Sexual Harassment Claims Taint Uganda’s University Politics

Makerere University Grieves the Loss of Trusted Data Entry Official
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New accusations have emerged, alleging sexual harassment in exchange for political support within the student affairs leadership in the wake of recent sex-for-marks scandals plaguing Ugandan universities. At least two female candidates who vied for elective positions on students’ guild bodies claim that they were routinely pressured for sexual favors in return for political backing.

Reports of this disturbing trend prompted Makerere University, established in 1922, to commit to an inquiry once a formal complaint is filed. Makerere’s Vice Chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, expressed ignorance about the prevalence of sexual harassment in student politics but assured that the university would investigate any complaints.

Student politics in Uganda’s higher education institutions are known for being highly contested, with candidates often viewing elective positions as stepping stones to post-college political careers or opportunities to impress future employers. The allure of perks associated with certain positions further adds to the competitive environment.

A recent investigation by a local newspaper revealed insights from Ms Miriam Najingo, a former leader in the 88th Students Guild at Makerere University (2021/22). Najingo confirmed the existence of sexual pressures faced by individuals like her, recounting instances where candidates were asked for money, sex, or both in exchange for campaign support.

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Najingo, however, did not file a formal complaint during her tenure, citing a lack of knowledge about where to report and concerns about the influence wielded by the accused individuals within the university. Another former aspirant, Ms Margaret Natabbi, supported Najingo’s claims, stating that rejection of such advances resulted in a lack of support and even opposition during her campaign.

Despite these serious allegations, Makerere’s 89th guild president, Mr Robert Maseruka, dismissed the claims as baseless, attributing them to disappointed individuals who failed to secure positions. Maseruka, however, acknowledged the existence of a tendency among male students to objectify female candidates and, at times, pressure them for sex.

Female officials in the current students’ guild cabinet at Makerere, including Ms Faith Tabusa and Ms Sharifa Kiranda, denied that female guild officials obtained their positions through compromising means. They emphasized that the cabinet selection process was merit-based and focused on achieving gender balance.

The issue raises concerns about the broader culture within university politics, with claims that ministerial positions are sometimes offered in exchange for sexual favors. However, substantiating such allegations remains a challenge, as evidenced by the difficulty in lodging formal complaints without concrete evidence.

While the focus has been on Makerere University, the extent of this disturbing trend across other universities in Uganda remains unclear. Officials from Kyambogo University, for example, expressed unawareness of such practices among their student body.

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