There was a time in the life of Makerere when a young bright man like Henry Ssuubi Kiyimba would strut through the university’s gate underwear -less, but with head high for having bagged a government scholarship.
That was then. Ssuubi’s are now an endangered species mocked for reporting at Uganda’s premier university with a metallic suitcase.
In 1990, my uncle, then a student at Makerere was shot dead during a student strike. Those were times of significant changes all over the world. Soviet Russia had freshly collapsed. Neoliberalism was beginning to gnaw away at the welfare state. Makerere students felt the pinch and fought back. But they lost because it was a war way too big and too multi-faced.
Nearly 30 years later with the ‘‘boom’’ war long dead and forgotten, Henry Ssuubi Kiyimba walks in at Makerere like a 1980’s student. The son or daughter of a nouveau riche or just a wannabe armed with a smartphone (but unaware of his/her distance from peasantry), spots the odd Fresher and snaps him away for a good laugh on Twitter.
The Twitter share accompanied by howling emoji achieved the opposite effect and triggered two things; It reminded older Ugandans how they joined Makerere before it became a market place. It also set in motion the ‘‘Corporate Social Responsibility’’ machinery of those who genuinely want to do good and those who want to be seen to be doing good.
I watched Ssuubi on NTV last night. He spoke with confidence. His English is probably better than for those who intended to mock him. And for a man with no online life, no smartphone, and no prior media appearance experience, he did remarkably well (I have seen old men and women violently shake and sweat when faced with a mic and a camera).
The story of Ssuubi is the original story of a Makerere student who would travel to Kampala for the first time to report to school.
His story is also evidence of the ‘‘success’’ of the privatization policy. It is no longer a badge of honor to be on government scholarship if you don’t walk in with a leather suitcase or at least its cheap Chinese imitation. And, you are more likely to hook up a beautiful girlfriend at the hill on account of your second-hand iPhone than on the fact that you’re on a government scholarship