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Inside struggles to build first public university in Bunyoro

Canvassing for votes to win his third term of office, in 2001, President Yoweri Museveni pledged to establish a public University in Bunyoro sub region.

The excitement and expectation was palpable-it would be the first public university in the region, that leaders and citizens alike believed would guarantee people from the region easier access to degree education, and develop the human resource to drive transformation. 

The pledge was later followed by a resolution of Parliament in 2015 to set up seven public universities, one in Bunyoro. Parliament believed this would equitably expand access to higher education.

Museveni would go on to win the election and the three next ones, with particularly landslide victory in the sub region but his pledge remained a pipeline dream.

It would take two decades, when during an August 2021 meet with delegation of leaders from Bunyoro sub-region led by Prime Minister and Kakumiro district Woman Member of Parliament, Robinah Nabanja, Museveni okayed the operationalisation of the long awaited first public university in the region starting this year.

The president’s pronouncement set in motion a series of events that could end more than 20 years of back and forth in the struggle to give Bunyoro her first public university.

The latest is the resolution by the Committee established to fast track the location of the university, to have the institution housed at the present day Bulera Core Primary Teachers College (PTC) in Hoima City. .

The committee chairperson, Jacob Karubanga, MP for Kibanda South in Kiryandongo district, told Journalists on June 18 that they are to engage the Ministry of Education and Sports to relocate the PTC which sits on a 300-acre piece of land in Hoima City to Masindi district.

If this location is agreed upon, it will have addressed one of the hurdles that upended the establishment of the first public university in the Kingdom.

During the meeting, it was also revealed that Shs2b was allocated in the 2022/2023 national budget for the aforesaid committee to conduct consultations, signalling financial commitment from government.

But while the Nabbanja-appointed committee seems to have moved a step in the right direction, previous failed attempts have cast a shadow of doubt, drawing mixed reactions from stakeholders with some expressing less elation.

Elusive dream

Majority leaders have interpreted the delay as deliberate, accusing the current government of side-lining the sub region.

A January 2018 World Bank report adopted from 2012/13 Uganda National House Hold Survey and the 2014 National Housing and Population, cited Bunyoro sub-region to have western Uganda’s highest poverty rates at 10.4 percent which is attributed to high rates of Illiteracy.

Bunyoro Kingdom is comprised of the districts of Hoima, Masindi, Kibaale, Kakumiro, Kagadi, Kikuube, Buliisa and Kiryandongo.

“We have been disadvantaged in that even there is no private university to start a campus in Hoima or Bunyoro sub-region. Gulu University Hoima campus which is struggling with funding, is only for humanities,” says Kenneth Nkumire, a resident of Hoima City.

The Kingdom Prime Minister, Andrew Kirungi Byakutaga in 2019 petition government to fulfil its pledge.

A year after the petition, Museveni yet again rode on the university card to rally votes in the region, where he has had massive support since 1996.

He revealed calls to establish a public university was top on the list of demands submitted by local leaders and in committing to see the pledge fulfilled in this tenure, rallied leaders to find 300 acres instead of the 80 acres earmarked.

The National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), requires that before start, a university should have a minimum of 3 acres.

Nkumire does not believe lack of land is a viable excuse arguing that government has capacity to acquire any piece of land as long as the owner is compensated.

Stake holders had earlier suggested to house the university at Sir Tito Winyi secondary in Bulindi Town Council, Hoima district.

The Member of Parliament for Bugahya County, Pius Wakabi Rujumba, in a letter dated January 4, 2021, to Bunyoro-Kitara Diocese Bishop, Samuel Kahuma, said the aforesaid land would be suitable for the establishment of the university since it is centrally located in Bunyoro, between Karuma and Muzizi.

He argued the area coupled with the availability of land at the school and Bulindi Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute (BUZARD) if provided is a great opportunity to be a hub for a university.

The subject also punctuated this year’s Empango (coronation anniversary) of Omukama Solomon Gafabusa Iguru on June 11.

Hoima City Woman Member of Parliament, Asinansi Nyakato in her speech said: “We are getting tired of reminding the government to establish a public university since Bunyoro is the only region in the country without-a public university.”

Nyakato said the absence of a university has hampered many people’s dreams to enrol for degree courses because of long distance, a thing she blamed on Bunyoro Affairs Ministry for lack of follow up on the matter.

Efforts to get a comment from Jenipher Kacha Namuyangu, Bunyoro Affairs State Minister on the matter were futile by press time as her known mobile telephone contact were switched off.

Joseph Kaahwa, a social sciences graduate, attributed the delay to lack of consensus among local leaders.

He opined that if leaders had organised and started a community university, it would have taken less years for government to take it over.

But attempts by the community in the past did not yield when in 2014, Bunyoro-Kitara Royal University (BUKIRU) a community initiative by some kingdom officials, was riddled with financial mismanagement allegations.

This prompted academic lobbyists to ask Gulu University to open up a campus on the kingdom buildings.

Concerned, Iguru donated kingdom buildings a few metres from his palace for the commencement of the said University campus.

There were also plans to elevate Uganda Petroleum Institute (UPIK) in Kigumba, Kiryandongo district into a university for Bunyoro, but this has also remained on paper since.

Experts take

Premio Adoye, the Gulu University Hoima campus registrar is optimistic that with the appointment of a steering committee, the dream is almost achieved.

“Everything that is done regarding a university is not ordinary. It takes time-the minimum of 5 years from now. If you are really fast in doing preliminary work, there is need for labs, staff, to write programmes and a need to have a statute (An Act of Parliament), but they all need preparations,” he added.

Adoye was quick to add that the team in place has a lot of work because the anticipation of the people is to have the university tomorrow.

One lecturer on condition of anonymity told The Albertine Journal: “They should work on the statute to get funding. As long as it has no vote or codes to get funds, any money allocated to it might raise an audit query.”

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