For those who work at Makerere University and know Edward Kisuze, he was a care-free man – running a discreet extramarital relationship he knew was going nowhere.
Yet, this administrative assistant persisted with the dalliance; raising Rachel Njeri’s hopes of it ending in something more substantial. But when he reportedly decided not to advance this relationship to a more permanent status, Njeri threatened to expose Kisuze. She blackmailed him.
So, when he called her bluff, she sought desperate revenge on social media. Friends say Njeri, who graduated in January, could not have anticipated how her actions would affect their lives. She is now living in hiding, while Kisuze has had to endure a few nights in a Wandegeya police cell.
And for the administration at Makerere University, the timing is especially so off. Just a month ago, the university suspended Dr Swizen Kyomuhendo for having sex with a student, and after pictures taken of the couple in a Kampala lodge went public.
Slightly over a year ago, another lecturer, Prof Christopher Bakuneta, had also been caught in similar circumstances. Like Njeri, the woman found with Bakuneta initially claimed to have been raped, before amending her statement to indicate that it was a consensual liaison, leading to his release from custody.
Kisuze and Kyomuhendo are on suspension and under investigation, while Bakuneta is back at work. This seemed to affirm the suspicion in some circles that sexual predators are tolerated at Makerere.
This is why MasterCard Foundation officials in New York called to ask for a brief on the progress of investigations into sexual harassment crimes at Makerere. When the university vice chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, failed to provide satisfactory answers, the donors recalled a new tranche of funding that would have assisted 250 brilliant but underprivileged girls.
Officials at Makerere are worried that other donors are waiting to see what happens to Kisuze and Kyomuhendo. There could be financial ramifications for a university, already under stress resulting from the government’s refusal to increase its annual subvention.
Sympathizers believe Kisuze should not be paying for the sins of academic staff, who prey on their students, since he is not a lecturer and was not in position to dole out favours to students in exchange for sex. However, they will not find favour in the university council which runs affairs at Makerere.
Council chairperson Dr Charles Wana Etyem and Nawangwe have publicly vowed to make an example of anyone caught up in sexual shenanigans that bring the university’s name into disrepute. Another council member, Dr Fred Tanga Odoi, who also heads the university convocation, says there is no excuse for sexual harassment at Makerere.
“From a moral standpoint, a person in a position of authority should not prey on their junior,” he told The Observer last week.
“Sexual harassment is not only about sex, but it can include intimidation of the weaker sex; either of a student and a staff member or even between students or workers.”
Odoi is still bitter about a matter he raised with the university management, years ago. A professor in the School of Education was reportedly regularly tapping the buttocks of a female sweeper in his office and Odoi was livid.
“In my view, that matter was handled lightly … There should be no room for sexual harassment,” he said.
“The man is still working at Makerere, although he has since stopped the habit.”
Where it started Odoi, who has taught history at Makerere for more than 15 years, says sexual harassment gained ground as the university started replenishing its staff 20 years ago.
Around this time, most of the old guard was retiring from service. “We started getting younger lecturers into the system, yet these have not received any induction on how to handle situations with students,” he said.
“I believe that the university should also hold regular inductions for staff, so that they do not get caught up in such sticky situations.” Students and junior staff should also avoid getting into situations in which they are likely to be compromised, he proposed.
“I request students and some staff to rise above the low standards they exhibit and appreciate what they came to do at the university instead of getting caught up in these cases,” he said.
Despite all this, Odoi is convinced that while Makerere is in the news, things could be rather worse in other universities.
“At least Makerere has exposed these situations in the open and taken action. It even has a policy on sexual harassment and a disciplinary committee in place to deal with these problems,” he said.
“But you should be worried about those universities where you don’t hear anything. I have been to some of them and I can assure you the situation is worrying.”