Nawangwe optimistic as second term begins

Makerere University Vice Chancellor Prof Barnabas Nawangwe during an interview with Daily Monitor at his office in Kampala on July 20, 2022. PHOTO | FRANK BAGUMA

What you need to know:

  • Following his reappointment, Prof Nawangwe pledged “total commitment to serve Makerere and Uganda diligently with God being his guide.” He also revealed that he is “extremely humbled by the confidence put in me by the Chancellor and the University Council.”

Prof Barnabas Nawangwe was on Friday handed a second crack at the Makerere University vice chancellorship fending off a spirited challenge from a section of university staff opposed to his reign and reappointment.

While Prof Nawangwe’s current term is due to expire on August 31, his reappointment means he will stay at the helm of Uganda’s premier university for a term of another five years.

Prof Nawangwe’s first five-year term has been marked with simmering frustrations and accusations of authoritarianism from both the students and staff. He has repeatedly denied the accusations, insisting that he is only enforcing discipline and order based on the university rules. 

“We express our deepest gratitude to the Chancellor and the University Council for recognising Prof Nawangwe’s distinguished service and granting him the opportunity to serve another term as we celebrate 100 years,” university secretary Yusuf Kiranda wrote in a statement. 

Following his reappointment, Prof Nawangwe pledged “total commitment to serve Makerere and Uganda diligently with God being his guide.” He also revealed that he is “extremely humbled by the confidence put in me by the Chancellor and the University Council.”

Prof Nawangwe will now go down in the annals as the vice chancellor that not only organised Makerere University’s centennial celebrations but also usher it into the next 100 years. In a recent interview with Sunday Monitor, he revealed that the university council’s strategic plan for the next 100 years seeks “to make Makerere a research-led university.” This, he added, is a telling departure “from the last 100 years where emphasis was human resource development.”

Mixed scorecard

Prof Nawangwe’s reappointment thwarted efforts by a section of the university staff who had launched a campaign to kick him out of the university top job. As Vice Chancellor, Prof Nawangwe is responsible for the university administration, academic and financial issues.

Initially, the lecturers blew the lid on what they described as “covert, biased, disputed and clandestine methods” to reappoint Prof Nawangwe whose term was due to expire in six weeks.

In a July 14 petition, the lecturers accused the Ms Lorna Magara-led University Council of reluctance to constitute a search committee to immediately fill the position per the law.

On August 8, a section of staff led by Associate Prof Jude Ssempebwa and Dr Deus Kamunyu Muhwezi through their lawyers, Nassuuna and Company Advocates, raised a number of issues.
The case against Prof Nawangwe revolves around alleged irregularities in his past promotion as well as terms of his appointment. The concerned staff argue that he did not qualify for the top job in 2017, which makes his reappointment moot. 

On Tuesday, Mr Mathias Mpuuga, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, cautioned that Makerere University should not be run like a kindergarten.This followed his interface with students from Makerere who furnished his office with a petition, challenging suspensions Prof Nawangwe recently rubber-stamped.

Friday’s reappointment  breaks a cycle of bad press for the vice chancellor. In his July 24 interview with Sunday Monitor, Prof Nawangwe defended his vice chancellorship as pro-student.

“I’m also the VC in whose term no student has been dismissed,” he said.

He also dismissed claims that a culture of silence has taken root amongst the teaching staff at the university.

“There are a few people who confuse academic freedom and academic hooliganism. Those are two different things,” he said, adding, “Academic freedom means a lecturer disagreeing with a certain type of thinking and nobody follows up...but when you have people who use their privileged positions to damage people’s reputation, that is hooliganism.”

Unfulfilled promises
As he embarks on a second term, Prof Nawangwe will also be staring down at unfulfilled promises. At the start of his first term, he espoused big ideas, including turning Makerere into a graduate university. These have either been abandoned, shelved or defeated. Instead Prof Nawangwe’s reign has been overshadowed by sideshows with students and lecturers. 

According to the proposed Makerere University Strategic Plan 2020-2030 and as recommended by the Visitation Committee Report, Makerere University is supposed to become a research-led university, an idea championed by Prof Nawangwe.

In December 2017, months after his appointment, Prof Nawangwe championed a plan worth more than a trillion shillings to redevelop the institution’s dilapidated infrastructure and some of its un-utilised or under-utilised lands through Makerere University Holdings.
The projects to be implemented in five phases included a convention centre, a three-star hotel and nine student hostels with eight storeys each housing up to 3,120 rooms at the current Makerere University Guest House. 

Other projects were a large-scale commercial property development comprising development of a five-star luxury hotel, a commercial centre and upmarket apartments at the university’s land in the upscale neighbourhood of Kololo.

Project three envisaged undertaking of a large scale commercial property development comprising a luxury hotel and upmarket apartments on the university’s land in Makindye, Kampala.

In project four, the university hoped to directly touch the student’s welfare by attracting investment to improve student accommodation and construct new facilities within the main campus. The university was to be split into four zones. The first location is the 5.68 acres adjacent to Livingstone, Africa Hall and the Rugby Grounds; the 4.98 acres adjacent to the School of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Resources; the 3.98 acres adjacent to the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology (CEDAT,) and the 2.29 acres adjacent to Makerere Estates Department. 

Finally, the university was to acquire a state-of-the-art student centre at the main campus whose aim was to enhance the facilities that are presently offered to Makerere University students on campus.

Five years later, little or nothing has been achieved of this plan. Most of the university’s halls of residence are in a sorry state. Fire gutted the university’s iconic Main Building in 2020. It is currently being reconstructed and he promised to have the building standing in a better shape in time for the climax of the centennial celebrations in a few months’ time.