Makerere University, one of Africa’s oldest universities, turns 100 in 2022. The status of Makerere as a university college has risen with a time into a university of continental acclaim. Fulbright scholars, distinguished academia flock to Makerere to share cutting edge research and groom the next generation of academics.
In the last decade, Makerere is struggling to refocus its energies as a research university focused on graduate students. Graduation days are now dominated in the red hats by Masters and PhD students. Its top honours dominated by old hands like Ddumba Ssentamu, Kisamba Mugerwa, John C Muyingo, Peregrine Kibuuka who all studied at Makerere for their PhD degrees while well advanced in their careers. At the last graduation, ICT Minister Frank Tumwebaze walked off the podium with a Master’s degree in Public Health.
In the last two years, however, classical Makerere has had terrible clashes with modern Makerere and the neo-colonial Makerere, the cradle to grave welfare system that shields people at the academy from the vagaries of life. Modern Makerere, the big budgets, global research represented by scholars like Prof Edward Kirumira, has struggled with Makerere’s roots as the refuge of the little boy and girl academy, who came first in their village and rose through the ranks from messenger to professor. They are exemplified by the sheer determination of some of the first women professors - Joy Kwesiga and Ruth Mukama, who just retired, and Maria Musoke, a widow who rose to head and transform the East Africa School of Librarianship.
A few geniuses still roam colonial Makerere. Love or hate her, Dr Stella Nyanzi, with two masters degrees and PhD under her bag accomplished in a very short time, is one of them. Dr Nyanzi, daughter of a long-term medical doctor in Mengo, is very provocative with her pen, but was able to transition from a mass communications degree (itself a symbol of modern Makerere) to an advanced degree in anthropology from the London School of Tropical Medicine.
Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, an architect trained in the Soviet Union, needs a few lessons about academic freedom. He is struggling simply because his views about Makerere are everybody fitting into their suit, lawns cut, no potholes and trains running on time. He is feverishly using the ultimate sanction to get rid of opposers, forgetting that a university unlike a technical school, is set up for exactly that. This brash attitude which sometimes borders on rudeness is the basic form of sustenance of academics. How else can someone engage with John Ken Lukyamuzi, for example, a four-term Member of Parliament, who after being mentored by Prof Ali Mazrui, graduated with an LLB degree this year, 18 years after he got his first degree in Environmental Science.
Getting rid of insubordination may be a monumental task. Makerere University is part of the backlog that is choking the court system, with numerous court cases filed against it by angry staff. For years, Makerere was evenly matched against its constituent colleges like Mubs. Judges exasperated question this take no prisoners attitude only associated with Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft, who can afford to be in court all over the globe.
Makerere’s international profile requires more resources and for the first time in years, Makerere is now making effort to recruit internationally young talented people to guide this huge space ship of promise and goodwill. The old Makerere of Boniface Byanyima, Prof Nambooze, Prof Kyalwazi, Prof Ongom of boundless optimism and opportunities is gone by. But the new Makerere must rise from our country’s rancorous past to something bigger than the hills of Makerere.
The good architect Nawangwe needs to pick a few leaves from the hundreds of management books to learn how to manage this great human resource that is Makerere.
Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate. [email protected]