BY ROY RUGUMAYO
At 7 pm on Wednesday 23rd October, 2019, #FeesMustFall protest leader Siperia Mollie
Saasiraabo, 23, appeared on NTV where she expressed worry due to threatening texts and
WhatsApp messages issued to her by the Makerere University Vice Chancellor Prof. Barnabas
Nawangwe. These messages, she said, would be valuable incriminating evidence in her pursuit of justice against unfair suspension.
Later that evening, Mollie informed her best friend and fellow protester (names withheld) that
she was being trailed by unknown men at Complex Hall inside the university. For over an hour thereafter, Mollie’s whereabouts were unknown to anyone until she was
discovered by another student about two kilometers away from the university in Kasubi, a
dormitory town for students. But Mollie does not reside in Kasubi.
She was delirious. Her clothes were covered in mud, and her phone was missing.
Two weeks later, even with the best emergency intensive medical care paid for by her tuition
sponsor, The MasterCard Foundation, Mollie worryingly remains in critical
condition. When news of Mollie’s suspension and abduction went viral, many rightfully condemned the brutish Makerere University administration for the barbaric acts against the ‘girl’, a harmless ‘woman’ and defenseless ‘student leader’.
Clearly, the nation knows very little about its latest female victim of abduction and sexual
assault. Having known Mollie for nearly three years, it behooves me to throw more light on her
personality, beliefs and remarkable achievements, more especially now that she is, fighting for her life. The last born in a family of 19 children, Siperia Mollie Saasiraabo has been an orphan since her 7th birthday. She went to Kisswa Primary School and Kanyabwanga Senior Secondary School in Mitooma district. She emerged top of her O’level class and joined Bweranyangi Girls for her A’level on a BRAC Foundation scholarship.
She was recognized by the Uganda National Examinations Board as one of the top performing
A’level students in 2016, a feat that must have caught the attention of the MasterCard
Foundation scholarship awarding committee. The New York based charity pays for Mollie’s full tuition and accommodation, a laptop to facilitate her research, monthly stipend of UGX 800,000/= (USD 228) and medical insurance cover worth UGX 150 million (USD 42,857) renewable annually, among other benefits.
In an increasingly selfish and cynical world, the indefatigable Siperia Mollie has not been corrupted. Despite the support of her American benefactors, her concern for the general good
compelled her to rise up together with her colleagues in the female caucus of the 85th Makerere
Students’ Guild against the predatory tuition policy that threatens to exclude thousands of her
peers from attaining the highest educational standard possible.
It is a uniquely personal and unquenchable craving for justice. Rather than wallow in perpetual
grief and self-pity as an orphan, or bask in the glory of recent gifts, Mollie has constantly gone
out of her way to fulfill her potential and break barriers to improve the condition of the girl child.
In her rural primary school, Mollie is remembered by her teachers for coaching fellow pupils in
writing and speaking English properly.
During her O’level at Kanyabwanga SS, Mollie beat A’level candidates to become the head girl.
At Bweranyangi Girls, senior one and senior two students begged the school matron and
headmistress to make Mollie their dormitory to protect them against intimidation by the big girls.
At Makerere University where Mollie is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Industrial and
Organisational Psychology, her classmates know her for always rallying them to collect tuition
balances for their less fortunate colleagues in crunch time moments.
She is the Makerere University campus director of the Millennium Fellowship, a United Nations
program aimed at mobilizing youth globally for the the attainment of Sustainable Development
Goals. In her second year, Mollie was elected as a representative of the Faculty of Psychology in the Guild Representative Council (the students’ parliament). She is the chairperson of the female caucus in the students’ parliament, and it is in this capacity that the mantle was bestowed upon her to draw a line in the sand and lead the ladies of the 85th in a peaceful protest against the “unthoughtful, selfish, inconsiderate and uncalled for” tuition increment policy
In a hard-hitting official communication of the female caucus that Mollie signed off on 19
October, she makes an impassioned plea for the impugned policy to be recast so as to include the
rights and interests of the girl child, the single mother, the street vendor, and many other parents
who sleep on a hungry stomach because they have to send their gifted children to the university
with paltry installments of tuition just so the family can get at least one educated person.
“Of those that sat to pass this policy, who knows what a single mother goes through to raise only
UGX 50,000/= (USD 14) which now only equates to a surcharge for delayed tuition payment?
Do they even know how many girls ‘sell’ their bodies so as to complete campus? Do they?”
Mollie wondered, before summoning “anyone that has watched the tears of a mother as she
struggles” to join the ladies of the 85th on 22 October in showing their disgust and discontent by
turning up in black attire as “we mourn over a fallen institution”.
This patriotic cri de coeur was considered an intolerable attack on the architects and defenders of
the contested policy who predictably reacted by suspending Mollie from the university and
recalling her from the 31st National Students’ Council of the Uganda National Students’
Association where the Makerere University students’ parliament had sent her as its delegate.
The ladies who marched arm in arm with her, literally facing down the barrel of the gun at the
main gate of the 97 year old academic institution, were issued warning letters.
Mollie and her fearless co-protestors were also brutally arrested and detained at Wandegeya
Divisional police station.
However, Mollie’s activism transcends the university. Her Facebook page – Siperia Mollie –
shows her as the convener of a social enterprise known as Women of Lead (WoL). This group
visits schools of deprived and disabled children to inspire the youngsters to remain in school and
‘fight on to the very end’.
Having witnessed firsthand the hardships girls go through due to menstruation and related
challenges, at the beginning of the year, Mollie steered WoL volunteers and benefactors to
collect and distribute pads to needy schoolgirls.
The group’s latest project is ‘Sew A Pad’. The initiative aims at skilling girls how to make their
own sanitary towels using widely available materials.
If Mollie successfully recovers from the current ordeal, she is expected to represent Uganda in
the Mandela Washington Fellowship class of 2020.