March 2009
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Day March 23, 2009

Was Makerere Free To Demonstrate in the 1980s?

1/8 Student demonstrations are a mode of political participation, just like insurrection, lobbying, insurgency, voting in an election, coup detat, sit down strikes, trade union petitions, violent protest, disengagement/exit etc. All those are actions that populations target at the political elite to make them defer to popular preferences.

2/8 Populations opt for any or a combination of those modes of participation depending on the circumstances. When one option is frustrated, others are tried. There were definitely varying degrees of those modes of political participation at different levels of Ugandan society (students inclusive) during Obote II.

3/8 If students were not demonstrating, what were they doing? Is it really true that Makerere Students were not dying? How many students deemed it unwise to go out on the streets to face, not the Police (because there was none), but the the “Special Forces”, instead opting to face the UNLA itself? How many UNLA/NASA/Special Force cordon and search operations took place in student halls of residence? How many lecturers died or run to exile?

4/8 If what matters is how many Makerere students died, then, let us know it: many students, primary/secondary school; undergraduates and postgraduates confronted the state, and multitudes perished at the hands of the security forces. This does not have to happen at a campus demonstration. There are also many students at the lower levels whose lives were disrupted to the point that demonstration was not even available as an option. Many died, many were orphaned, some like Robert were adopted not even by guerrillas, but by gorrillas…..see this link: (

5/8 There are several students who, as soon as they completed their final exams, walked straight from Makerere to “demonstrate” in arrears in the manner that the state understood best. They opted for insurgency because demonstrating in Wandegeya was as worthless as it was futile.

6/8 Some survived. In 1990, when the NRA allowed undergraduate students (who demonstrated and survived) to go back to Makerere, no less than 800 re-enlisted to complete their degree courses. No less than 1,500 went back to primary school….Kadogo School. For many years, each one of those was wanted dead or alive. Very many of their colleagues never lived to go back to complete their studies/courses, at places including Makerere which in their years in the 80s, were, as some of us would claim, the bastion of the freedom to demostrate.

7/8 It is hard to deny these realities without turning ourselves into callous cynics, harder even for those same ones of us that keep hollering about “truth and reconciliation”. It all amounts to dancing about on the graves of the unlamented.

8/8 The fact is, if Makerere did not bleed in the 1980s, it is because it was terminally anaemic.

Lance Corporal (Rtd) Otto Patrick

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