Almost all the great changes around us have been inspired by students. It is students like Alexander Hamilton who led the American Revolution.
My dear nephew, I have been traveling a lot on business and I am behind on a lot of news. However, I have just noticed that your students are back in 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 is, 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 been inspired by students. It is students like Alexander Hamilton who led the American Revolution. This government 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 those with less demanding ones. 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 I tended to have a bit of time after lectures.
So, 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 that he was the one causing all our misery. So, we started banging on his door, demanding an explanation. 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 that most of those with more demanding courses, especially medics, were a no-show. We actually looked down on 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 completed their course on time and went on to have successful careers, I certainly have only respect for them. 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 that he was the nicest man you could ever come across. Now retired from university, I got to realise that he had actually been working hard for us. 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 had not used his office to gainfully advance himself at the expense of the university, which, as you may know, is not 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 do not 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 emphasised education, but had also the means. I was not ever sent back home for fees, because he paid it all in full. Well, at university, I found myself sitting next to students far much older than I. I was curious. Then I discovered that 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 who do not 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 tuition fees. Now, they told this young graduate, “Since you have completed school, go out and get a job. But, always remember to extend 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. They are anxious to know if their children are on track and soon graduating. There is nothing as sad as seeing a parent who comes and finds that their child had not been attending lectures and, hence, not graduating, in spite of all the money already paid.
Never forget those parents and the sacrifices that they take for all of you. Many start paying for you school fees while you are still in diapers. Did you know that some kindergartens are even far more expensive than university! They take you all through the most expensive schools that 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 of a nice car because of you. Many have never known anything like taking a holiday and most are still renting.
But, because they want you to do well in life, they have forfeited their desires. If they have not had similar opportunities, such as going to university, they want you to enjoy them. You are their success. Think of them, as you all strike down there.
Universities are changing
As you strike, do remember that 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, 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 did not 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 in the early 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, seeing how far he had gone in life. So, let not the challenge of tuition fees 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 that I have seen and got shaken 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 a physical campus for their degrees. Why? Because they can get those degrees online, and at a far less cost.
There is, in fact, a young man I know already whose 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, I tell you, by the time some of you eventually graduate, he will not just be armed with a thriving business, but also 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 about what is happening in this nation. It is in autopilot 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 to put this country back together and make it a source of pride among the community of nations? 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 were 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 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 and 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 maybe 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 did not have any clue what was important to fight for. Yet, before you realise 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, honour 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 the dean at the faculty of business and administration of Uganda Christian University, Mukono