Makerere University was in the recent past heralded as the Harvard of Africa.
And considering that this 94 year old institution has produced five African Presidents in Milton Obote (Uganda), Julius Nyerere and Benjamin Mkapa (Tanzania), Joseph Kabila (DRC) and Mwai Kibaki (Kenya), such hype can even pass as an understatement. Currently however, this institution seems to be fast losing its past glory. According to London-based Times Higher Education magazine, Makerere ranks fourth best university in Africa, three places worse than it was at its peak times. Several challenges account for this unfortunate shift in fortunes. Overtime, Makerere has seen an explosion in student numbers, which growth has brought with it a litany of challenges that have slowly compromised the quality of education. “Today strikes at the university are the order of the day and critical research attaches them to underlying challenges like corruption and other pertinent administrative loopholes,” noted a veteran Makerere University lecturer, on condition of anonymity. A fortnight ago, the prestigious institution suffered a mega blight to its image when outspoken research fellow, Dr. Stella Nyanzi, went nude in protest against what she termed as unfair eviction from her office by Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) Executive Director, Prof. Mahmood Mamdani. The impasse which came on the heels of a sex scandal involving a don (Prof. Chris Bakuneta) accused of raping his student in a laboratory, was touched off after Nyanzi allegedly refused to teach on MISR’s PhD programme. By press time, Nyanzi had threatened to undress at the university’s Freedom Square after being suspended by the university’s Appointments Board led by Bruce Balaba Kabaasa. Whereas the country has been taken aback by the accusations and counteraccusations being traded by Nyanzi and Mamdani respectively, many observers say the whole scandal is an indictment on the Vice Chancellor (VC) Ddumba Ssentamu led administration as it’s just a tip of the bigger rot at Makerere University.
Weighing in on the matter, former VC, Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba, accepts that embedded in the ongoing Dr. Nyanzi nudity scandal is more than meets the eye. He partly attributed the impasse to institutional breakdown whose trickledown effect has affected the various facets of the institution. “I wouldn’t wish to comment on issues of Makerere University for fear of being construed to be undermining the current leadership because I want to go back there. It’s far from that . I’m convinced that I served my time there and I have comfortably moved on. However, as an observer, I think there’s a lot of institutional breakdown that must be quickly addressed,” said the former Presidential candidate who is now Proprietor of Uganda Technology and Management University (UTAMU). Another Don currently serving at the university who preferred anonymity for fear of reprisal by the Appointments Board said; “Makerere’s biggest problem is inaction from the VC and the Human Resource Directorate on crucial matters that need urgent redress. You may for instance ask yourself why they left this issue to reach this far. Remember Prof. Mamdani says he wrote to the VC in 2014 about the matter while in her rant Dr. Nyanzi complained that nobody had offered to listen to her case for the entire two days her office was locked before she undressed on the third day. That shows you the kind of reluctance on the VC’s side yet he is supposed to be the Chief Supervisor of everything at campus being the university’s CEO.”
HUMAN RESOURCE DEPARTMENT INCOMPETENT?
“The university’s Human Resource Directorate does just the basic things and nothing extraordinary. In fact it is like a Secretarial bureau whose work has been reduced to filing and drafting documents yet its duties are well stipulated in the university’s Human Resource Policy,” a lecturer said while assessing the competence of the HR department. Headed by Mary K. Tizikara, this Directorate is mandated to oversee, initiate, develop and implement Human Resource systems and processes in line with the Human Resources Policy, consistent with the University Strategic plan. It is also supposed to develop the Annual Development Budget and monitor the utilization of the Directorate’s resources in line with the financial regulations. Tizikara, whose grounding is in Education but holds a certificate in Human Resource, Management is currently doing her PhD (in Education). She is deputized by Deputy University Secretary for Pensions, Godfrey Bazanye Nkangi, Training and Development Manager, Josephine Apolot Opolot, Manager Employment Division, and Dora S. Zake, Manager Performance and Appraisal Division. Also on her team is Manager Records and Information Division, Lawrence Ssanyu and Human Resources Manager, Richard Mugisha. Staff we spoke to for this article revealed that although each of these officers have stipulated roles to play, their response to problems is usually slow and at times not transparent. “If it wasn’t for their lethargic approach to staff concerns, the Nyanzi–Mamdani saga wouldn’t have reached this far. The problem is that these people simply rely on heads of departments’ reports and can never go down to the workers to investigate issues,” a staffer said. A case in point is the unending row over staff wages and pension. In 2012 Makerere lecturers dragged the University to court over Sh13bn ($5.2m) it deducted from its employees’ wages but failed to remit to either the Staff Retirement Scheme it operated under the National Insurance Corporation between 1996 and 2005, or to the current Managers of the Makerere University Retirement Benefits Scheme. Staff benefits have been a thorny issue at Makerere, and disputes over what is owed to the staff have inspired numerous staff strikes, at one point leading to the closure of the university for several weeks in September 2011. The consequent disruptions of student class schedules produced an unusual arrangement where students sat examinations during the Christmas season. To date, the Retirement Benefits Scheme has not been properly managed. The University Council stopped it in 2009 but the Human Resource Department suggested that those who had not served the university for 10 years by 2009 were not to get their money. There are however disparities. For example one of the staffers revealed that whereas the university contributes 7% of their salaries to the benefits scheme, a colleague with whom he is on the same salary scale will get Shs8m while he (staffer we talked to) will get a paltry Shs520,000.
MESS IN COLLEGES
Sources also revealed to us that due to lack of efficient supervision at the top, Makerere now survives on the hard work and efficient administrative acumen of some of the College Principals. “If a head of College is creative, then you will find such a faculty working efficiently while the reverse is true for those colleges led by not very- shrewd heads,” a source said. We for instance learnt during our investigation that whereas the Faculty of Mass Communication currently has over 100 computers, the university administration has not procured any computer for this department in the last 20 years. “If the heads there were asleep we would probably not have any element of ICT in the Mass Communication department. All these PCs have been acquired through donations and grants accruing from proposals by the departmental heads; that’s how bad things are,” a lecturer said. The general environment of the university is also wanting. For instance at College of Computing, the lift in Block B has never been installed yet there are many facilities beyond 4th floor. This makes accessing higher levels of building difficult— especially by disabled students. The toilet facilities are also deplorable, with a terrible stench occasionally filling the corridors. This has since raised fresh worries about the safety of thousands of students who use the dilapidated toilet facilities and nearby lecture rooms. Creeping plants can be seen ‘waving’ to students at Block A, pointing to a neglect of even the infrastructure. The College’s grim picture doesn’t however mean it’s a case in isolation. Last week during the MUASA general assembly, Ass. Prof. Anthony Muwagga Mugagga, the Deputy Principal at the College of Education, shocked many when he revealed that students doing sciences at the College have not done practicals in a long time due to lack of laboratory materials. This is despite the fact that students are mandated to do the practicals.
When former VC Baryamureeba took reins at Makerere University, he, in 2008, contracted a UK-based company, Smith & Ouznan, to print certificates which would be given to graduands two weeks after the graduation. This was after the same graduands had received their transcripts on graduation day. The milestone which had taken the university 87 years to achieve, was to save graduates from wasting time returning to the university to pick their academic transcripts. To achieve this, issuance of transcripts was decentralized at faculty level to avoid congestion at the Senate building. However, this system died the day Baryamureeba left Makerere. Today getting a transcript at Makerere University is a totally complicated laborious process that can take one ages. Yet speaking to us, a don at the university noted that these days are intentionally occasioned by the officers in the registry for financial benefit. “Currently tens of thousands of students graduate in a year at the university. The rogue officials at the registry know that if let’s say just 10,000 of these students are to part with averagely about Shs50,000 as bribes to have their transcripts quickly processed, that’s about Shs500m for the officers concerned. That explains the delay and is among the reasons Baryamureeba was fought because he had blocked that money tap,” the don told us. When contacted on the issue, Prof. Baryamureeba could not rule out the bribery theory as a catalyst for the ‘complicated’ transcripts. He however advised that enforcing the practice he introduced is very easy and simply needs the will of the administrators and instilling a culture of accountability in the registry officials. “What I did was to streamline the processes and identify who is accountable for what in the registry. Whenever there was a glitch, it would be easily identified and the person responsible put to task to act. The people involved know what to do but you can’t rule out the money aspect because we’re talking about very big numbers and sums here,” Baryamureeba said. Barya (as is commonly known) added that to achieve this, he ensured that exams would be done in time, the scripts marked in time and all results submitted and computed within a specific time with emphasis on deadlines.
DELAYED RESULTS, MISSING MARKS
Sources say that today missing results and delays to submit the same are the order of the day. For instance, on May 9, 2016 the students are scheduled to begin their end of semester exams. However, we discovered that by press time yesterday some lecturers, mainly in the Colleges of Humanities and Social Sciences under Prof. Edward Kirumira and that of Computing and Information Sciences under Prof. Okello Obura, were yet to release results for the previous semester. What is baffling though is that such lethargy has been going on unchecked despite being a source of some of the student strikes at the university. Results had not been uploaded online as required by university guidelines but students told us they had been left in limbo as explanations from the college authorities had proved futile with no one willing to speak. Standard procedure dictates that results are published online and the students access them using their respective student numbers. The issue of missing marks has also become a perennial weakness on the university authorities’ side. The complaints range from missing course works, marks that are never displayed online. To this effect, last year students stormed the Administration Block in protest against missing marks and other related issues. They put administrators to task to explain why the problem is persistent. What is frustrating though is that many students have failed to graduate over the years due to missing results.
In January 2014, rivers of tears of graduands flowed endlessly at the campus after they learnt at the eleventh hour that their names were miraculously withdrawn from the graduation list. In the most inexplicable situation, nine students who had long completed their studies were withdrawn from the graduation list because they actually sat for, and passed the wrong exam for their programme. The university regulations require lecturers to submit grades to their colleges for compilation of scripts, well before October. The University Senate is supposed to have examined and passed all the transcripts of graduating students by the end of November. All appeals are required to have been cleared by December 5, before the final graduation list is pinned on all noticeboards and all college websites shortly before the Christmas break. By graduation day, in the third week of January, graduands are required to leave the university with their transcripts. Despite such clear guidelines, the university last respected these regulations in 2012. Since then, university officials are regularly confronted with appeals on the graduation list, as late as January. In many cases, the students complain that although they had completed, their details were lacking grades. It is understandable that final-year students who fail to complete all their academic requirements are punished by denying them the chance to graduate. But one wonders why there is no action against lecturers who fail to fulfill their end of the bargain (i.e. marking exam scripts in time). Bribery in exams is also a burning issue. In October 2012, police arrested two officials in the office of the Academic Register for altering students’ marks. There had been complaints from the School of Economics and Management that examination results that had been approved by the Senate and pinned on the students’ noticeboards and uploaded on the university website were different from what the school had submitted to the Senate. To date little is known on what became of the investigations into the matter. For a long time, there have been claims that some lecturers and university officials receive bribes to offer free marks to students. Last year former guild president David Bala Bwiruka revealed to Red Pepper that at least 17 girls had approached him accusing some lecturers of promising them marks in return for sex. The girls were furious that whereas they met their part of the bargain, the lecturers reneged on theirs. He forwarded the matter to one of the university’s deputy VCs but to date no report has been outed to that effect. There is also information that some students graduate without completing their research dissertations while others get degrees they did not study for. There have also been reports of lecturers not marking students’ examination scripts but forging the results, making marks disappear or giving marks to students who fail the pass mark.
HOW STRIKES HAVE
AFFECTED THE RUNNING OF THE UNIVERSITY
The incessant strikes at the university are caused by most times avoidable policies and scenarios yet research shows that they greatly disrupt studies thus lowering the quality of graduates churned from Makerere. For instance, our analysis shows that this semester is supposed to run for 17 weeks — 28th January up to 27th May. However, it has been characterized by unending strikes at the institution and as well public holidays. Most of the students reported after the 18th February presidential elections and serious studying began in March. This means students lost four weeks of studies. As soon as studying began, students went on strike over the infamous 60% and 100% tuition policies. The strike lasted a full week, forcing the university council to suspend tests. As soon as the strike ended, tests were reinstated, forcing some students like those at the School of Computing and information Technology (SCIT) to reject them on grounds of ill-preparation. “The problem is that when lecturers realize that so much time has been lost coupled with the fact that many of them dodge lectures, they set exams from a narrow scope of the whole syllabus and tell the students which specific areas to read. That explains why at times you see students passing with high grades yet they lack requisite skills for the labour market. It’s after they reach the field that they realize the ugly truth that they actually never studied most of what they needed to survive on their jobs,” a lecturer explained.
FAILURE TO GET STUDENT LEADER
Currently, there is a leadership vacuum at the guild presidency after the winner of the recent elections, Bazil Biddemu Mwotta, had his victory annulled by the University Elections tribunal on allegations of vote rigging. As such, his ardent supporter, a one Mugarura Samuel aka Falcao Mugarura, a Botany student, is soliciting signatures to allow him assume the guild presidency without going through elections. We have learnt that Mugarura has so far collected 2,500 signatures from students out of the 8,000 that he needs to be endorsed as the 82nd guild leader. Interestingly, ever since the election the vice chancellor has not commented on the matter while the University Council Chairman, Dr. Wana Etyem, recently expressed his ‘concern’ over the failure to get the students’ leader in time.
- NYANZI-MAMDANI IMPASSE
A lot has been said about the Nyanzi-Mamdani saga, with the VC, John Ddumba Ssentamu coming in to open a can of worms against Prof. Mamdani. Weighing in on the matter however, Prof. Baryamureeba, under whose stewardship Mamdani was hired at MISR, believes Mamdani is a great resource that shouldn’t be lost. His sentiments are borne out of Prof. Ddumba’s declaration that Mamdani can go if he wishes as MISR will not miss him. “When we were forming colleges, MISR was placed under the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. We thus made the previously standalone MISR the research arm of the college. To strengthen it further, it was allowed to host a PhD pogramme following a proposal by Prof. Mamadani. And because it had to have core staff, we gave Mamdani as Executive Director the powers to appoint the people at the unit as part of the core staff. Dr. Nyanzi refused to take on the workload allocated to her by her supervisor which tantamountS to abscondment from duty and insubordination. The relevant university organs should have taken appropriate action when this became evident since the Human Resources Manual is very clear on cases of insubordination and abscondment from duty. It appears this has never taken place to hold her accountable for neglecting her assigned duties,” Baryamureeba said; still pointing to the inaction amongst the administrations. For the record, Prof. Mamdani has raised MISR’s revenue from $1.7(Shs5.5bn) which the previous director raised from 2005-2010I to $7.2 (Shs23.7b) during his tenure (2010 to 2015). This is an increase of 435 per cent and word is rife that the Dr. Nyanzi-Mamdani saga could be a financial war in disguise; with Mamdani’s detractors eyeing the billions at MISR. Barayamureeba also revealed that using his international contacts, Mamdani has been able to bring over 100 professors from across the world to offer academic support at Makerere University. It is thus utterly shocking that Ddumba can suggest that such a resourceful man can leave if he wants.
STAFF MOVE TO IMPEACH UNIVERSITY COUNCIL
We have also gathered that currently, there is a silent war going on at the university between the lecturers under their umbrella, Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA) and the university council. Sources say that MUASA members have threatened to impeach the council if the gross mismanagement issues are not rectified. “Council members deceived us before they were elected to represent us. We need to disband them because they just eat allowances for nothing, they should step down. Whenever council members sit, their target is only allowances, which should be paying lecturers. What has the chairman done to help us?” said Ass. Prof Muwagga Mugagga. Prof. JB Nyakaana, expressing his disgust with his bosses, said; “Our biggest problem is council. They have not done anything to ensure government listens to problems of Makerere University.” These sentiments were aired during the recent General Assembly, in respect to pending staff salaries. The staff also feels there’s a deliberate ploy by the Council to deny the young lecturers their due promotions under the guise of lack of establishment.
Sources revealed that even if Ddumba would have implemented policies to push Makerere forward, he is a prisoner of so many factors beyond his control; right from his appointment to the internal politics of the university. To begin with, it’s worth noting that following recommendations by the Search Committee during the search for the substantive Makerere University VC, Ddumba emerged a distant third behind top candidate, Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba. However, he thrived on the gymnastics of the university council (the voting organ) to defeat Baryamureeba in an election that was reported in the media to have been blighted by rigging. Baryamureeba even threatened to go to court over these elections before opting otherwise. Speaking to us, an analyst revealed that unless the university Council’s composition is overhauled, Makerere will fall short of getting best candidates for the VC job. “The voting organ has so many interest groups such as academic staff (2 representatives), support staff (1 vote), students (2), convocation (1), senate (2) and PWDs (2 voters) among others. These interest groups are easy to manipulate especially by someone well-grounded at Makerere. This is why we have so many cliques based around religion, faculties, tribes, among other things. Anybody who can best manipulate these enjoys a big share of the 60% vote that the Council holds when it comes to determining the VC,” a source said. “When these people help you into office well knowing you were not the best candidate, you owe allegiance to them and so you need to be extra tough and careful to reprimand them and get things moving. This could be the current VC’s conundrum.” In 2018, Ddumba’s contract will expire; meaning he will be at the mercy of college heads and university council for reelection in case he needs it renewed. Analysts opine that Ddumba clearly knows that in Mamdani he has no vote given their publicized fallout. If Mamdani truthfully says that Ddumba is fighting him, then it would help the VC have a new person and new voter at MISR when voting time comes. It is said that the voting system at Makerere has also brewed the culture of ‘inbreeding’ where less qualified/competent candidates are put in bigger offices simply because they have been part of the university for long. “This is bad because it denies chance to outside people with the required competencies to come with new ideas that can move the university forward,” an analyst said. A lot can be said but until effort is made to streamline the administrative flaws, Makerere’s glory may forever remain a painful legend.