Reviews & Profiles
When strikes affects the least concerned people the most
Posted Monday, March 4 2013 at 02:00
When Makerere University students went on strike, some of the shop owners in nearby Kikoni suffered looting. They tell their experiences and what they think should be done.
Sad and frustrated. That is the definition of the demeanour of the shopkeepers in Makerere-Kikoni, who were victims of looting by students from Makerere University during the recent strike protesting against the tuition policy.
When Vincent Byamukama opened a shop in Makerere-Kikoni, four years ago, it never crossed his mind that a photo of the shop would ever enjoy space in a newspaper. Never. But, fate had a converse arrangement in store for him. On February 19, it was on the front page of this newspaper, albeit for unfortunate reasons. It was a scene of looting by stick and stone wielding students.
“It was an ugly sight. So ugly that sometimes words fail me when my friends ask me to narrate to them what transpired,” says Byamukama. “I was about 100 metres away from the shop when I received a call from a colleague. He alerted me that he had seen the striking students march in the direction of my shop.
I called my wife, whom I asked to close immediately. I also dashed there. Hardly had I reached than the students also arrived. Fortunately, my wife had closed. But because she had done so hastily, she was unable to carry in the boxes of safi, a soft drink,” narrates the shopkeeper.
Byamukama says when the students reached his shop, they wasted no time in scrambling for the boxes of safi. He reveals that six boxes were looted. “They did not stop at that. There was a truck, about 10 metres away, which was delivering soda that I had ordered for. When the students reached it, they jumped onto it and looted six crates of soda and three packs of the big 1.5 litre sodas.
Luckily, the driver was able to reverse, and drive off. Otherwise, they would have stolen all the soda. While all this was happening, I was looking on helplessly. I did not even attempt to wag a finger at any of the students or restrain them because I reasoned that they could beat me up if I did so.”
Whereas Byamukama looked on helplessly while the students made off with his merchandise, the story was different when the students broke into 58-year-old Eric Katusi’s shop. He was taking a bath when he heard his daughter calling, and informing him that their shop was about to be broken into by students.
“I dressed up hurriedly, grabbed my panga, and then rushed out to establish what the matter was. I found about 30 students distributing amongst themselves three packs of mandazi which they had taken from the shop. They were also sharing the four crates of soda which they found outside the shop.
I went towards some of them with the panga, threateningly some of them, while shouting at them to leave or else I would kill them. Perhaps, they sensed the resoluteness in my voice. Because they all scampered for their dear lives,” recounts Katusi.
Byamukama, Katusi and their other colleagues are not the first victims of looting by the students of the university during strikes. In 2004, a strike protesting the killing of a university student during a hit-and-run accident turned violent, and the students ransacked stalls outside the university’s Main Library, as well as shops along Sir Apollo Kaggwa Road, and in Wandegegya.
Protesters with wrong intentions
A year later, in 2005, in a strike against the increment in retake fees, students broke into the Makerere Senior Staff canteen using hoes and pangas and feasted on the beers and soda that they found in there. It was reported that some girls disappeared with a giant screen TV from the club’s bar. Other students broke into a Coca Cola depot, drank the sodas they found inside, and disappeared with over Shs780,000 in cash.
Since strikes at the university have a history of often being characterised by looting, one would reason that the now-frustrated shopkeepers have themselves to blame: First, for not shifting their shops to suburbs away from the university; and second, for not closing their shops when there is a whiff of a strike at the university.
Katusi says that for the 10 years that he has been running his shop, in Makerere-Kikoni, he had never seen the striking students come as far as its location. “Usually, they stop along Sir Apollo Kaggwa road. Well, even when they come to Kikoni they stop a few metres into Kikoni. They had never come this far. That is why we had never been bothered by strikes,” he says.
Byamukama says, had he known that the protesting students could come as far as the end of Makerere- Kikoni where he runs his shop, he would never have set it up there.
“In fact, if this building which houses the shop was not mine, I would shift the day after they looted my merchandise. But, I cannot shift because I cannot afford to go and rent somewhere else yet I have free space here.”
Neighbouring community speaks out
The shopkeepers have no kind words for the students. Fransoise Mukamugenzi, a mother of four, whose eggs and bananas were looted, says the students’ acts were a disgrace to the education they are pursuing. “Of what benefit is education to them if they cannot tell what is right from wrong? Since they are educated, they are the ones who are supposed to be leading us in doing right. But, they are leading in doing wrong. I am so disappointed in them,” said Mukamugenzi.