SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: October 23, 2019

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Makerere University

Region & Country:Eastern Africa | Uganda

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 23, 2019, state security forces reportedly carried out a violent crackdown on students protesting a tuition hike at Makerere University.

In June 2018, Makerere’s university council reportedly approved a plan to increase tuition by fifteen percent each year over the course of five years. By the end of the five years, students’ tuition will have increased seventy-five percent. Students have decried the tuition increase as excessive. Some female students at Makerere have commented that they have had to “sell their bodies” in order to afford tuition.

Protests over the tuition increases began on October 22, when a group of mostly female students attempted to march to the office Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni to deliver a petition protesting the tuition hikes. State security forces, including the military and police, prevented the students from leaving campus, arresting at least twenty of them (see report).

On October 23, protests continued, with students announcing a strike disrupting lectures to call on classmates to join them in protesting the tuition hike as well as the response by security forces to the October 22 protest. Military and police personnel deployed to the scene responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Some protesters reportedly threw stones at security forces and set fire to tires and other objects on campus in response. Reports indicate that the military eventually sealed off the campus. Security forces also reportedly raided dormitories, looking for protesters. Some female students reported being “molested” by security forces during the raids. Dozens of students were reportedly arrested on charges of “inciting violence;” however it is unclear what actions the students in question had taken.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of violent force to restrict student expression — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Uganda is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to ensure security, they also have an obligation to ensure that their actions are proportionate, do not violate institutional autonomy, and are not undertaken to restrict nonviolent expressive activity. Likewise, students also have a responsibility to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly peacefully and responsibly, and to respect institutional autonomy. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.