With diminished state funding and a management that does not seem to be competent in handling its affairs, the once famous Makerere University risks losing its stature in East Africa and beyond. But it is not too late to stop the slide.
Makerere University started in 1922 and in a space of less than eight years from now it will be celebrating 100 years of existence. Makerere is the oldest and largest university in East Africa and arguably in the entire Great Lakes Region. That Makerere University has churned out very important people in the entire African continent is indisputable. There was a time when Makerere University was called and rightly so, the Harvard of Africa.
Makerere has produced prominent personalities who have shaped the leadership of the continent and their individual societies. Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere the iconic African leader attained his higher education from Makerere University. From the Library of Makerere University Mwalimu Nyerere wrote a book titled ‘Women are not chickens, they are eagles’. The world’s prominent scholars have at one time been students of Makerere University or faculty members. Tanzania has produced two presidents churned through Makerere University. Kenya has had various leaders from Makerere University including a president. Rwanda is arguably being run by products from Makerere University apart from the President. The Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila was a student of Makerere University. South Sudan is largely governed by Makerere University products, the list is endless.
Back home, of the five leading political parties all the presidents were student leaders at Makerere, three of whom were guild presidents. The university itself is being run by a vice chancellor who happens to be a PhD from Makerere. Indeed, this tells us that Makerere University has attempted to build for the future.
NOT ALL IS ROSY AND NOT ALL IS LOST
While it is axiomatic that Makerere has shaped the continent and the globe, it has been entrapped into a myriad of challenges. Like I stated in 2006 (See: ‘Whose institution is Makerere University?’), Makerere is deeply engrossed in a vicious cycle of strikes. I reiterate what I stated in 2006 that if it is not students on strike, it is academic staff on strike and if not it is support staff on strike. I am even worried that if the situation is not arrested beforehand we shall also have the administrative staff go on strike.
While it is within their rights for the members of the university to strike if they have grievances, strikes have proven to be a sign of weakness and not strength. Strikes have often been destructive and not constructive. Strikes have been inimical and antithetical to the university motto. Strikes are not building for the future. Rather strikes are busy destroying the future. Strikes show that Makerere cannot address grievances through dialogue, debate, discourse and diplomacy. It is my considered view that the four Ds I have mentioned are the best and most workable mechanism through which conflict and/or grievances can be handled at the University.
Talking from my own experience, I had seven leadership positions at the university during my days as an undergraduate student. Three of those leadership positions put me at a level where I would always engage the administration. At a macro level, I was secretary general (read prime minister) for the non-residents community. My office fell within the ambit of the Dean of Students who then was Mr. John Ekuddu. At a micro level I was Faculty of Social Sciences board member and treasurer for the International Relations and Diplomacy Students Association. These two positions put me at a level where I would constantly engage the Faculty leadership especially the Faculty Dean Prof Edward Kirumira who as a board member was my chairman and Dr. Salie Kayunga Simba who was Chairman Students-Staff Liaison Committee and patron for International Relations and Diplomacy Association. While I had problems with Mr Ekuddu especially over students’ allowances leading to the 17th November 2003 strike which coincided with the installation of Prof Apolo Robinson Nsibambi as the non-head of state chancellor, I never had any single problem with the Faculty leadership because all our grievances were addressed through discourse, debate, dialogue and diplomacy. I am fully convinced that what the Faculty of Social Sciences used to do to manage conflict must be replicated at the macro/central level to forestall strikes which have become synonymous with our alma mater.
At a very tender age while at home I read all the hare series and I still recall that ‘The world of Mr Hare’ clearly observes that every problem once it is well-thought out and deeply internalized has a solution. I am sure with around one hundred and fifty thousand (150,000) graduates churned out of Makerere, if we put our heads in one thinking basket we can come up with a durable solution to the strikes in Makerere University. And this is why the next convocation leadership must put in place a Makererean Think Tank, start a Makererean News outlet channel and establish a research centre to identify the problem, ask relevant questions, design the relevant methodology of arriving at generating the root cause of the problem and then interpret and analyse the data with a view to arriving at a durable solution. I am a certified researcher having been taught by the most brilliant research professors. If we cannot solve or manage our minute conflicts, then we better confess that we have not been liberated by our education. Education which does not address societal challenges is destructive not constructive.
UNSTABLE INCOMES FOR THE UNIVERSITY
Section 2 of the Universities and Tertiary Institutions Act (UTIA) makes it a duty of the state to fund public universities of which Makerere is premier. However, like in all other sectors and institutions, ours is a state incapable of providing what Robert Rotberg calls political goods. It is self-evident that Makerere is underfunded yet it must provide quality education. Because the state is led by a self-proclaimed chief fighter who does not use the brains to fight but brute force, the university leadership has often found itself in a paradoxical position. It needs the money. It does not have it. The state has flatly refused (and not failed) to meet its obligation. What does the university under the stewardship of the university council do? The shortcut has often been progressive increment in tuition and other fees. That has been and continues to be the shortcut. But in many cases shortcuts are wrong cuts. We must have a convocation leadership that will put the state on its knees, prevail on it to meet its financial obligations to the university, provide adequate funding to the faculty members to conduct ground-breaking academic research but also pay both academic and non-academic staff handsomely. If what it takes for Makerere University staff to be paid handsomely is to turn the university into an authority (Makerere University Authority) so be it. There is no justification for a KCCA driver or office messenger earning better than a Makerere University professor. There is no justification whatsoever for a Jenniffer Musiisi earning higher than a Prof Ddumba.
However, even if it is turned into an authority the law must be clear that Makerere will maintain its autonomy to recruit its own staff and leaders. Makerere must be a state within a state if it is to meaningfully contribute to the liberation of Uganda, the liberation of Africa and the liberation of the world.
SEEKERS OF SELF-AGGRANDISEMENT
I have closely followed the convocation elections since 2006. It is Richard Todwong (the current cabinet minister without portfolio in the Museveni-led government) who first interested me into working for the convocation. As I was an undergraduate student, Richard Todwong was a committee member on the convocation leadership. In 2006, therefore, when an opportunity to hold convocation elections arose I offered myself to become a publicity secretary. I have never believed that one should seek a position of leadership just for the sake of it. I sat down and wrote what I was to later call my social contract with the Makerereans. I faulted the convocation for what it had failed to do and never appreciated it for what it had done because I had not seen it. Those who read my document including the out-going chairman of the convocation Bruce Balaba said it was a brilliant document and that it would be adopted to steer, guide and direct the convocation leadership. I am honoured to state that of all the things that the convocation has done none is outside my document entitled ‘Whose Institution is Makerere University?’ Accordingly, I take all the credit for all the good things that the Makerere University convocation has done and I share no blame for all its shortcomings. I share no blame because I was blocked from being a leader because I was told openly that I would sabotage the prospects of others to enrich themselves.
Eight years since 2006, we have people who are busy paying annual subscriptions for the members. This is both criminal but also morally outrageous and repugnant. Virtually all my opponents use the tool of paying for members as the ticket to win the December 13 elections. Lugubriously none of the members being paid for has asked the following questions: ‘Why do you pay for me my subscription?’ ‘What do you gain when you pay for me?’ How do you intend to recoup the money you are spending while paying subscriptions for members? Is this not proof that you are a dubious character who thinks the Makerere University convocation is a business enterprise where you have to invest in order to reap dividends? Apart from paying subscriptions for members what other programme do you have for our alma mater?
TAMING FERTILE AMBITIONS
Of all things that my grandmother taught me one thing is clear. Uncontrolled ambitions amount to greed. While I am ambitious, I am not over ambitious. This explains why I did not stand as a guild president and offered to support the late Vincent Lugonvu. This explains why I did not stand as a youth member of parliament at a time I was within the age bracket of 18 to 30. That explains why I have religiously followed the leadership of the Democratic Party without seeking an elective office. What my grandmother always told me is this ‘Mwana wangye tiwe numi emwe omu kiraro’ meaning ‘my child, you are not the only bull in the kraal’. I definitely know that out of the more than 100,000 alumni of Makerere University, I am not the only one suited to lead the convocation. I know that there are people more brilliant than me who can steer the convocation. But I also know that of the team I am competing with none of them has the slightest idea of what is it that should be done. This is because they suffer from arrivalism and exaggerated self-importance. This explains why none of them thinks I am in any way a threat to him or her. This explains why all of them think I am not in the race and that if at all I am there, I am there to be the last. None of them however, says Vincent Nuwagaba will be the last because he has no ideas. They say I will be the last because I am not facilitating voters. How can I pay you to work for you? I am seeking for an opportunity to serve Makerere University. If there is to be any payment that payment should be given to me not me to pay people I am seeking employment from. Does it make any sense?
But Jesus Christ says that the last will be the first. I also know that all leadership good or bad comes from God. The difference I have with conformists is that they say since all leadership comes from God we must be submissive to leaders. Leaders are not to be submitted to. Leaders are meant to be asked to account for the positions God has given them. God does not tell us anywhere that we should not criticise, blame, oppose or even fight leaders because he is the one who put them in place. God gives us bad leaders to enable us hone our fighting and opposition skills. Amin came from God, Mobutu came from God. Saddam Hussein came from God and Museveni came from God. But God would be indignant with us if we submitted to these brutal autocrats.
I HAVE A MATHEMATICAL SCIENTIFIC MIND
Mathematics is largely about if not wholly about problems and solutions. My mind is mathematical in a sense that I quickly sense the problem and immediately think of scientific means of arriving at a solution. I have never been found guilty in any competent jurisdiction and never will I be found guilty by the grace of God if I remain the way I am. Nonetheless, people blame me for every problem even when I am a victim. I am a victim of injustice at Makerere University, in Uganda and almost everywhere I go. I need to be at the steering wheel and drive my alma mater to where it is meant to be.
THE ROLE OF THE ALUMNI
“Do not forget through all the years those who have gone through the gates of Makerere. Give them the pride. Give them the joy. Oh! To remember the gates of Makerere.
“Those who here be, seek ye the truth. Build for the future the great Makerere. Those here have been. Those here will be. Build for the future, the great Makerere. ” [From Makerere Anthem">
Makerere University has shaped us, fine-tuned us and made us finished products. We are political scientists, economists, sociologists, psychologists, lawyers, engineers, medical doctors, veterinary doctors, computer scientists, etc., thanks to Makerere University. But we do not even take it as an obligation to pay an annual subscription of only USh.10,000 (ten thousand shillings). This money is too meagre to do anything meaningful. In a nice looking Kampala restaurant it is less than a cup of coffee. I am told by those who take beer that it buys only two bottles. Now let me ask, what would one lose by giving an equivalent of two bottles of beer to their alma mater?
I can state unequivocally that there are thousands of Makerere Alumni who are still proud of Makerere and would do anything humanly possible to support their alma mater. The irony is that they are not mobilized. The paradox is that Makerere has been reduced into a super market where one goes to purchase groceries and thereafter if they have no money there is no relationship with that supermarket. Makerere is our home. We belong to Makerere and Makerere belongs to us. We are inextricably joined to Makerere. Ours is a marriage conducted in a Catholic church where there is no slightest iota of possibility for divorce. We cannot divorce Makerere and Makerere cannot divorce us. It is just like we cannot divorce our parents and our parents cannot divorce us.
The students of Makerere University are our siblings. They are our kid brothers and sisters. Accordingly, in everything we do, we must prioritise their best interests. This explains why I vehemently opposed the increment of fees in 2009 by 126 per cent and served a jail sentence for that. That is why in 2011 through a constructive engagement with Prof Venansius Baryamureba the then vice chancellor, students who had not cleared their fees were allowed to sit their exams. That is why I continue to be one of the leading human rights advocates in the socio-economic rights terrain.
Finally, a university without any serious single print media outlet; a university without a publishing house; a university without a radio and television station; a university without scholarly journals; a university without academic research projects; a university whose academic staff have immersed themselves into consultancies is a university that deserves redemption. And it is us the key stakeholders, holders of its credentials who are the key stakeholders. We cannot wait for our neighbour to buy salt, soap and meat for our households. That means the neighbour can as well determine whether or not to share a bed with our spouses. We must redeem Makerere now and I offer myself to provide strategic direction to this prestigious institution. As we build for the future.
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