Adventist officials investigate student unrest in Uganda

By: Elizabeth Lechleitner/Adventist News Network
Date: 08/19/09
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Seventh-day Adventist Church officials in East-Central Africa are investigating circumstances behind the shooting of two students Sunday when local police used live fire to quell a riot at a church-run secondary school in Uganda.

The students remain in "stable condition" at Mulago Hospital in Kampala, the East African nation's capital, said Esther Mugerwa, education director for the Adventist Church in Uganda. Five other students are also recovering afer reportedly sustaining minor injuries during the incident.

Unrest among students at Bugema Adventist School in Luweero, Uganda, began two days earlier when a school administrator announced a much-anticipated weekend music program was cancelled without explanation, church officials said.

http://news.adventist.org/images/ugahttp://news.adventist.org/images/uganda-student-riot-246.jpgnda-student-riot-246.jpg
An empty dormitory at Bugema Adventist School in Luweero, Uganda. School administration sent nearly 1,000 students home Sunday after police opened fire on rioting students. [photo: courtesy Uganda Union Mission]

While calm seemingly returned to the campus on Saturday, rioting intensified Sunday morning and school administrators called the police, said Samual Mwebaza, Adventist Church communication director for Uganda. Students allegedly smashed in windows and doors, resulting in USh8 million (nearly U.S.$4,000) in damages to school property, a Bugema teacher told the Daily Monitor.

"Students reported that they had raised concerns and that the school administration didn't respond, but the issues they listed didn't warrant a strike," Mwebaza said soon after the incident.

However, after talks with students and school administration this week, members of the church-led Strike Review Commission suggested deeper, ongoing issues may have driven the students' protests, Ugandan Adventist officials said.

Students were unhappy that fines for losing meal tickets climbed from USh500 to USh2000 (U.S.$1). They also said a USh5000 fee at the school clinic was unfair, claiming such costs were already covered by general tuition, commission members learned. Investigations also revealed that students, including several from Kenya and Tanzania, claimed they were locked out of school premises for failing to pay school-related fees.

Accusations of corporal punishment by teachers and complaints about inadequate food at the school were also allegedly made, a local newspaper reported on Monday.

Bugema Adventist School, with an enrollment of approximately 1,000 students, is home to a number of students from neighboring countries. Ugandan academic standards are among the highest in the region and currency exchange rates make a Ugandan education more affordable for many students in East-Central Africa, Mwebaza said.

With two more weeks of school on the academic calendar, students have been sent home and the school is expected to remain closed until further notice.

The regional police commander, along with officers involved in the incident, were arrested for illegal use of live ammunition at a school and remain in Kampala for questioning, Mugerwa said.

While not common, student riots at both state- and church-run schools do occasionally make headlines in Uganda, Mwebaza said. Adventist-run Katikamu Secondary School closed for two weeks earlier this year after 17 students were injured during a similar riot.

The Strike Review Commission is expected to meet with the parents of Bugema students this weekend as members continue to investigate why school administration "didn't respond relatively fast to the students' grievances," said Steven M. Bina, communication director for the Adventist Church in East-Central Africa.
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