When the innocent is shamed, suppressed and forced to give in: Untold stories of University students in Uganda

Nothing like a perfect society exists, but when morality is attacked, there is a cause for alarm. Morality which comes from a Greek word ‘mores’ means manners or morals with various societies understanding it differently. While moral actions may be understood differently, historians and philosophers of morality including Kant, Aristotle, Mill, Rawls, Bentham, Hume and Plato trace morality in conscience, duty, contract, the existence of two opposites – good and evil/bad, and guilt, which are as old as the human race. While moral values are usually discussed in relation and connected to religion, morality’s foundation is not traced in religion although the two have a link in values.

Globally, there is a consensus that increasingly, moral values are declining as most societies adapt to modern ways of life which fancy pleasure, comfort, wealth accumulation and amusement (Dev, 2017). Whereas these changes may be inevitable, there are individuals and societies struggling to uphold their old practices previously regarded to be moral that could now be perceived as immoral, and vice versa. A recent study titled Rebuilding the Moral Infrastructure of the Youth in Uganda:  Nurturing a new Generation for National Transformation conducted in Makerere University revealed that immoral behavours are becoming a norm and those who do not embrace these are shamed, suppressed and forced to ‘fit in’.

The tales of the cost of remaining morally upright in Makerere University depicts a shrinking space for morally upright students in a university enviroment. Those involved in what we dubbed immoral behavior/indiscipline manifested through violent strikes, alcoholism and drug abuse, sexual immorality characterized by premarital sex, promiscuity, sexual harassment, consumption of pornography, gambling and sports betting, prostitution, clubbing among others. The innocent are often directly or indirectly forced to comply or fit in the immoral practices in various ways as follows:

Forced to live in an environment where moral degeneration has become the norm. Despite the common stereotype that most students who join university conform to the new environment’s standards of unrestricted freedom to whatever pleases them, a good number of them opt to remain morally upright in word and deed. However, this is at a high cost as the research revealed the untold woes of suffering for doing good and non-conformity to the seemingly dominant norm by being:

  • Ridiculed: The choice to remain chaste is ridiculed and directly opposed by those who are not.  They even insult and mock those who refuse to live promiscuous lifestyles. One is turned into a laughing object, phrases like virginity is lack of opportunity are so demeaning and appear to suffocate moral appropriateness, and in as far as sexual purity is concerned.
  • Discriminated and isolated: The morally upright students are excluded from the groups and made to appear as objects of scorn, and contempt, especially when they try to preach morality. They are shut down, and discriminated against whenever there are social gatherings. The whole point is to portray those doing the right thing as the ones on the wrong side of the norm. In addition, they are also disadvantaged regarding sharing academic resources. An example was given of some class coordinators more inclined to moral values likely to efficiently communicate class related information to like-minded students than  those that hold different moral values.
  • Depicted as evil or insane: In some cases, moral upright students are attacked for involving and spending time in activities like reading the bible or Quran, and fellowship. They are regarded as time wasters, confused, boring, traditional or mad. In most cases, they are ignored, neglected, and the whole situation leaves one isolated and totally out of place.
  • Gossip, rumormongering, and stigmatization: These negative actions are sometimes directed to the morally upright students making them uncomfortable. For instance, the morally upright students are dubbed ‘backward’, ‘villagers’, and ‘not trendy’ in the spirit of justifying the culture of moral decadence. Those who choose to be decently clothed are sometimes labelled as ‘funny’ and stigmatizing names like ‘’grandmothers.’’
  • Physical attacks: In extreme cases, the morally upright students are physical assaulted especially when  they refuse to participate in  violent strikes by being beaten and  flogged out of lecture rooms or halls of residences to join the strikes. The leaders of the strikes most times prepare themselves by drinking excessive alcohol and sometimes that accelerate their violent actions during the strikes. One student narrated his ordeal that: ’

‘’the very semester I joined is when the strike happened, personally I am not into strikes because they are associated with many things like violence and imprisonment. But on that fateful day I was in the library but when I got out, students were standing at the entrance with big sticks shouting one way, I wanted to escape and go home but they beat me up mercilessly with big sticks, and I was forced to join the strike against my will.”


Pushed to the margins beyond their personal conscious

Some students who uphold good moral practices are therefore likely to face strange opposition from those who have made immorality a lifestyle. The experiences of segregation, opposition, gossip and insults  negatively affect such  students’  wellbeing,, with some eventually swayed to accept the lifestyle by joining the ‘wrong groups’. These experiences also threaten student’s academic achievements as they struggle to fit with immoral university lifestyles. On the other hand, those that completely keep their good moral standards lose out on the social part of it among course mates and peers that do the opposite, thus pushed to live with social and psychological frustrations

Swimming against the current

 Resisting immoral practices at the university is grim and it comes with stress and pressure. Unfortunately, when the pressure becomes too intense, those upholding the positive moral values may fall into temptations to fit in the university culture or norm. There are students whose social economic background predisposes them to temptations, yet the immoral students most times get their money from dubious deals which makes them have more than enough. Subsequently, it becomes easier to lure the moral upright but economically disadvantaged into what they previously thought were evil ways.


Therefore, the choice to stay morally upright means choosing to live with stigma, silent social warfare where the innocent have to defend themselves for doing the right thing all the time. It’s an unfortunate scenario that could easily position the morally upright students to be swallowed up by the immoral environment. This calls for actors to check on the survival of morality, not only in Makerere University alone but also in the rest of universities and the country as whole. Since it is the product of the university graduates that dominate the public sector and market place in Uganda, if this trend is unrestrained, a downfall of integrity and moral uprightness is foreseen in the few years from now with negative consequences for individuals, families and country at large.


Peace Musiimenta

Brenda Boonabaana

Ochieng Amos

Ivan Twinomuhwezi

Azza Ndagire

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