Old guard vs Young Turks as Makerere University convocation goes to polls this Friday

Ahead of December 30 polls to elect the new executive of the Makerere University convocation, the most conspicuous issue is that it is the old guard versus Young Turks.

The convocation is basically an association of Makerere University alumni and staff association. It has a sizeable budget of billions of shillings and its main purpose is to push for the interests of staff and alumni for a better working and studying environment.

For years, the leadership of the convocation has acted or been seen as a lower extension of the university administration but this year has seen a wake-up call. There has been an overwhelming participation of young people seeking to take executive positions.

They include Dr Ivan Ssempijja, the immediate past guild president who is eyeing to become the treasurer, former student guild deputy speaker, Phanice Akello, who seeks to be the vice chairperson, and Dr Esther Nankya, vice chairperson of the National Youth Council, targeting to be a committee member.

Other young persons include former guild speaker Isaac Kwagala [publicity secretary], former MUBS guild vice president Julia Muhumuza [committee member] and Ezra Byakutangaza [chairperson], a former Makerere University guild speaker and president of the Uganda National Students Association.

In all, there are about 15 contestants below the age of 30 years, an unprecedented trend. Makerere University convocation elections are held every four years, mostly during the festive period when people’s attention is diverted, but for the first time, they have gripped public interest and this election promises to be the most competitive and fierce on grounds of the influence of young people.

In fact, over the past few weeks, this issue has been the focal point of debate on various social media platforms, especially when it comes to comprehending the dwindling fortunes and influence of this university alumni and staff association.

Four years ago when Tanga Odoi took charge as convocation chair, the signal was loud and clear that the mantle was ring-fenced for ‘seniors.’
But, little was envisaged that the diligently crafted status quo was coming under threat.

Under Odoi’s leadership, his close association with the university top administration not only weakened the weight of his executive but also the convocation’s influence in Makerere issues. At the moment, the convocation leadership finds itself on the verge of being voted out at the expense of Young Turks who have woken up to fill the void.

A growing interest by young people is seen as a turning point in the tussle between the convocation’s progressive young leaders and veterans. This may have a ripple effect. The sudden interest in the polls for Young Turks cannot be ruled out. The episode is also a reminder of the frustration within the university’ top leadership for its failure to take quick decisions on various projects.

For instance, construction of the perimeter fence around the university was scheduled to last eight months but it is now four years, something that has been blamed on the convocation’s reactive approach.

However, there is also a feeling within the university leadership that the Young Turks nursing leadership ambitions cannot realize their dream as there exists a progressive glass ceiling.

“A person below 30 years cannot decide on the fate of seasoned professors and lecturers. These are issues supposed to be handled by experienced people,” said a member of the executive who preferred anonymity.

Also, reports suggest that the university council, the top organ of Makerere University, doesn’t want young leaders to rise because they don’t want to shake up the power structure.

“It is extremely hard to negotiate with these young people on contentious issues because they are extremist in nature. The convocation needs old, soon-to-be-retired people with experience to get things moving,” said another official who preferred anonymity.


Dr Esther Nankya

Reached out for a comment, Dr Nankya noted that the avalanche of young people contesting for slots is a result of a gap created for young people.

“Before, people never knew about the convocation and its leadership or influence. It has been a sleeping lion but when really empowered, it can be active to promote the interests of stakeholders, the students and staff. We are coming up [to contest] because we are seeing a gap we need to fill with our energies as young people. We are fresh people who know what should be done from our experience. The future of the university is in the hands of the young people to innovate new ways to raise its profile,” she said.

Official records show there are more than 200,000 people that can qualify to vote for the convocation leadership but in reality, only about 2,000 persons are expected to vote.

All one needs to be eligible to vote or be voted is to pay a mandatory annual Shs 10,000 registration fees and register to vote for the convocation.

However, The Observer understands there is a huge standoff among organizers over the registry, with some claiming there are ghost voters implanted by the current executive.

It remains to be seen how everything unfolds but there is no denying that that advent of young Turks will cause the convocation to be more active in university matters than before.

Source: The Observer

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