Muniini K. Mulera
Goat herding is a good alternative to a Makerere job
Posted Monday, September 30 2013 at 01:00
Rearing goats is a vocation that demands as much intellectual investment as teaching at Makerere.
President Yoweri K. Museveni’s advice to Makerere University lecturers to put up with their current salaries or take a walk and become goatherds has generated predictable reaction, with many declaring him insensitive and uncaring. One suspects that Mr Museveni’s dismissive response was a symptom of long-standing contempt for the majority of Ugandan professionals. Save for a few folks in a couple of favoured agencies and, of course, the members of the armed organisations that keep him in power, Mr Museveni has shown little regard for Uganda’s public servants.
A humbler leader would have rallied the country behind him in the standoff with the lecturers without appearing to be insensitive. He could have shown the lecturers that he understood their needs and was willing to seek a compromise. He could have asked the lecturers to justify their salary demands in terms of actual hours worked. He could have instructed his minister and the vice-chancellor of Makerere to insist, like many universities do, that fulltime faculty must declare all their sources of professional income and surrender the same to their departments.
After all a university teacher who provides consultation services or operates a private clinic does so on university time and uses intellectual tools that he has agreed to use to serve the university full time. Hopefully the lecturers would have come back with a more reasonable counter-offer. Rigidity in negotiation almost always indicates bad faith or intentions.
That said, I do not think the lecturers seriously expected a doubling of their current salaries. I certainly hope they were using that as a bargaining position in the hope that they would get a reasonable raise, whatever that might be. A package that asks for, say, 20 per cent increments per year over the next five years is more reasonable and hard to dismiss by the government. This is not to undervalue the work of the Makerere faculty members, of course.
It is simply a realistic take on the abilities of a country of 37 million with an enormous social burden and an infrastructural deficit. I am sure none of this is lost on the lecturers. They almost certainly agree that public servants should tame their fiscal appetites in the interests of the country’s infrastructural development. However, it is a very hard sell when such sacrifice is demanded of some while a less productive group continues their feast on the gravy train as though the country has rivers of money.
The president and his court consume disproportionately more money than the rest of the country. Museveni is easily the most expensive president that Uganda has had since 1962.
Earlier this year, Parliament approved an “emergency” supplementary budget of US$56 million for Mr Museveni’s State House. This included payment for such things as “special meals and drinks, welfare and entertainment, newspapers, donations (vote buying) and presidential travel.” The official amount allocated to State House last financial year exceeded $80 million. Besides keeping the President and his family in luxurious comfort, taxpayer’s money is thrown away in patronage payments to an unjustifiably large cabinet, an inflated Parliament, so-called presidential advisors that never advise their employer and other presidential hangers-on.
The salary of each of these people, whose education qualifications are no better than those of university lecturers, is $10,000 a month. Their health and travel costs and per diem allowances add thousands more. The highest paid Makerere professor, with at least one doctorate in her field, must make do with less than 20 percent of what is paid to a somnolent MP or completely unemployed presidential advisor. This extravagant living by the President and mega-emoluments to politicians likely infuriateS Makerere dons and most hard working public servants.
Their demand for 100 percent salary increase becomes a form of protest. It bears repeating, therefore, that as long Mr Museveni continues to live large and to throw away public money as though it was omwezigye (chaff), his appeals for patience and lower salary demands by the financially restless citizens will continue to fall on deaf ears. What I hope they hear, though, is his advice to them to become goatherds. Now, I sense that the President does not think too highly of the goat-herders’ vocation. He probably used it as an insult rather than genuine vocational counselling.
However, whatever his intention, it was a piece of advice that those who are seriously looking at a sustainable business venture ought to embrace as a blessing in disguise. Raising goats can be a very lucrative business, with a large worldwide market. About 65 per cent of the world’s red meat consumption is of the goat variety, and the demand for it continues to grow because it is healthier than beef, pork, lamb and veal.
Rearing goats is a vocation that demands as much intellectual investment as teaching at Makerere. It is a full time engagement with a serious science of its own, in addition to the necessary management and marketing skills. Three months ago, I was privileged to visit a goat farm of friends in Luweero, two retired professionals that spent decades working and living in Geneva. I was impressed. I think I know what I am going to do when I retire in Kigezi.