president someday,” he says.
At this point, the conversation switches to his thoughts on the governance in this country.
“I think politics today needs an entire revolution, one that is based on realities, revamping the country’s pride and the other issues aimed at solving issues and the fundamental problems of ordinary Ugandans,” Bwowe says.
As he starts his term, he wishes that some students would stop comparing him to the former guild president, Anna Ebaju Adeke.
“This is a new regime. My model of operation will be completely different from Adeke’s,” he says.
At this point, Ojambo tells Bwowe that they need to get going. We wind up the interview and both depart. As I leave the university premises, I cannot help but wonder how hectic the last 48 hours have been for the newly-elected guild president.
10 things you don’t know about Ivan Bwowe
• He goes to bed at 2am and is up by 5am.
• He is single.
• His parents are Richard Bwowe Buwembo and Vannie Tibaggwa. They separated when Bwowe was still young and his mother brought him up single-handedly.
• He is the last born child of five children.
• His favourite television series is Suits while his favourite food is rice and beans.
• His hobbies include swimming and interacting with people.
• He ran as an independent candidate after falling out with the Democratic Party (DP) during the primaries. He says it was because of inconsistences and irregularities.
• One of his greatest role models is Nelson Mandela who stood for humility, resilience and a spirit of reconciliation.
• He has been head boy in all the three schools he studied, which include St Charles Lwanga-Rwankoni Primary School, St Andrew Matale Secondary School where he studied for O-Level and at Seeta High School in Mukono where he studied for A-Level. Despite the leadership positions, Bwowe says he always found time to read and discuss with his fellow students and that is why he passed.
• He was one of the academic giants at Seeta High School in Mukono after scoring 23 points in History, Economics, Geography and Entrepreneurship. Bwowe then joined Makerere University to study a Bachelor of Laws in 2011.
What expectations do you have from your new guild president?
“I expect him to listen and address the grievances of all the students in the university. But mostly, I wish he addresses the issue of paying 60 per cent of tuition before sitting any tests. This policy is really unfair to most of the students,”
Zakayo Kabugo, second year student, bachelor of commerce
“I just wish he does not end up becoming like Anna Ebaju Adeke, the former guild president. We had so much hope in her but she ended up doing little for us. Ivan Bwowe should not do that to us. He should always be available whenever we need him,”
Paul Namwekwe, 23, Second year student, bachelor of drama and film
“I want him to work hand in hand with the university administration to ensure that every hostel around the university has some sort of means of transport such as vans and shuttles. This is because it is always tiresome for some of us to foot to and from the university,”
Lillian Naluwaga, 20, first year student, bachelor of records and archives management
“Over the years, we have been having continuous strikes at the university. In the process, our studies have been affected. I expect him to do his level best and address this issue.”
BarbAra Auso, 22, second year student, bachelor of information technology
“He should ensure that the university administration reduces on the tension it imposes on students over payment of tuition. We are required to pay 60 per cent of the tuition before doing tests and yet not every student is able to do so,”
Sarah Acham, second year student, bachelor of library and information science