Free Makerere Freedom Square

Sunday July 21 2019

Makerere University freedom square

Makerere University freedom square 

By Editor

Makerere University administration should halt the ongoing fencing off of the historical Freedom Square and listen to the objections by the students’ leadership and the wider university community, including the alumni.
The Freedom Square has a rich history as an open space where students have always gathered to express themselves and or air out their grievances, including making decisions on a way forward on any contentious issue. The space is also a venue for other events by the university including the graduations, conferences and other programmes.
Julius Katerega, the guild president, in a July 17 letter to the vice chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, said the “metallic fence alters the name and purpose of Freedom Square as a symbol of academic freedom in the university and in the nation”.
Mr Katerega has requested the welders be stopped and that “before any changes are made on historical university symbols stakeholders opinions are captured”. We think the student leadership has genuine concerns that must be listened to before the university effects the project. The university is currently on recesses and the students have queried the timing of the implementation of this project.
What will happen when students disagree with a university policy, as happens often, yet the university management has the keys to the Freedom Square?
There is an accumulation of episodes, including suspensions of students and lecturers that suggest freedom of expression is under attack at Makerere.
The university management under Prof Nawangwe has also voiced some genuine concerns, including the need to counter gross indiscipline among students, administrators and academic staff. We, however, opine that this cannot be achieved by fostering a culture of fear and shutting up everyone but through opening up avenues for constructive dialogue and allowing free expression.
Lately, for example, Makerere University management has resorted to deploying the military and regular police to counter or quell any dissent. In an interview with this newspaper, Mr Katerega said his leadership’s queries on the fencing off of the Freedom Square have been met with silence from the university’s management. This can only result in a struggle for power and not a contest of ideas.
Being one of Africa’s oldest institutions of higher learning and Uganda’s premier public university, Makerere University should be the beacon of the freedoms such as expression, including management playing a key role by creating opportunities for constructive dialogue with students.