By Ofwono Opondo
Makerere University is again in the news for one week running for no so good reasons. Notoriously famous for staging strikes, often violent, and most of them invariably triggered by funding, management and even mundane administrative issues like quarreling over food, furniture and toilets. Overall Uganda has 180,000 students in both public and private universities. The nine public universities combined have the lion’s share of one hundred ten thousand (110,000) students. Makerere with about fifteen thousand has remained the most problematic partly because of administrative issues, bad student culture, and majority of their students being government sponsored doing arts and humanities having a lot of idle time.
At other times, they have been caused by breakdown in communication between managers and staff or staff and students, and of course mischief-making. Often, funding issues, managerial and administrative ineptitude, corruption and other forms of dishonesty combine to make an intricate cocktail of malaise in a supposed place where competence and probity should be evident.
As a country we should not continue to pumper Makerere on privilege, while at the same time seeking countrywide equity because then many will be left behind. The reality is that government subsidization of university education is becoming counterproductive in many ways. It should be appreciated that demand for university education is increasing at a rate than government can manage. Government should establish a basket education tuition fund which eligible student can access through loans.
Makerere should be decongested with students taking business courses sent to Nakawa, Education to Kyambogo, Agriculture to Kabanyolo, and arts and social sciences to Nsamizi. This measure will leave only medical, forestry, technology, law and post-graduate students in Makerere. In the immediate, Makerere could be closed for one academic year as these reforms are implemented. Unfortunately, the civil service and political class have given themselves so much privilege and now as wasteful and extravagant making it very difficult if not impossible to appeal to other Ugandans to tighten their belt.
The crisis at public universities particularly Makerere manifests itself in many ways among them cumulative non-payment of statutory obligations like salaries, PAYE, NSSF, pensions, and incentives. At Makerere, physical infrastructure like libraries, lecture rooms, staff and students residences have been left to waste away. Belated payment for supplies including food, teaching materials, ICT and utilities have led to acute or perennial shortages and poor services. Visiting the Law School main auditorium, the walls are so dirty with paint peeled off, one electric bulb, and cobweb greeting you.
Looking at the ceiling of most lecture rooms, leaves you with the unmistaken evidence of serious internal inefficiencies reflected in high absenteeism among staff and students, retakes, misplaced or missing coursework and exam marks. In this atmosphere even students who are malingers, drug abusers and mischief makers cannot easily be detected early.
Makerere has gradually become fertile ground for negative, cavalier and destructive politics, where subversion infiltrates the university with indisciplined by staff, students and outside forces become difficult to detect and uproot.
There should be few if any disputes about tuition for Makerere students to strike over because it hasn’t been raised for continuing students. The new students were aware of the fees structure at the time they applied for admission into their respective courses because it is in the prospectus. Furthermore, tuition at Makerere is comparable to those at other public universities and way below those at private universities.
Some evidence shows that local political groups and foreign interests seeking regime change in Uganda are trying to infiltrate Makerere and other public universities where they believe cheap powder keg exist.
These groups either directly or through civil society groups have also recruited sections on the mendacious media and journalists to help them use deception, distortion, misrepresentation, fabrication or recycling old information and photographs to cause anger. Journalists who cannot use their media houses, have resorted to social media where they use vile language hoping they will not be effectively challenged.
There is evidence that the Students Guild, was involved in the discussions as way back in 2017 and 2018 whereupon tuition increments were reached due to obvious reasons of increasing costs and inflation. Therefore, for some students, even if they were genuine, to make an abrupt about turn is suspicious. Students should always use the guild to negotiate collective interests, rather than expecting to be listened to when shouting from the streets.
As has turned out, quite a number of strike ringleaders were not students, but political activists instigated and paid by opposition politicians, civil society groups and some western foreign embassies in Kampala. Of the politicians, CSOs and foreign embassies will deny paying students to riot, but the ongoing impeachment of Donald Trump where US Ambassadors to the EU and Ukraine have been found pressuring a president to institute criminal investigations of Trump’s rivals should be testimony that in poorer countries they do worse things.
Some of the students are benefiting from various government sponsorships like district bursaries, State House scholarship, and students loan scheme some obtained through fraudulent means. This particular category shouldn’t be complaining of higher tuition.
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