No need to search for new VC– Prof Nawangwe

Makerere University Vice Chancellor Barnabas Nawangwe during the interview at his office at the university yesterday. PHOTO / FRANK BAGUMA. 

What you need to know:

  • From the violence that marred the guild elections to the university staff petitioning the council over a delayed search for a new vice chancellor, the country’s oldest public university has been making headlines for the wrong reasons.

Over the last two weeks, Makerere University has been in the news. From the violence that marred the guild elections to the university staff petitioning the council over a delayed search for a new vice chancellor, the country’s oldest public university has been making headlines for the wrong reasons. In this interview, Makerere University Vice Chancellor Prof Barnabas Nawangwe tells our reporter, Damali Mukhaye, that the tremor on campus has external origins.

Explain the prevalence of militant groups (RGB, OGB, SGB) on campus, who is behind them and what is the university management doing about it?

The University Council has put in place a committee to investigate the causes of electoral-violence, including the emergency or existence of militant groups. I am also waiting for that report. I cannot tell who is behind the groups because I am also still investigating. Actually, I did not know they exist until people said hooliganism is led by militant groups. I was only seeing people behave in a funny way. I did not know there were certain groups who influenced this. Now we have information that the violence is led by certain groups called the ‘guard brigade’. We are investigating them and what they do.

The University Council has told all businesses on campus to leave, yet majority of them pay rent to the institution and provide services critical for full functioning of the university. Why the abrupt expulsion and is it true that some senior university officials want to take over those businesses?

So who are the senior staff who want to take over the businesses? Who is saying that? What the Council has said is that illegal businesses must leave. Those who have got a contract with the university cannot be chased because they are paying rent and their utilities. What the Council wants to remove are illegal businesses which do not have any lawful contract with the university.

Why the inordinate delay in setting up a search committee for the vice chancellor (VC) position or do you hope to be re-appointed without competition?

But you are asking the wrong person. I am an interested party. For me, I have put in my expression of interest, saying I can continue if they think I can do a good job. That is where I stop. I wait for the results. By the way, the search committee is set when you want a new VC but if you want to retain the one who is there, then there is no need for a committee. You just do an evaluation. So that is the confusion that some confused elements are saying ‘search,’ search for what? There is already a VC who is still interested. Evaluate and make a decision. If the Council says ‘we think he is not fit,’ then they will do a search.

Different stakeholders have resolved to push for the VC’s replacement, suggesting their loss of faith in you. Do you agree with the dissenters and whose interest do you, as the VC, represent; government or the Makerere community?

Last year, I won the African Educationist of the Year Award. So for me, what some of those stakeholders are doing is irrelevant to me. I do not even have time to listen to what they are saying. I am sorry if I offend them but they have no locus on deciding what or who a VC should be. They do not come very near to the decision.

My interests are those of the people of Uganda. This is a national university that belongs to people and they have entrusted me to do a good job here- to have a university that works and develops the country. If those are the interests that the government has, then we just coincide. 

Why are many top positions at the university being held by people in acting capacity?

Acting positions are not illegal in the first place and there are circumstances why those positions are in acting capacity. Most of those positions have been advertised and the appointment’s board has failed to get suitable candidates. From what I know, some interviews have already taken place and some of them will be filled very soon.

For the position of deputy vice chancellor in-charge of finance and administration, the [issue] is still in court because somebody petitioned. We cannot fill it until court clears us.

Respond to concerns that academic promotions at the university are based on loyalty to the administration and not necessarily merit.

That is confusion from those writing those things. Appointment and promotion is the prerogative of the appointment’s board. It is predominantly by people external from Makerere. So there is no influence from management or even the members of the board, who are Makerere staff, on the decision of the appointments board. It is very independent. It is a committee of Council. Any allegation that management influences promotion is very wild. The appointment of staff depends on their qualifications and experience, full stop.

What has delayed the reconstruction of the main building?

The main building has not been delayed. It is under reconstruction. Don’t you hear the tractors making noise? They are doing the job. What was important for us was to have the reconstruction of our iconic building started as we celebrate 100 years.  

How are preparations for Makerere @100 going and what are the highlights of the gains of the university over the past 100 years?

The year-long celebrations were launched on October 9 by President Museveni and end on August 6. The celebrations include several components. So far, the most prominent is the five public lectures we’ve had.

We shall also have the alumni homecoming dinner on July 22 and more Twitter spaces.

We have alumni events where we go and interact and celebrate with alumni outside the country. We have had one in Nairobi [Kenya], we shall go to Kigali, [Rwanda], UK, Tanzania and South Africa. We are also planning events in the 13 original districts of Uganda that contributed money to build Makerere. We are going to ask Parliament to dedicate a sitting hour for Makerere. Exhibitions and conferences are also among others things we are doing.

What events do you say have shaped Makerere over the last 100 years?

I will give it in decades.

1922: Laying the foundation of the university which started as a technical school, later on adding nursing schools.

1940s: Elevation of Makerere to a college of London and adding more science programmes, among other subjects.

1950s: Started admitting female students and started nurturing students for independence.

1960s: Got independent as the “African University”

1970s: Obtained full independence to become the first national university of Uganda.

1980s: Return of staff who had gone into exile.

1990s: Years of excessive expansion after admitting more students.

2000s: Makerere consolidated gains as a top research university, requiring lecturers to have PhDs, among others.