In Memory Of Makerere’s Guild Canteen

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As everyone was going on about the staff strike at public universities across the country, something quite dramatic happened recently.

Excel Construction, who are building the Prof Ali Mazrui Centre for Governance and Politics, demolished the decades-old Guild Canteen. MOSES TALEMWA and SAM ORAGO pay tribute to the venue that held many of the alumni’s best freshers’ ball, first dates, first alcohol sip and even breakup memories.

Built in the 1970s, the Guild canteen was a couple of weeks ago demolished to make way for parking space for the sprawling six-storey
Prof Ali Mazrui building in the background.

The canteen will ‘shift’ to the old senior staff canteen, along pool road, near the university
swimming pool.

Architect Moses Kinobe was a student at Makerere, starting in October 1991. He has interesting memories of the Guild Canteen. It
was the place where new students were inducted into university life with what was known as the freshers’ ball.

“We had at least six freshers’ balls in as many weeks, in our first year. Each week, they’d tell us ‘Now, this is the real freshers’ ball.

Last week wasn’t it.’ And we gullible freshers paid another hefty Shs 700, for that was the entrance fee in the 1991/92 academic year,” Kinobe says.

Makerere University canteen is no more Patsy Kente, a former Makerere student, agrees: “That was the venue for the freshers’
ball. [Demolishing it is] so heart breaking.”

These parties also introduced students to the perils of late night drinking. Andrew Kwezi, a member of Kinobe’s cohort, recalls that for
many a student, the barman’s name was one not to forget.

“I forget the [full] name of the barman, but I think he was called Mutyaba,” Kwezi says.

Knowing Mutyaba’s name came with special advantages. He could save or ruin one’s evening, depending on the prevailing

According to Derrick Mukasa, a student at Makerere between 1993 and 1996, one had to alert Mutyaba on the details of a
date to make it successful.

“If you wanted to impress a girl, it was imperative to have expensive taste, but sometimes they wanted stuff that was beyond the reach of the pocket,” he explains.

“So, it was important to alert Mutyaba, to simply
say that anything that cost beyond Shs 2000 was unavailable, and it usually worked.”

Several former female students also told us that it was at the Guild Canteen that they practiced,
a skill later known as detoothing.
“We learned to get a guy to the canteen, there he would buy us expensive drinks and snacks in
the hope that we would have sex with him … we mastered the art of taking the drinks without parting with the sex, hence the name,” Christine Mirembe explained.

Mirembe was at Makerere between 1998 and 2001 and explains that the other aspect of the
canteen was the food.

“Sometimes it was on point, but many times, it was terrible, but we took it since it was better
than what was served in the [residential hall] dining,” she says.

“But, there were some students, usually from Northcote (now renamed Nsibirwa) hall, who
had a malicious habit of ordering for meals, eating and taking off without paying. It was done to simply earn pips among their peers.”

With such upheavals, it is not surprising the Guild Canteen (administered by the students’
guild) changed management five years ago.

During this time, the canteen has been under the control of Jesh Functional services, a private firm owned by Jane Nuwasasira.

She confirmed to us that they had been notified of the impending demolition of the place nearly
two months ago. “We are happy for the big space in our new location.

We are currently doing some renovations which are being
supervised by the [University] Estates Department,” Nuwasasira said. “However, our guild canteen contract still has three years to
run so we are anxiously waiting for the new canteen.”

The new canteen, whose name is to be decided, will open to the general public when the university reopens this semester.

“Jesh pledges to all its former clients to embrace the new place as it will come without any price changes,” Nuwasasira added.


Students, who attended Makerere before 1992, have a different view of the guild canteen – as the major entertainment hangout in town.
Kampala lawyer Oscar Kihika and computer scientist, Dr Ham Mulira, once played in a music band at the canteen, along with deceased radio
presenter Wilfred Bangi, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, making the place even more popular.

Sharlotte Mazoe recalls those times. “I was not a student at Makerere, but I enjoyed the benefits of that place by entertaining with
the (Outbreak Band). We were a youth group that did cover songs at the time, between 1988 and 1989,” she recalls. “I remember being star-
struck by a one Jacky Nyameizi [RIP]. She sure knew how to get it out of us.”

Anyone reading this would imagine the canteen only entertained university students. However,
Moses Kinobe has some interesting

“Many an O-level student ‘ate’ their parents’ money from here. After extorting the money for coaching [usually at Makerere College School],
[these students] would never go to [Prof Eliab] Lugujjo, or [Prof Eldad] Banda’s classes,” he recalls.

“The [students] would simply widen at the canteen, where everyone congregated after coaching classes ... buying sodas, ice-cream,
cigarettes, and the occasional beer.”
Well, in case you are lost in the lingua, widen, referred to students showing off as if they actually owned a lot of money. Some student clients, who were yet to join the university, were referred to by their favourite dictionary, New
Method English Dictionary by Michael West and James Endicott.

Others also remember falling in love here, many of them for the first time, as many ‘eulogised’ on social media pages. Jude Thaddeus Tiabayo says: “Lots of memories
are going down with those walls.

I had my first ‘modern’ date here,” he says. Even Radio and TV presenter Noah Senyondo has his recollection.

“l met her there and I was given a knockout,” he adds.

Or for Doreen Rujumba: “I had my first kiss in some ka corner during the day time holiday discos... our corner is no more!”


This ode would not be complete without a political spin, for the guild canteen also witnessed the start of several political careers.

Norbert Mao started strategizing for his historic guild presidential campaign against Noble Mayombo (RIP) here in 1995.

Indeed, almost all guild presidents used the canteen to distribute ‘logistics’ to their supporters.

The Democratic Party leaders also
used it to recruit members of what became known as the Uganda Young Democrats.

Indeed, politicians including Lord Mayor Elias Lukwago, MPs Muwanga Kivumbi and Simeo
Nsubuga, and many others had their first real dose of politics here.

They can only hope that
the next canteen will be as influential.

“It is sad, but we appreciate that a better place is being put up,” Lukwago said.

And not all the stories from the canteen situated a stone’s throw away from the Freedom Square were rosy. For example, many
a student that would not make the graduands’ list for one reason or the other, would nonetheless leave home on graduation day to
chill with a beer at the Guild Canteen and follow the proceedings in Freedom Square.

Afterwards, they would go home to a big party, their clueless parents bursting with pride. Ah, guess it is time for new memories in a new

This article was first published in The Observer Newspaper.