What you need to know:
- Having exhausted four of his five years, or 80 percent of his term, we examine what the VC has delivered on his promises.
His pitch for the job during public presentation was attention-arresting and the artistic impressions displayed illuminated a modern future for Makerere, Uganda’s oldest and largest public university.
In the end, Barnabas Nawangwe, a professor of Architecture, snapped up the Vice Chancellor job, placing him as the chief executive at the Ivory Tower. That was four years ago, in September 2017.
The man from Busia coursed up to the top as a respected academic and administrator, and in the words of Chancellor Ezra Suruma during the September 14 installation, with “vast knowledge, experience and wisdom”.
Makerere University was a towering academic institution, yes, but incessant strikes by students and staff, leading to a longer shutdown of the varsity and a military take-over of its security, meant its governance was in a meltdown.
In addition, allegations of sex-for-marks resurfaced alongside alteration of results by staff at the Office of the Academic Registrar, sparking a crisis of confidence.
Then Prof Nawangwe, an immediate past deputy vice chancellor and principal of the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology (CEDAT), ascended the Ivory Tower throne.
As with everything new, the possibility that the VC would fulfil his promises, and put Makerere University on a higher pedestal in-country, regionally and internationally, ramped up expectation and gave stakeholders new impetus that things would be better on the Hill.
And the promises were many across four broad themes: resources mobilisation, human resource, student affairs and infrastructure improvement.
Under the latter, Prof Nawangwe, for instance, pledged to erect 5-star and 3-star hotels under a public private partnership arrangement to provide new revenue stream for the university, build modern students’ hostels at campus, construct apartments in Kololo, the upscale Kampala neighbourhood, and a teaching hospital.
Having exhausted four of his five years, or 80 percent of his term, we examine what the VC has delivered on the promises that as the remaining year will open the quinquennial race for the job.
Of course, Prof Nawangwe is eligible to run one more time for a 5-year tenure, making it useful to produce his report card with under 360 days to lapse of his term.
In response to our question on whether he plans to seek a second term, the professor was cryptic: It’s too early to tell.
By not ruling out a comeback, a University Council source, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of being misunderstood, said they were certain Prof Nawangwe would seek reappointment.
That would be unsurprising because the VC speaks proudly of his feats.
“I am the only person who has achieved before time. Things I have not been able to complete were not under my control, but we shall not give up on them,” he told this newspaper in an in-depth interview on October 21.
We counted 17 promises that Prof Nawangwe made and found that he had fully achieved nine and succeeded half-way on two others, adding to 10.
But our assessment is unlike the university examination and assesses the VC’s performance in line with his own questions set out in his manifesto as promises while running for the job.
He renovated the main hall and senior common room at the university’s Main Building, but that achievement went up in flames when a fire that investigators later blamed on electrical fault razed the iconic structure on the night of September 29, 2020.
Still, Prof Nawangwe wears on his jacket lapel pin radiating successes: rebuilding and lighting campus streets and modernising Makerere University main gate.
However, there was a trade-off. Makerere University agreed to shift the gate inland from its original location in order to free space for Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) to expand Makerere Hill Road and City Hall in return lit the campus streets and sealed the roads.
Under Prof Nawangwe, the policy to increase tuition by 15 percent over five years, which always triggered student protests, began to be implemented, except last semester when it was suspended due to Covid disruptions.
It was a baptism of fire as Makerere students returned to the trenches for a fight that prompted deployment of army to supplement police.
Within days, Makerere University somersaulted from Uganda’s prized intellectual powerhouse into a barracks of sorts where orders replaced logic, brutality toppled civility.
In the end, President Museveni, citing intelligence that Opposition actors planned to join students to cause mayhem in Kampala, closed the university altogether --- and for the longest time without a war.
Critics began seeing the university chief executive more suspiciously for his closeness to particularly State House.
Nonetheless, he made good on some of his promises.
The Nawangwe administration rolled out health staff insurance for staff, even if it does not cover their families, and the salary of professors and senior lecturers were enhanced 100 percent and 70 percent, respectively.
The VC figuratively could pose at the Freedom Square, scan the neighbouring two modern Central Teaching Facility buildings and nod his head in self-approval within the protection of the university perimeter wall fence partially built during his term.
Where things never worked, or did so partially, Prof Nawangwe had a ready alibi: Covid-19.
Uganda recorded its index coronavirus infection in March 2020 a couple of days after President Museveni imposed a nationwide lockdown and shut all educational institutions.
Even when schools reopened in a staggered manner, it was not long before a second lockdown was slapped on June 18, which resulted in 15 million learners sent home, 35,000 of them being Makerere University students.
The closure of the university meant that cash flow from private students, the overwhelming majority at Makerere, was paralysed. With no money, little existed in the way of hope for anything to get done.
With more university staff attaining higher academic qualifications and Makerere staff standoff with the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) over pensions resolved, Prof Nawangwe believes he has been a trailblasing VC, even when the big-ticket infrastructure developments have eluded him.
“We had zeroed on a company in South Africa. We had all the drawings, but then Covid-19 struck. You know how Covid-19 has [affected] the economy, especially South Africa. These people have never recovered and have never come back to us,” he said in relation to the non-existent 5-star and 3-star hotels as well as modern university student hostels.
The projects’ blue-print aimed to gel Makerere University and the unnamed South African investor to build the two hotels and apartments in Kololo, upgrade and transform the university’s guest house into a 3-star hotel and a convention centre.
Prof Nawangwe’s plan to erect a university teaching hospital remained wet in the wings, and by some accounts, Education Minister and First Lady, Ms Janet Museveni, may spearhead mobilisation of resources for the hospital – expected to host machine-learning centre - from Diaspora Jews.
Despite the grand ideas, critics see something else in Prof Nawangwe: a dictatorial micro-manager, a man who raises appetite, but fails to satiate it.
Dr Deus Kamunyu, the chairperson of Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA), said the VC promised to build hotels and hostels, but the university instead lost its iconic Main Building under his reign.
There is nothing to suggest that the inferno was linked to the administration or that Prof Nawangwe had anything to do with it.
“Many of us were excited when he made his presentations and depicted students’ hostels to be improved, lectures theatres modernised, but most are undone,” Dr Kamunyu said.
He said Prof Nawangwe had sapped academic energy out of staff and stifled intellectual freedom and free expression, turning instead to thrive on repression.
In 2019, the VC, just two years in office, dismissed up to 45 teaching staff over allegations of absenteeism, failure to hand in examination results timely, sexual harassment, eloping with students and insubordination.
To present falsification of results, the Nawangwe administration migrated results processing from Academic Information Management System (AIMS) to Academic Certified Management Information System (ACMIS), deemed more secure and tamper-proof.
He also regularly suspended university employees, some after disagreeing with them on policy or practice, leading to accusations of vindictiveness.
According to Mr Ivan Kateregga, a former Guild president, Prof Nawangwe as a person was a very good leader in some aspects and led to development of some facilities and policies in the university.
Mr Kateregga said his only shortfall was witch-hunting students and lecturers who had dissenting views from him and his bosses.
“As a guild president, I did not have a good tenure with him. He is one of the vice chancellors who has very many running battles with staff and lecturers,” he said.
There fallout emanated in part from the suspension of more than 30 university students for “petty” reasons.
“People were not allowed to express themselves freely [at Makerere University], Mr Kateregga said, adding, “But he (Nawangwe) has improved in his rule over time and has now learnt how to handle students and staff.”
Indeed, the University Council deputy chairperson, Mr Dan Kidega, is one of the believers in the VC.
“Prof Nawangwe is a breed of a leader who has caused changes to the country and the continent. Makerere is not a university for Uganda only, but for all. He has taken bold decisions and stood by them. Yes, he is a good leader,” he said by telephone last night.
The gigantic institution also had gigantic problems by the time Prof Nawangwe took charge, one of which was a debt portfolio exceeding Shs120b.
Unremitted pension to NSSF was up at Shs30b and Prof Nawangwe led negotiation with the government to clear it.
In addition, when the VC assumed office, Makerere University’s in-house pension scheme was in abeyance and saddled with Shs14b debt, which with arrears, rose to Shs24b.
Prof Nawangwe chest-thumbs as a lead negotiator who got the government to settle the debts.
Besides this achievement, the VC said his administration ensured flawless relations with development partners, including the continuation of staff development.
To-date, some Makerere University academics have obtained doctoral degrees on SIDA and NUFU scholarships. The former scholarship is due to end.
“Now 70 percent of our staff have a PhD. When they (donors) came, only 25 percent of our staff had PhDs. This is a credit to them,” Prof Nawangwe said.