You cannot help at times but fall in love with social media, especially when its callous hand that strips and shames, suddenly turns around and starts to give; to embrace and mollify.
And so as a young man, Mr Henry Kiyimba Suubi, walked into gates of Makerere University early this week to commence a new life as a university student, perhaps the last thing he expected was to be a social media troll victim, an instant trending topic of discussion, or to be ushered into the Vice Chancellors’ flashy office to shake hands with the head of the university, all in his first week at campus.
But as he strolled into his new residence at Makerere’s University Hall, black bag strapped to his back, a metallic case in one hand, a large “Osoufia” bag in the other, and what appears to be a pair of red rubber sandals in his feet; a phone camera shutter went off right behind him.
And that was it. That’s all it took; a singular wonky photo taken by Twitter user Emmanuel Aupal — a fellow student — meant to humiliate Kiyimba, which instead turned him an instant hero.
As a custom nowadays, at the start of August as most universities open up for the new academic year, continuing students and often former students take to social media to welcome (sort of) the new students joining university life.
Under varying hashtags, (this year’s was #HeyFreshers) the freshers are treated to some online orientation, although this “campusers’ banter” can often take the form of mockery, bullying, shaming and downright threats.
But whatever motivated Emmanuel’s photo of Mr Kiyimba, it quickly backfired.
— Aupal Emmanuel 🇺🇬 (@AupalEmmanuel) August 6, 2019
As the photo started trending, harsh reactions piled up as many Twitter users couldn’t hold back their disapproval of Emmanuel.
Several commentators rushed to point out that while Kiyimba might be from a humble background, he was able to make it to the country’s leading university on account of his good grades.
He might be economically disadvantaged but academically genius, there4 don’t over laugh!!!
Few years later he might be enjoying a better lifestyle than you are now. Never make fun of someone’s poverty
— kay (@norahkalunda) August 6, 2019
How sad that you found this something to make fun of!
You grow and live a fulfilled life by lifting others up, not putting them down.
— Mike Okua (@MeekaLawyer) August 6, 2019
AupalEmmanuel maybe to Educate you abit first of all I see this boy in exactly me , In 1989 I reported to a Business College on a Govt Sponsorship with an allowance given to me in exactly the same way, I too carried a Metallic box and exactly the same bag maybe I didn’t have
— Tmusa Kasereka (@TmusaKasereka) August 6, 2019
It’s unfortunate to ridicule such a young man. The future is actually bright for this boy…am sure he will walk out of the ivory tower a better person. Poverty has never defined anybody…
— Tonny Omara (@TonnyOmara2) August 6, 2019
According to the University Vice Chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, Kiyimba was admitted to Makerere on Government Sponsorship under the National Merit Scheme, to pursue Bachelor of Science degree with Education (Economics).
Mr Nawangwe, yesterday met Kiyimba in his office and “encouraged him to enjoy his stay at Makerere and work hard on his future career.”
I have had the pleasure to meet Mr. Ssuubi Henry Kiyimba the student who was mercilessly attacked on social media as unfit to come to Makerere. I have encouraged him to enjoy his stay at Makerere and work hard on his future career. pic.twitter.com/PsTy5J1RRt
— Barnabas Nawangwe (@ProfNawangwe) August 8, 2019
Meanwhile University Hall also butted in to put the trolls in their place, and also make Kiyimba feel at home.
Our community welcomes students from all walks of life.
And we are proud to be home to even those who can’t afford nice suitcases https://t.co/DttzbLGila
— UNIVERSITY HALL MUK (@UH_HALL) August 6, 2019
The backlash however, later on morphed into charity, with many offering to help out.
Championed by UK based Ugandan journalist Alan Kasujja, efforts are now underway to offer support to Kiyimba.
I wish I knew who the kid in this picture is!
Does anyone know him?
We want to lay a table for him before his shamers!
— Alan Kasujja (@kasujja) August 7, 2019
I’ll buy him a nice suit case.
— Benon M. Gowa (@BenonGowa) August 7, 2019
Happy to be a part of the layers of that table. This is obviously a brilliant kid who, despite his poor background, has scored high grades to be able to get to university, on a government scholarship! He deserves praise, not shaming!
— JoshMali (@joshmali) August 8, 2019
— Cedric B. Ndilima (@CedricNdilima) August 8, 2019
Update: With support of our Finance and Revenue Department, we have found the student’s records. And I am soon reaching out to you when he gets to our PR office. SSUUBI HENRY KIYIMBA admitted on a government scholarship to Bachelor of Science with Education (Economics)
— Mathias Ssemanda (@MathiasSsemanda) August 8, 2019
Ssuubi isn’t even on any social network. By the time I called him and brought him to my desk, I asked him, what have you heard about yourself in relation to social media? He said nothing. I asked him, where is your phone?
— Mathias Ssemanda (@MathiasSsemanda) August 8, 2019