The newly elected Guild President of Makerere University, Robert Maseruka has vowed to challenge the online election voting that brought him to power.
Maseruka was announced the 89th Guild President of Makerere on Friday after winning a highly contested race with 2558 votes, beating his closest rival and fellow classmate Hilary Oremo Odwee who managed 2531 while Akankunda Sabiiti came third with 2334.
Maseruka, who is a third-year student doing Journalism and Communication, said that notwithstanding his triumph, he has observed a worrying phenomenon of election disconnection between candidates and their constituents.
He said that he will challenge this situation promptly upon taking office. “I want to challenge the process through which I came to power, this online voting really…. aah aah,” he said.
Maseruka’s elections marked the third edition of the virtually organized elections since 2021 when the University introduced the practice of online voting to regulate large gatherings as a proactive measure to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Despite the initial perception that virtual elections would only serve as a temporary expedient, the University was compelled to legislate the practice in 2022 after a tragic incident involving a Uganda Christian University student, Betungura Bewatte, who lost his life during the election campaigns.
The University council subsequently imposed a permanent ban on all physical guild elections and instituted a ruling that mandates the future elections of student leaders be conducted through virtual means.
But, since then, elections have been plagued by several challenges, including low voter turnout, erratic virtual election systems, and difficulties in accessing the voting portal. On Friday, both first-year students and finalists encountered difficulties while attempting to log in to the portal, with several students reporting an inability to access the platform from outside the university premises.
The technical glitches forced the electoral commission chairman to push the election which was initially supposed to end at 6:00 pm to be extended to 7 pm. To Maseruka, this is detaching student leaders from their electorates and his primary objective will be to advocate for the reinstatement of traditional physical campaigns, which have been a popular hallmark of the electoral process.
“I think the first thing I would love to start with, is the Guild constitution and statute, the reason why we have all this, those days when one was announced, the whole university would be everywhere, but now the constitution which speculates that elections must be virtual has detached us from people we are supposed to associate with,” he said.
They actually do not know who we are, if they knew we would have higher numbers, so we need to bring back students to participate, even when they don’t contest but they should understand how important, a physical vote means,” he added.
Maseruka who was an independent candidate until he was lately endorsed by the National Unity platform also asserted that restoring the participation of political parties in the University’s political landscape would be a significant achievement. He believes that the right to associate with any political party is an inherent entitlement and should be afforded to all students.
He will however experience a hard time challenging the institution’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Barnabas Nawangwe who holds a completely opposite opinion.
Nawangwe recently affirmed that the University is not a political entity and, therefore, has no intentions of reversing its decision to prohibit political parties’ participation in student politics and asked students who wish to affiliate themselves with any political party should pursue such associations outside the confines of the University.
Who is Maseruka Robert?
Born on February 28, 2000 to Simon Ssetuba and Joseline Nanfuka in Bweyogerere, he is the third born in a family of five children. In his early days in school, Maseruka held different political positions in the different schools he attended. These included chapel prefect, and head prefect in secondary school.
“I have always liked politics, I have always loved living in places where I have influence because of my nature as an extrovert, so I love to interact with people,” he said.
Inspired by Kira Municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, Nakawa West MP Joel Ssenyonyi and on the International scene, former United States President Barak Obama on the global stage, Maseruka says he got interested in University politics immediately when he enrolled in 2020.
First, he was the class representative where he was voted unanimously before he stood for and won the Guild Representative Councilors- GRC seat for the School of Languages, Literature, and Communication- SLLC in 2022.
During the 2022 Guild elections, Maseruka recalls giving all his support to his friend Lawrence Alionzi traversing the University every day looking for elections which he eventually won it was at this point that Maseruka began to consider running for the position of Guild President himself.
“I had then become a champion and I created rapport with the political environment which helped me gain experience in the political arena.”
Although many people cautioned him about the significant financial investment required to run for the position of Guild President, Maseruka notes that he refused to be deterred and remained resolute in his pursuit of the which he believes helped him win the race.
“I used to tell my friends that I wanted to become Guild President, but people had told me that it is hard, someone told me that it may require 100 million shillings, but I don’t even know how I got the courage to run. I used to tell my friend Alionzi that I will replace him and he laughed because he always saw me as a joker.”
Maseruka replaces Alionzi Lawrence who has been Guild President since November 2022.