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Eviction fears intensify among Makerere University canteen and kiosk owners

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Small business operators at Makerere University are under increasing pressure and anxiety as the university management moves closer to evicting them. The planned eviction, initiated by the university management in July 2022, has cast a shadow over businesses including photocopy and stationery shops, food stalls, restaurants, canteens, hair salons, mobile money kiosks, and more.

The anxiety among the business proprietors was exacerbated when they lost a suit against the university regarding the eviction decision. This case, which had been pending since July last year, was decided on August 18, 2023, by Justice Boniface Wamala.

In his judgment, Justice Wamala stated, “I find that no illegality has been established to affect the decision of the Respondent directing the termination of businesses at the Respondent University campus. Accordingly, this ground is not made by the Applicant.”

Following the dismissal of the suit, the Estates and Works Acting Director sent a letter in August 2023 to Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Henry Arinaitwe requesting Shillings 20,200,000 to facilitate the eviction process. In the letter, the estates’ department explained that the eviction, originally scheduled for Monday, would be carried out in one day by eight teams of 20 laborers.

The requested funds were intended to cover various expenses associated with the eviction. Julius Gumisiriza, the chairperson of Makerere University Business Owners, revealed that while they had not received official notice of the eviction starting on Monday, they had learned about it through unofficial channels. He added that despite losing the initial case, there is an ongoing case in the court of appeal expected to be decided in November.

However, when our reporter conducted an investigation around the university, it was observed that various canteens, printers, and other businesses were still operational. Nevertheless, many business operators interviewed for this story expressed living in fear due to the uncertainty surrounding the university’s next steps. One business owner near the girls’ hall known as “Complex,” who chose not to be identified, shared, “It is God who makes decisions, we are praying when they intimidate us, we fear but we are praying hard.”

When contacted for a comment, Makerere University Vice-Chancellor Professor Barnabas Nawangwe could not specify when the eviction would take place. However, he emphasized that their actions were within the bounds of the law as they were targeting businesses operating without any contracts with the university.

He stated, “We are evicting only illegal businesses that do not have any contract with the University. The rest will remain and continue to provide the necessary services.”

Makerere University Guild President, Robert Maseruka asserted that students directly benefit from these businesses and that evicting them without providing solutions would be a disservice. Maseruka mentioned that they had already sent a letter to Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Henry Arinaitwe, who oversees Finance and Administration, demanding alternatives for the businesses at risk.

He emphasized that students, especially those living in halls of residence near the canteens, heavily rely on these services. Evicting them without suitable alternatives would put students, especially those with disabilities, at a significant disadvantage.

Maseruka also highlighted the challenges faced by their colleagues who rely on these canteens for convenience but have not been provided with alternatives, particularly those with disabilities. He stated, “We have students with disabilities from different halls of residence, you cannot tell me that for a girl to buy a pad when she is staying at the Complex Hall, she has to first run to Kikumikikumi or Kikoni; that is impossible.”