Dressed smartly in a long black hijab with golden stripes and a red veil, Shamim Kobusinge passes for just another young woman passionate about Islam.
She minds her steps as she joins nine girls standing behind a tent after a dialogue organised at the Makerere University main hall last week. The students look elegant in their hijabs and bright-coloured veils. While Kobusinge talks to the group, one of them asks:
“Guild, how are we going back to campus?” She cuts a smile and tells them that they will be leaving shortly. Later, as I speak to Kobusinge on the sidelines, I learn that she is the current guild president at the Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU) female campus in Kabojja.
The 24-year-old, also a fourth-year law student at IUIU, says she works tirelessly to ensure that all students are satisfied with services offered by the university administration.
“I stay at campus most of the time to ensure that grievances from the students are fully settled. Sometimes, even during the holidays, I stay at campus and go home later,” Kobusinge says. “If students are happy, then I’m settled.”
The strength and determination in her voice clearly indicates that she has always wanted to be a leader. To get to this point, Kobusinge beat four other female students to become guild president, early this year and her tenure will expire in March next year. And to her, it is a huge milestone.
“I believe I will be a good leader for Uganda Insha Allah,” Kobusinge says with finality.
Born to Fatuma Ayebale, a nurse, and Hussein Byaruhanga, a business man, Kobusinge is the last born in a family of four, in Hoima district. She always wanted to be a journalist or doctor, but as she grew, she changed her view of life.
When she joined Asaba PS in Masindi and Hadijah Girls Islamic SS in Wobulenzi for her O-levels, she started to want to be like her mother. But enrolling at Mandela SS in Hoima (S5) and Kitara Model SS in Masindi (S6) opened her eyes to the law fraternity.
“It has always been said that Muslim girls are not educated and I wanted to lead by example, to show people that we can also study as long as the funds are available,” she says. This is one message that she keeps telling students at campus.
She had always wanted to join Makerere University, but she says she was put off by the incessant strikes and chose IUIU’s female campus, since it is dedicated to promoting better girl-child education in the region, but also because a cousin had previously studied there.
At the time, she says she was aware that IUIU’s females campus is regarded as one of the few institutions of higher learning with the strictest adherence to sharia, with rules on dress code, morals, access to the university, among others. It is these that Kobusinge now has to convince fellow students to adhere to.
“It is hard to manage girls in a single-sex environment but I do my best. The issue of pass-outs [seeking permission before] leaving the campus, perturbs them a lot but I have managed to make it simpler during my leadership,” she says.
One of the pioneer students at this campus told The Observer that back in the day, wardens were stricter and for students who were less confident, their chances of leaving the campus, even for a casual visit, were next to none.
“Whenever you wanted to go out, they had to check in your file to get the parents’ number to seek their guidance on whether you should leave campus,” said this graduate, who prefers anonymity. “These were tough rules but they helped us a lot to remain responsible students.”
Yet Kobusinge believes such regulations are meant to help students appreciate the restrictive challenges they are likely to face in the future. She, however, concurs that while the merits of such an arrangement outweigh the demerits, it does not favour students who pay for their tuition to get a quality education.
She is also working to develop partnerships with several civil society groups to engage the students in inter-university competitions and help them with connections to further their studies.
“I want students to be mentored in that when they move out of the university, they are ready to compete with the outside world despite the strict environment,” Kobusinge says.
She has also remained a critical link between the students and administration, to solve grievances, despite the low funding the guild office obtains.
At IUIU, every first year student contributes Shs 20,000 as guild fee, which is can be used to organise public dialogues for students, support university clubs and transporting students to various functions outside the university.
Kobusinge wants to see the IUIU female campus flourish to greater heights.
Kobusingye describes herself as intelligent, understanding, and always going forward. These principles, she believes, will enable her stand out after her course to fight for implementation of various laws.
“When I look at the laws in Uganda, they are being made and not implemented. When you look at the constitution, it is very good in writing but not all is being implemented,” she says.
MOVING INTO POLITICS
After her graduation, Kobusinge has her eye on national politics. She says she hope to become the Hoima woman MP in 2021.
“I had big plans to stand this year as the youth councilor for Hoima municipality. But when I looked at the guild office and my law course in its final year, I decided to concentrate and [vie for office] in 2021 as the Hoima woman MP,” she says.
For now, she wants to complete her programme, and then seek job opportunities as a part-time advocate, lecturer in criminal and Islamic law, while rising through her post-graduate studies.
In her free time, she enjoys swimming at the campus, reciting the Qur’an, and watching movies. And she emphasises that she loves her faith with a passion.
“I love my hijab and I’m proud of it. I don’t veil because I’m at IUIU, but this is something I learnt years ago,” she says. “Dressing skimpily may be [popular] but a hijab portrays the beauty of a Muslim woman. If non-Muslims can appreciate our dress code, we should maintain it.”