What you need to know:
- Dismissed from Makerere University a-quarter of a century ago while in final year at medical school for defending the rights of students, Stephen Renny Galogitho has just got through his first course, an online Certified Public Manager study programme at Drake University, Iowa, US.
The second stanza of Makerere University anthem gives those who have walked through its gates a special resonance and pride. “Do not forget through all the years those who have gone through the gates of Makerere. Give them the pride, give them the joy to remember the gates of Makerere.”
But that pregnant promise rings hollow for the institution’s 61st guild president Stephen Renny Galogitho, dismissed a-quarter of a century ago while in final year at medical school for defending the rights of students.
The small man from Tororo had to overcome so much tribulations in a pit of poverty, many times having to be ‘excavated’ from hunting birds for food and returned to hunting knowledge in classrooms by well-wishers, rising to the helm of the Ivory Tower’s student guild, only to fall in arguably the most painful way in Makerere’s 100-year history.
Galogitho did not just fall
“How do they explain the infamy of throwing away a medical doctor?”
And how would anyone respond to such a question that hangs like a heavy cloud, especially when the government is currently pushing the teaching of STEM subjects in schools?
“This travesty of justice committed against me, my family, my parents, my benefactors, my clan and my generation was done to stifle the voice for poor against neoliberal thuggery and excesses,” Galogitho says.
He had been pleasantly surprised when contacted via WhatsApp, saying it was only the second time Daily Monitor was seeking out his opinion, the first being after he had just won the guild presidency.
On WhatsApp, while preparing the appointment for the interview, Galogitho sounded impatient and too eager to correct every little aspect about his history. But even while giving the impression of arrogance, you would coil to his brilliance.
Yet when he finally arrives at Eden Gardens in Njeru, Buikwe District, in the company of Mr Emmanuel Mudali, he looks everything but arrogant. The miasma of decades of carrying ignominy is written all over him even as the new blue suit does so much to hide it.
The dark day
On Wednesday, October 23, 1996, the Makerere student body called a general assembly to discuss what they saw as commercialisation of tertiary education. A few years earlier, the guild leadership of Charles Rwomushana had been forced to come up with the “Needy Students Work Scheme” as an alternative to the scrapped students’ allowances.
The government had been pushing hard to enforce “cost-sharing.” Two years earlier, Issa Taligola had paid the price when his guild council led students in a peaceful protest to Parliament. The protest had been viciously broken up by police and Taligola was expelled.
But the government had not backed down on its intention that Galogitho traces back to the neoliberal policies introduced by economists Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman at the end of the Second World War.
“The government had moved from scrapping of student allowances to imposing payment of fees,” says Galogitho, speaking with the kind of dismay you could confess he exhibited 26 years ago over the same.
“This meant education would soon become a preserve of the rich in a country rich with ethnic diversity where poverty was stinking to the high heavens,” he added.
The general assembly called for a peaceful protest and barely 24 hours later, the University Council had convened without the guild president—who by law, sat on the same body representing the students—and took drastic action.
“We were dismissed, 10 of us, completely (Nzaana, myself, Sentamu, Nyeko, among others) and another 25 were students suspended for a year and returned to Makerere to complete,” says Dr John Bosco Waniaye, now with the Ministry of Health.
Students including Dr Emmanuel Otaala would return later to complete their studies, while the likes of Sentamu and Waniaye were only allowed back on a presidential pardon where they had to be exiled at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST).
“I joined Fort Portal School of clinical officers, then later joined MUST on a presidential pardon. The most disturbing thing was going back to Third Year (three years backwards),” says Waniaye.
But this is where Galogitho was left at pains. Many believed he had defiantly rejected the presidential pardon to rebound in his studies from Mbarara.
“There is a terribly deliberate misinformation that I haven’t been trying out my chances to continue with my education,” Galogitho says.
“The then Makerere administration seems to have harboured a dark vendetta against me. A person or a force that runs institutions in Uganda like personal businesses. These forces have turned public institutions like universities into giant kindergartens where they can chase a student from one and transplant them into another.
“This person seems to have political vendetta against me and wanted to destroy me and these are 27 solid Mandela years that I have been in the grievous injustice.”
Foiled transfer to Nairobi?
Galogitho premises his claim of vendetta on what he says happened in 2007. At first, he had spent years interceding for the students with top leaders, including then Catholic Church head Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala.
During this time, he got lost in himself as he chased for justice for the other students. He had taken to teaching in secondary schools in Mbale and later in Jinja as well.
However, in 2007, his hopes were completely shattered.
“I chanced to get an Australian couple who were sympathetic and willing to sponsor completion of my course from the University of Nairobi,” he says.
As an admission prerequisite for such, the University of Nairobi would ask that the student transferring has their results transferred from parent institution so that they can proceed without taking too many years backwards. Galogitho would resume studies from Third Year.
“Makerere frustrated this transfer and I lost the sponsorship,” he says, casting a pained look.
“Never in my life had I come face to face with the most vicious of men. Some of my fellow students went back to study, which is good, but I don’t know on which conditions and to what effect.”
Sunday Monitor could not readily verify this information with the University of Nairobi, but Makerere University vice chancellor Barnabas Nawangwe rejected it.
“Makerere University cannot refuse anybody to transfer to another university if that university has accepted him/her,” Prof Nawangwe said.
James William Mugeni, a clinical officer living in the US and a longtime friend of Galogitho, scoffed at those talking about pardon.
“It is interesting that people would think Makerere pardons him. What is the charge sheet? Someone should hold Makerere accountable for their action,” he said.
Efforts to reach out to Prof John Ssebuwufu, who headed the university at the time, were futile. E-mails sent both to his official address and his secretary had not yielded any response by press time.
While expulsion of students is not uncommon, there are times when affected students are rehabilitated and allowed to continue with their studies.
Abu Mayanja was expelled from Makerere during the 1950s after a students’ strike over food. This was under the colonial administrators, but they acknowledged his brilliance and instead gave him a scholarship to study in the UK.
Drawing into the disparity between the contemporary Makerere administration with those of the past, alumni have cited Frederick Byaruhanga’s book “Student Power in Africa: A case of Makerere University.” The book details how, in the 1950s, Vice Chancellor Sir Bernard de Bunsen used his connections within the governor’s office to obtain scholarships for the expelled students to study abroad because he considered them “young men of real worth.”
Those who had been expelled but rehabilitated included Mayanja from Uganda, as well as Josephat Karanja, Isaac Omolo and Said Hamdun from Kenya.
But for Galogitho, it appears even a pardon of whatever nature—as pushed for by some alumni—is alien at the Hill he treasured.
“Regarding a pardon, I am not sure if Mr Galogitho applied for a pardon and it was refused. What purpose will a pardon in the circumstances serve at this time? This happened 25 years ago and he cannot resume studies from where he left,” Prof Nawangwe said.
Understandably, suggestions of a pardon strike the defiance chords in Galogitho. In it, he sees the intent to paint him as guilty and indeed a few responses on social media suggested as much.
“I, Galogitho Stephen Renny, expelled from the university on impulse by a group of people who never even bothered to follow any known rules or laws! I ask them to pardon me because they committed an illegality in the first place?” he asks rhetorically.
“The real type of pardoning I would ask of Makerere University is calling upon this academic body to join me in advocating for a pullback on some of the neoliberal policies that have impacted negatively upon the education outcome in Uganda.”
Return from the ‘dead’
When Mugeni spotted a comment by Galogitho on a Facebook post about the fire that gutted Makerere’s Main Building in September of 2020, the former moved to locate the latter. It had been initially thought that Galogitho had died. The former Makere guild president was not dead, just a living dead. He says Mugeni had “excavated” him from wherever the abyss of life had dumped him and given him renewed hope. He had been found unkempt and looking nothing like a former guild president, let alone one who was just weeks away from becoming a qualified medical doctor when fate took him back to default setting.
“I discovered a crestfallen man. The next question was how to uplift this man. Empathy set in. So I mobilised a few friends and we bought him a smartphone,” recalls Mugeni of the man who had to borrow a smartphone to comment about the fire at Makerere, adding, “Then I launched a campaign dubbed ‘Friends of Githo’ to restore Galogitho’s life to humanity.”
The restoration of Galogitho includes purchase of land on which they will construct a modest house for him, provide an income generating activity, and support him if he opted to enrol for studies.
The group has secured an acre of land for their comrade and seen him through his first course, an online Certified Public Manager (CPM) study programme at Drake University, Iowa, US.
Whenever Galogitho’s brilliance is cited, there is never an ounce of flattery. For a man who was languishing in squalor and looked like he had given up on life, his Summa cum launde (an honorary title used to signify a degree that was earned with the highest distinction) on June 8, 2022, has inspired many to come to his support.
Galogitho scored exceptional grading in everything, from public sector budgeting, risk management to diversity and public management.
Sunday Monitor understands he could have been in the US for commensurate Masters programme, but Covid-19 pandemic iced the dream.
Because of the infamy he has had to live with, many of his contemporaries approach him with caution. A couple of those approached for this article pleaded to be left out of it but maintained they were in support of his restoration.
“I regret that those I would have healed didn’t get a chance at me,” says Galogitho, who would have been the first doctor from his clan.
His dream was to go back straight to Tororo after his studies. He had already been offered a job at St Anthony’s Hospital. As he feels he let down the hope of Tororo College head teacher James Mudidi, his deputy Luke Ejulun, and his string of benefactors such as Fr Cosmas Gitta, the Late Archbishop Dennis Kuwanuka Lote, Fr John Baptist Masayi, Fr Alex Gregg Ojacor, Fr Paul Okoth and the Late Fr James Ngobi. The district itself is yawning and would have probably benefited from his medical expertise.
Dr Otaala had combed places with Galogitho, seeking pardon. He got back and completed his studies but even as a lawmaker, and having been the Primary Healthcare minister, Tororo Hospital does not have a functional radiology system, for instance.
The hospital also has no blood bank and any blood transfusion needed is often a referral case. Of course, Galogitho could have been like Dr Otaala—maybe even too powerless to bring these services to the district or consumed by life’s trappings later. But the misses from the cutting of his career arteries are telling.
Born to Regina Nyapendi and the late Simon Owor in 1969, Galogitho grew up in Peita Village in Mulanda Sub-county. The place is a typical fallow of poverty, and a young Galogith spent more time hunting birds than in classroom as he had no fees.
Still, he excelled in Primary Leaving Examinations at Siwa Primary School and joined St Peter’s College Tororo. The fees challenge was like a shadow he could not avoid, but in head teacher James Mudidi—and his deputy Luke Ejulun—the boy found compassion.
After another episode of having to stay out of school over fees, Ejulun contacted Fr Cosmas Gitta of Tororo Diocese, who saw it better for the boy to be kept at St Pius X Seminary, Nagongera, than left to roam around.
“Githo helped with day-to-day chores, including looking after the stable, the piggery project and attending to other menial works on the seminary farm,” recalls Mr Emmanuel Mudali.
A picture of an isolated dwelling that was Galogitho’s abode tells the story of his humble formative years. To say there was a contrast between the pristine walls of the chapel and the classroom blocks with the store-like structure Githo sheltered in would be to humiliate the word comparison.
Mudali adds: “We saw little Githo trotting from this room on his own and consuming himself in the chores abounding. This was rather intriguing to our minds. Galogitho was just about our age, petit in size yet in this isolated space and out of school. Somehow, we formed this image of a total orphan of him in our minds and I carried this image on until I met his father Owor much later in our adult lives. I later met his mother too, the very amiable Nyapendi.”
Mudali said Galogitho was a brilliant sociable character, who was both a sharp storyteller and a sharp shooter with the catapult. He quickly mingled with the seminarians and got to know almost all of them by name.
“Fr Gitta was an avid reader with cross-cutting literature on his shelf, which Githo had access to. This quality and access to books was the beginning of Galogitho’s nurture into a reading culture. He read just about anything available with Fr Gitta and within our library,” he said.
Galogitho would go on to top his school in O-Level examinations in 1988 to gain admission to St Mary’s College, Kisubi, studying physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics.
In 1991, he was admitted to Makerere University to study Medicine. After serving in the guild council as academic affairs minister in 1994, and speaker of Lumumba Hall a year later, there was only one place Galogitho was headed for—up.
But this up was a career tragedy that led him down.
“When we are victorious, everyone is after us, when we fail, everyone will be baying for our blood. The struggle for freedom is long, painful and arduous. Moses understood this best when the people he was freeing from slavery turned against him! I experienced this when the people expelled along with me wanted my head for breakfast,” he says of his tribulations.