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Kirabo: The little known face of the Makerere fees increment strike

FILE PHOTO: Marion Kirabo

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT  | Tension was high in Makerere University for the past weeks due to a student’s strike triggered by the enforcement of the 15 percent cumulative tuition increment. What began as a peaceful demonstration with 15 female students carrying placards attracted heavily armed Uganda People’s Defense Force-UPDF soldiers and police officers.

This saw the abduction of Siperia Mollie Saasiraabo, the Guild Representative of the School of Psychology and female student leader during the October 22, 2019. Unidentified security operatives picked up Makerere University Guild President, Julius Kateregga shortly after appearing on a morning television show.

However, this couldn’t end the student’s strike. Female students like Marion Kirabo and Judith Nalukwago among others defied social norms and decided to leave the strike. Kirabo was instrumental in the student’s strike at all fronts from strategy to activism and drafting documents that have been tabled in parliament, university council and other meetings with key government personalities including Gen. Salim Saleh who recently met the students with a view of having a clear understanding of their concerns.

The 4th year Law student, Gender, Ethics and Integrity Minister, says she isn’t bothered with the two warning letters she has already received from the university management.

But who is Kirabo Marion? 

Kirabo was born on August 23, 1996 at Nsambya Hospital to Mary Nzyabake, a nurse at Mulago National Referral Hospital and businessman Milton Kibaba, who originates from Kyarumba village in Musasa parish in Kanyatsi sub-county in Bukonzo in Kasese District.

She grew up in a polygamous family because her father had three wives. Her parents soon separated and she had to make a decision on, which parent to move with.

Kirabo went to Kampala Kindergarten for nursery and Kampala Parents before switching to City Parents Primary School in Nakulabye, where she sat her Primary Leaving Examinations and obtained 8 aggregates in 2009.

She later joined Makerere College School where she completed her Ordinary level studies in 2013.  She blames sexism for her failure to become a leader at Makerere College.

“In order for you to go through as a prefect, the outgoing prefect would vet the contenders and for some reason, it mattered to have a big bottom. There was a lot of attachment to your physical appearance,” Kirabo says.

Reading, writing challenges

Between 2014 and 2015, she had her advanced level of education at Gayaza High School. It is here that she was examined and found to have dyslexia, a learning disorder that involves difficulty in reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words.  But this seemed just a simple distraction to Kirabo.

She joined Makerere University where she was initially offered a Diploma in Music dance and Drama on government scholarship, which her parents rejected.  She sat and passed her pre-entry exams for a Bachelor of Law degree and was admitted. Kirabo became a year one representative to the Makerere Law Society.

“It was exciting in Makerere Law School being a leader. It reinforced my ambition,” Kirabo says.

With the firm foundation, it was easy for her to win the GRC post because of what she calls tested competence. “At law school, the vote is merit based and that is how I entered the GRC house,” she says.  Kirabo’s motivation is struggling for a better future.

Asked whether it bothers her that her parents would not want their daughter to engage in such activism at university and putting her life in spotlight, Kirabo says it bothers her lot but insists she must choose the kind of life she will live.

“I always think my parents have put so much effort and money to educate me and actually sometimes I don’t want them to know what I am doing. But because I am always in the media so my dad who is always following me actually sees. Its only my mum who sometimes gets to know after sometime,” Kirabo explains.

She adds that the alternative to this kind of life is not for her. “But you see the alternative is to just go through life, watch the injustices happen and do nothing. To me I think it’s a worse alternative. I want to live in a society where I am free to choose the fate that I want to live and not solely to live someone else’s life. At the end of the day, I will not live with my parents forever, my life will be my own and I must choose how that life looks like,” she said.

Asked whether they know the repercussions of their resistance against the fees increment, Kirabo says they are fully aware and that is why they won’t stop unless their demands are met.

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