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Nawangwe warns columnist against writing negatively about Makerere

FILE PHOTO: Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Makerere University vice-chancellor Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe has ordered Observer newspaper columnist Yusuf Serunkuma Kajura to desist from making ‘malicious attacks’ on officers of the university in the media and on other social platforms.

In a letter dated March 10 written to Serunkuma who  is also a PhD student at the Makerere University Institute of Social Research , Nawangwe says if he doesn’t desist from these writings, unspecified disciplinary measures will be brought against him.

“It has been brought to my attention that you continue to write articles in the mass media and on social media platforms which are detrimental to the good reputation of Makerere University. In your articles, you have made personal attacks on officers of the University including making racist and xenophobic comments. This kind of behaviour is not only in contravention of the University‘s Communication Policy but also damages the university’s image as an international and tolerant institution and is not acceptable,” Nawangwe’s letter reads in part.

Serunkuma runs a weekly column in the Observer Newspaper touching on social, political and economic issues of the country. He’s also a regular guest on radio and television talk shows.

Last year, Serunkuma also sued Makerere University Institute of Social Research director, Prof Mahmood Mamdani, together with the University for illegally interfering in his academic process hence scuttling his chances of completing his PhD in social studies in time.

Through his lawyers of Parkhill advocates, Serunkuma has called Nawangwe’s orders not only illegal but also unacceptable.

“It is an unacceptable departure and indeed a shameless negation of the freedom of speech and expression which right is jealously protected by Article 29 of the Constitution…Personally, indeed in your official capacity, you lack the power to censor our client in the enjoyment of his constitutional rights to free expression,” the letter dated March 13 reads in part.  It adds that they have been closely observing a very worrying and dangerous trend slowly creeping in at Makerere whereby threats, blackmail and outright intimidation are used as tools to suppress academic freedoms and free speech.

“You have unfortunately set yourself apart as the chief promoter and implementer of this reactionary tendency. We wish to register here and now that whereas other people have submitted to your indiscretion and illegal exercise of the power entrusted to you by your office, our client will not take it in lying down in that regard,” the letter reads in part.  Instead of heeding Nawangwe’s warning, Serunkuma’s letter has another warning of itself.

“Should you make the mistake and be minded to implement the threats and illegalities contained in your letter, we will sue and seek remedies from the court against you personally…we shall not be lumped together with over victims of your authoritarian tendencies that have been innocently suing the university instead of the rightful culprit,” the letter reads.

Ever since he took over as Makerere University Vice-Chancellor in 2017, Nawangwe has used an iron fist to enforce what he calls discipline among students and academic staff. He has expelled or suspended students, academic and non-teaching staff for participating in demonstrations. President Museveni is on record thanking him for the job well done in ending strikes at Uganda’s oldest and biggest university.

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