“My dear nephew these days I have been traveling a lot on business and I am behind on a lot of news. However, I have just noticed that you students are back to your striking ways and you are now seated at home.
In between my busy schedule I just thought I might take a few minutes to share some thoughts of the little I know about life. And, let me first share with you that as a University student it’s of course well and good to be involved in student activities, including peaceful demonstrations, which is your constitutional right.
Almost all the great changes around us have all been inspired by students. It is students like Alexander Hamilton who led the American Revolution. This much tired government of yours also sprung out of student activism. I would be worried if students are not engaged and debating the issues affecting a troubled society.
But then be careful. I will tell you this story. In my days at the university we had two types of students. There were those who had demanding courses and then those else with less demanding. Once as I lay on my bed enjoying my free reading and wondering how to kill time I suddenly heard a battle cry calling for a strike. Students were fed up with bad food. My course was not that heavy, or so for me, and I tended to have a bit of time after lectures.
So once I heard the battle cry I quickly jumped off my bed and followed our platoon leader. We got to Main Hall and immediately invaded the Dean’s Office. The Dean was a man called Mr George Kihuguru. I was told he was the one causing all our misery. So we started banging on his door that he show up and explain himself. What I recall the government sent soldiers, soon, and dispersed us all, with a few beatings.
Something I noticed that day as some of us participated in this strike, is most of those of with more demanding courses, especially medics, were a no show. We actually looked down upon them and considered them betrayers of our student solidarity. I could not appreciate them at that point. But these days when I meet those that finished their course on time, went on to have successful careers, I certainly have only respect and understanding. There are those who had the time for play, like me, but some students, did not have that luxury.
Service above self
In later life I would meet the man we now called Uncle Kihuguru only to find he was the nicest man you could ever come across. Now retired from university I got to realize that he had actually been working hard for us students. During the war that removed Amin from power Uncle Kihuguru had kept the university going, looking for food and putting his life at risk. He had retired honorably because he hadn’t used his office to gainfully advance himself at the expense of the university, which as you may know is quite common to find among a certain class of public servants.
Well, let me tell you a thing or two. There are certain things you just don’t know when you are far from that decision making desk. Also, because there were honest men like Uncle Kihuguru, that is why you found that university still in place, which I hear a few of you students want to burn down to ashes because you are mad at something.
As you may know your grandfather not only emphasized education but had also the means. I never for once was sent back home for fees, because he paid all in full. Well, at university I found myself sitting next to students far much older than I. I was curious. Then I discovered for many it was not for lack of ability. School fees had always been an issue.
So as you strike remember there is that student who has worked himself up to where you are. He thinks he has now finally arrived. You know there are those among you privileged or just foolish and don’t care much if the university is closed. But for some students you are just robbing them of or derailing their dream.
Just the other day a close friend of mine invited me to a graduation party of a niece, whose parents had died. The family had paid her fees. Now they told this young graduate, “Since you have finished school go out and get a job. But always remember extending a hand to others. That is what success is for us! Not just looking out for yourself!”
The love of parents
And then there are the parents. I have worked most of my life in university and I want to share what you may not know. Almost every other day I get calls from parents. There are anxious to know if their kids are on track and soon graduating. There is nothing as sad as seeing a parent who comes and finds his kids had not been attending lectures, and hence not graduating, in spite of all the money already paid.
Never forget those parents and the sacrifices they take for all of you. Many start paying for fees while you are still in diapers. Do you know some kindergartens are even far more expensive than university! They take you all through the most expensive schools they can afford. They deny themselves many things, dreams which they also had. These parents you see struggling in ramshackle cars have often deferred the pleasures of boasting a nice car because of you. Many have never known anything like taking a holiday and most are still renting. But because of you they want you to do well in life. If they have not had similar opportunities, like for some to go to university, they want you to enjoy them. You are their success. Think of them please as you all strike down there.
Universities are changing
As you strike do remember also universities have long changed. When I joined university we all would be ushered into halls of residence. The universities run our lives and they even gave us free money- boom- much of which in my case I spent on booze. These days what I know many universities are closing down residence halls for lack of money. Students are mainly admitted into private hostels and told to manage their lives. These students, unlike us, start managing their finances early, well knowing the value of a penny. Some even take up jobs to make ends meet.
I didn’t want to bring up this but maybe I should. Your other grandfather who went on to head this country sailed to England for further studies early in 1950s. Something happened with his fees and he found himself short of money. But other than return to the country with empty hands he decided to take up odd jobs. Among them was digging graves during frosty winter. Finally he passed and returned with his law degree from Lincolns Inn, an accomplished barrister and went on to become not just an Attorney General but also a Queen’s Counsel. We loved him telling us that story, including once of being a miner, seeing how far he had gone in life. So let the challenge of fees not derail you. Just like your grandfather do not give up. Go out and get a job and pay up if you must.
Now another thing as a university don which I have seen and also shook me is to see the growth of online education. Do you know that actually many universities are now shutting down because parents, scarce of money, have decided to have students secure their degree through virtual learning. We in University are all wondering how our industry will thrive in the future. One thing I know is that in the very near future most of the students will not be going to physical campus for their degrees. Why? Because they can get those degrees online, and at far less cost.
There is in fact a young man I know already. His parents wanted to take him out once he was done with high school. But he asked for the money and put some in a commodity exchange business while undertaking an online degree. He has had some missteps. But tell you by the time some of you eventually graduate he will not just be armed with a thriving business, but also with a finance degree from Open University, UK.
A new generation
If I may conclude with something useful let me talk about the nation you belong to. Forget all the rosy stories you hear and read happening in this nation of yours. It is in auto pilot mode amidst turbulence. I have seen here services break down in a way I had never imagined. We are heavily indebted to daylight robbers. Our once beautiful city has been reduced to a slum. I see all you young people fleeing the country in droves, being abused as maids, because there are no jobs here. Look at the type of public hospitals around you all in shambles
Now if I may ask, are you guys meeting and talking over these health and infrastructure challenges which are facing your nation! How can you help put this country back together and make it a source of pride among the community of nations, as it used to be. What new frontiers of knowledge are you exploring?
Or consumed by what is going on, you have decided to be another self-absorbed wasted generation bemoaning how hard your life has been and how the world now owes you so much! Are you also in a hurry to go out and loot the treasury as you commonly hear!
How I wish some of you are using your time wisely and coming up with classic novels like Ngugi who wrote “The River Between” in those residence halls. Isn’t it sad that we still have our children dying of malaria for lack of a vaccine. What are you doing about it? Don’t you feel sad that our people still eke a living while still using a hand hoe! Are some of you students dreaming up the latest Facebook business, started in dormitory rooms? Or just thinking of going out and breaking more windows, piling abuses upon your Vice Chancellor because he has told you to go back to class!
I believe every generation comes to have an impact. Some of us older folks are now waiting on you, having seen all the havoc those amongst ours have caused. Believe me it breaks some of us. But may be yours will be a blessing; stand for good and not evil.
Have a purpose
Now, just before I sign off I want to take you back to that day when I jumped off my bed to join in a strike. If you had happened to ask me why, all I could have told you is, because others are doing so. I didn’t have any clue what was important to waste time fighting for. Yet before you realize your university days will be over. And you have a whole life ahead of you. So just know where you should put your time. Have a purpose.
Send greetings to your mother and siblings. Tell them to stay in school. Always say your prayers, honor God in all you do, keep out of trouble, work hard at your books and excel. You have been a good example to all and we are all proud of you. And the future is bright.”
The writer is Dean, Faculty of Business & Administration, Uganda Christian University, Mukono