Some of the businesses that face closure at Makerere, according to a July 1 eviction notice from the university management. PHOTO | COURTESY 

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Evicted Mak businesses left licking their wounds

What you need to know:

  • The eviction notice, which has sent shockwaves through the business community of Makerere, traces back to a June 30 letter written by Mr Yusuf Kiranda, the University Secretary, and addressed to the Deputy Vice Chancellor in-charge of Finance and Administration, Prof Henry Alinaitwe.

Mama Junior (not real name) cuts a forlorn look as she stares into space, but all she can see staring back at her is ill-fate. For the better part of nearly 20 years of her life, Makerere University has been a home away from home for Mama Junior. 

However, all that changed in a heartbeat after the university management ordered a range of businesses, including restaurants, canteens, photocopying, stationery, bars, vendors, salons, telephone booths and washing bays “to relocate from the university effective July 1.”

Mama Junior used to sell stationery and petty groceries such as sweets and snacks that enable students to beat off hunger in between gruelling lecturers. 

Hers is one of those deemed to be illegal and thus—states the July 1 eviction notice—“will be charged with trespassing.”

Like Mama Junior, Caro, who has for a decade operated a printing business at Uganda’s oldest university, is staring at a bleak future. 

For years, she has availed students with requisite academic aids such as past papers and other study materials. She has also enabled many students to beat deadlines by printing their coursework.

These are but two of the nearly 300 businesses that are supposed to cease operating any business at Makerere University. Some of the photocopiers at the university have been institutions of sorts. For instance, Hadijah’s photocopier—which is a stone’s throw from the Department of Journalism and Communication—still operates to this day, having started business when the programme was known as Bachelor’s in Mass Communication.

The current operator of the machine told Sunday Monitor that when Hadijah started “a produce business”, she left her son in-charge. When the university shut its doors to Covid-19, Hadijah’s son tried a hand at running a business on Nasser Road. 

The gentleman, who runs the photocopier, and asked not to be named, told Sunday Monitor that it was business as usual because he has not received any eviction notice.   

The eviction notice, which has sent shockwaves through the business community of Makerere, traces back to a June 30 letter written by Mr Yusuf Kiranda, the University Secretary, and addressed to the Deputy Vice Chancellor in-charge of Finance and Administration, Prof Henry Alinaitwe.

University’s position

In the letter, the University Council advanced three issues: Firstly, that numerous businesses operate on the university campus, including illegal vending activities and other businesses that do not relate to the institution’s core functions. 

Secondly, that several businesses operate in non-designated spaces, including building corridors and foyers.

Lastly, that the university campus needed to be cleared of business activities that do not relate to its core functions. As a result, the council resolved to terminate all business activities at the university campus effective July 1. The notice said the only businesses that would be spared are those contracted by the university to provide catering services to selected kitchens in the halls of residence and the Souvenir shop under the Makerere University Endowment Fund.

The notice also stated that management would review business operations at the university and revert to the council for any further necessary action. 

On July 1, Prof Alinaitwe approved the recommendations in a letter addressed to all vendors and business owners at the campus.

The development has left many at Makerere heavy on questions and light on answers. What was the motivation behind the decision?  Was there a prior consultative process? What are the university’s core functions and how do businesses around campus contribute to their non-fulfilment? Why the eviction at short notice without a grace period? Are there better alternatives besides eviction that could have been considered? 

Long road ahead

The university’s top brass insist that the contents of the eviction notice address most —if not all— of these questions. But for those who the affected businesses were practically their life and skin, everything doesn’t make sense. Mama Junior—a single mother—decried the precarious predicament that awaits her now that her fate is sealed. 

She has had to work tooth and nail to eke out a living out for her family. For seven days every week, she has been devoted to her business because it is the sole way to make ends meet for her family of five.

“I depend on this business entirely to support my family. It is the source of rent, school fees, what the family feeds on, medical bills and other necessities,” she says, casting a glance away to dub two streams of tears strolling down her cheeks.

She is also disturbed by the fact that the notice came without prior warning yet they were expected to leave immediately. 

However, she seems resigned to fate and calls upon the intervention of God to extricate her from her dire situation.

“I have nothing else to do apart from going home because this is no longer my home. It is so painful and l leave the matter in God’s hands,” she says, with a pained expression on her face, adding, “Here, children of man cannot do anything to save the situation.”

Caro is also equally disturbed by the recent development. Unlike the operator of Hadijah’s photocopier, Caro was served a notice to vacate.

“The economy is terrible and we tried to explain when the letters arrived, but they wouldn’t give us an audience. We asked them to at least allow us finish the semester and then leave, but still they could not permit it. Now, we have no option but just to pack our things and go and see what life offers outside,” she said rather glumly.

Mixed signals

A source that preferred anonymity intimated that the university cannot say their businesses are illegal yet they pay for the places that they operate in on a semester basis. According to our source, the rent fee per semester ranges anywhere between Shs450,000 and Shs600,000, depending on the model of the business. 

To bale the waters when they are still ankle deep, our source advised that the university authorities should go round, one by one, to check for letters of appointment because some of them are suffering the consequences of the decision unjustly.

Another of the victims, who chose to identify himself only as Emma, was vexed by the fact that the decision came in at a point when they had just cleared rent for the ongoing semester. He couldn’t hide his gross dissatisfaction.

“It’s like we are useless!” he retorted, adding, “It’s like you give birth to a child and then you chase them away.”

Following the suspension of the Makerere University Students Guild and the 88th guild elections, Emma says they have no avenue to lodge their grievances. 

But it’s not just the business owners who will be counting losses. Students will too. 

Timothy Barasa, a Second Year student at the College of Natural Sciences, says the on-campus printeries were cheap and saved lots of time and energy. He also adds that the canteens brought services closer to the students.

“Some students supply items to these canteens to be able to survive at campus. So, in the end, if one business is stifled, a host of others are stifled too,” he noted.

It remains to be seen whether this decision will be reviewed by the university and repealed as the business owners are demanding.

Seeking solution

The business owners have since petitioned the University Council, asking it to rescind the ban.

Through their lawyers, Asiimwe Advocates and Solicitors and Elgon Advocates, the business people claim the said decision is unfair and illegal.

“Our clients are grossly inconvenienced and aggrieved…. with the resolution of the University Council for being illegal, unfair and unjust…,” the notice reads in part.

The business operators on Thursday also gave the university a three day-ultimatum to rescind the decision or they seek legal redress.

“You fail to honour these demands within three days from the date of service of this notice on you, our stern instructions are to unleash the legal machinery and set in motion the legal process against you at your own peril and costs,” the business owners warned in their petition.

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