Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Were Salim, the 84th Guild President of Makerere University has graduated after 10 years.
Papa Were”, as he was popularly known by his hall-mates in Nsibirwa Hall formerly Northcote on Wednesday graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Veterinary Medicine. He enrolled at Makerere University in 2013 and began a path that he believed would end in 2019.
Speaking at Freedom Square where joined his other colleagues from the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources, and Bio Security (COVAB), Were stated that even after spending more years at Makerere, he is delighted that he has finally accomplished what drove him there.
“Going through the gates of Makerere University forever remains a huge feeling, I am happy and congratulate all those graduating this year.” He said.
Over the years, there has been a trend of students in leadership roles at the University delaying the completion of their courses because they prioritize their leadership duties over education.
In 2021, URN reported that student leader Jothan Yamureebire Burobuto had spent nine years in Makerere pursuing a Bachelor of Laws Degree, during which time he held various roles in Guild leadership and later the Uganda National Students Association-UNSA.
Burobuto’s tale is representative of other student leaders who have been accused of ignoring their studies in favor of the privileges that come with being a student leader.
However, Were dismisses this narrative, claiming that his situation is unique because the delay in graduating was a result of missing marks.
Occasionally, students who face challenges with missing marks, opt to re-do such papers because of the lengthy process of retrieving their marks, but Were said he opted for the longer process because he never wanted to re-do the exams.
However, throughout the hassle of going to several offices including the Dean of students, head of the department, and his supervisors, Papa was delayed by the fact that many of them had different commitments outside the country.
In 2018, Papa Were Salim, a Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) leaning Independent candidate, was declared winner of the Makerere University Guild Presidential race. The fourth-year student of Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine beat 14 other contestants sending supporters in night-long celebrations.
Before being elected Makerere Guild President, Salim Were had already come to the limelight after staging a one-man #togikwatako demonstration at Parliament in 2017. Then, Were marched to Parliament with his mattress to camp while protesting against lifting the presidential age limit.
He claimed he had tried to reach out to his area Member of Parliament to tell him not to support the scrapping of the age limit clause from the constitution to no avail.
Were was arrested and driven to Kampala Central Police Station from where he was taken to his home district in Busia and briefly put under indefinite house arrest. This arrest gave him prominence after several photos while he was being arrested, circulated all over the media.
In April 2018, Papa Were Salim was part of the ad-hoc committee tasked with investigating the university’s financial challenges and proposing solutions to the purported 90% tuition fee increment.
The committee which was chaired by Polly Bandola, a representative from the Council of Hall Chairperson traveled to the University of Nairobi in Kenya, the University of Rwanda, and local universities such as Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), Gulu University, and Uganda Christian University – Mukono to study their modes of feeding and tuition structure and how it is managed.
Although Were was not initially part of the committee, he, along with Guild Speaker Isaac Kwagala, government-sponsored students, were co-opted later.
However, allegations emerged during report compilation suggesting that Were engaged in clandestine meetings with university officials and later foiled the committee’s initial plans of tabling the report to the guild house to have input from other student leaders before the report was handed over to university management.
Subsequently, student leaders recommended the 15% cumulative increment to replace the University Council’s proposed 41 percent and 91 percent which Vice-Chancellor Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe suspended.
The university council later approved the 15 percent cumulative tuition increment three weeks into the 2018/2019 academic year, with the move affecting new students who joined the institution in August 2018.
Although the 15% increment recommendation looked more favorable than the previous 41-91%, a year later, it sparked several demonstrations in the University which saw several students arrested and others suspended.
During this strike, Were was accused by fellow students for being among the people who spearheaded the implementation of a 15% tuition increment that was passed by the university council.
Angry students attacked his resident, broke into his room, and set fire to several of his belongings, including sofa sets, a flat-screen television, a home theatre system, and his scholarly papers.