Makerere Student Attempts Suicide Following Suspension Over Unsactioned Campaign Debate

Isaac Byaruhanga, a fourth-year student at Makerere University studying Medicine and Surgery, is currently in critical condition after a self-inflicted poisoning on Friday evening. Byaruhanga attempted to take his own life after being informed of his suspension from Makerere University, along with his colleague Arnold Muganga, by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Barnabas Nawangwe.

The suspension was due to their alleged involvement in an unsanctioned guild presidential campaign debate known as “Kimeza,” which resulted in a violent altercation, leaving one student hospitalized. In his suspension letter dated April 6th, 2023, Nawangwe stated that Byaruhanga “particularly started the fight that resulted in the severe injury of one of the University students, a one Sserunjoji Robert who is, as a result, currently hospitalized at Makerere University hospital.”

According to reports, Robert Sserunjogi, a second-year student from the College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), sustained injuries during a violent altercation that ensued between Margaret Nattabi of the National Unity Platform-NUP and Sula Namwoza, an independent candidate who had entered Mitchell Hall for the highly anticipated debate “Kimeza.”

Nawangwe suspended Byaruhanga and Muganga until further notice for their involvement in organizing and participating in the Kimeza debate. However, this decision did not sit well with Byaruhanga, who resorted to attempting suicide via poisoning on Friday evening. In an interview with Uganda Radio Network (URN) a few hours before his suicide attempt, Byaruhanga expressed shock over the suspension letter he had received earlier in the day.

He stated that he was not involved in whatever was indicated in the letter, but that he was surprised to learn that he was involved in the physical altercation that led to Sserunjoji’s injury.

Byaruhanga also mentioned that he had contacted his lawyers and was contemplating taking legal action against the university for the suspension that was affecting his mental health and concentration.

“Right now it is disturbing my mental health, I don’t feel fine right now, am not concentrating because I have so many issues that have been running in my life and when I have added up this one, I feel it is too much for me,” Byaruhanga told URN.

Meanwhile, Sulaiman Namwoza, whose candidacy was also disqualified after participating in the Kimeza, told URN that he was summoned by the hall leaders to take part in the activity and he had no choice but to comply with the request to secure the hall’s endorsement for his campaign.

It is worth noting that physical campaign debates were prohibited when Makerere University implemented the new 2022 Students’ Guild statute, which specifically prohibits physical campaign activities. Article 10 (b) of the statute states that “Student elections at the University shall be virtual unless otherwise determined by the University.”

Additionally, Professor Nawangwe issued an interdiction letter dated April 6th, 2023 to Dhubanji Xavier, the Custodian of Mitchell Hall, based on reports from the chief security officer that Xavier was allegedly absent from duty without permission at the time of the incident.

“In order to ensure the safety and security of the students, staff, and property of the university community, especially at Mitchell Hall, I hereby interdict you from University services with immediate effect,” reads part of the letter.

Nawangwe further stated that a committee would be constituted to investigate Xavier’s alleged conduct, and he would be invited to participate in the proceedings. However, the custodian will receive half pay of his salary but is not allowed to access the University premises, offices, and/ or property.

Understanding Kimeza at Makerere

When Makerere goes to polls, it is customary for candidates to solicit support from the most influential halls of residence, including but not limited to Mitchell Hall, Lumumba Hall, Mary Stuart, and Complex. It is widely believed that obtaining an endorsement from any of these halls guarantees a significant boost in campaign support for the candidate in question.

As part of the endorsement process, most candidates are typically required to participate in a debate, which offers them a platform to present their campaign manifesto and persuade hall members to support their bid.

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