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.