In the exclusive interview below with Marion Alina of the Makerere University Public Relations Office, the former titular head of the region’s leading institution of higher learning recounts his times at Makerere University and shares words of wisdom. The interview was conducted in the comfort of his Kampala residence on 8th October 2015.
1. What was the high point in your tenure as Chancellor?
During my tenure as Chancellor I have had the privilege to confer honorary degrees on three very important people: Former President Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania, President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya and our own President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. You can imagine when a sitting Head of State bows before you and you bless them! Those three occasions in which we conferred degrees upon these people were high points in my life. H.E Mwai and H.E Mkapa are graduates of Makerere University, but now H.E Museveni is a member of our alumni and I hope he will always be invited as such. When President Mkapa came for his conferment, we had arranged that he sits and only bows but he declined to do so and instead knelt before me. And I thought that was a great thing to happen in my life. Normally because they are fairly old people and very important, we usually arrange for them to sit.
2. Are there any other outstanding personalities you believe should be awarded Honorary doctorates?
I think there are many people who have distinguished themselves like Dr. Martin Aliker. We have our Ugandans who were the first to get degrees at Makerere University, like Mr. Alfred Mubanda and Hon. Mayanja Nkangi. Others like the late Bigirwenkya and Bisamunyu could be awarded posthumously. I think we should move expeditiously especially considering that Mubanda and Hon. Nkangi are still alive. They have distinguished themselves in service to this country. Even in the Industry we have people, like Justice Katureebe, our own graduate. We should also consider those outside our country for example all Presidents in the East African Community. Makerere University still maintains her position as the centre for higher learning in the whole of East Africa, so we should continue to sell ourselves and giving honorary degrees is one of the ways that we can do that.
3. Have you experienced any low moments in your tenure?
It is usually when we have had strikes and students have destroyed property both within and outside Makerere University. I was a student leader myself and we always got what we wanted without causing chaos. In the first week of my appointment, we had a staff strike. I spent the whole day pleading with them and reminding them that this was the worst reception from people I wanted to work with. I have been happy to work with MUASA leadership. They have done a tremendous job.
4. What has been your experience in the 8 years as Chancellor Makerere University?
Makerere University is one of the top universities in Africa. We have distinguished ourselves academically. So to be a Chancellor is a great honour and therefore I am eternally grateful to His Excellency the President for having found me fit enough to be appointed Chancellor, despite not holding an important Government post. The previous Chancellor, Prof. Apolo Nsibambi, was a Prime Minister of Uganda. I have enjoyed the eight years. I want to express my gratitude to the members of staff; both academic and non-academic, and students for being wonderful to me. I am very happy to have worked with them
It has always been my great pleasure to be identified with Makerere University. I taught at Makerere for 11 years and even after I left, I kept my connections. So I have been very happy to see Makerere University grow in leaps and bounds in terms of student numbers and variety of academic programmes. I have always been happy with the ranking of Makerere University’s academic performance. We have continuously ranked amongst the highest on the continent in spite of the fairly inadequate resources, a feat that many universities in Africa have not managed to replicate.
Secondly, I love associating with young men and women. I like to see them grow into professionals. So I have always been very happy to be part of the team nurturing part of the young generation. Having been at Makerere under the late President H.E Idd Amin when we were going through some of the difficult times, I have seen Makerere literally resurrect from those times when we even had no water in the laboratories. Imagine a chemistry lab without water in its taps. But when we now see scientists producing some good work, the growth of ICT at Makerere University and many other developments, the progress is commendable.
In my days there was only one computer centre in the Department of Statistics but now we have computers everywhere! The College of Computing, School of Food Science and technology, Human medicine and many others, have registered tremendous achievements. So I am very happy to be associated with all these developments at Makerere University, but allow me address myself to some particular developments in detail:
The Collegiate System
You know very well that people will always resist change, but I was very happy when Makerere University was organized into a collegiate system so that the various colleges could take charge of their peculiar affairs. I remember when I was Chairperson Appointments Board and systems were grossly centralized, we used to have a lot of problems getting the various faculties recommending people for appointment or promotion. Now that the Colleges can handle their own academic and other businesses, it is a very good thing. In that connection, I would like to register my appreciation to Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba for his contribution to the enforcement of the College System at Makerere University. I have a feeling that it has improved the way that the University is managed.
The MasterCard Foundation Scholars
I have always had the plight of disadvantaged Ugandans in mind. There are very many Ugandans who cannot afford the fees at Universities and yet some of them are very brilliant. More so I was mindful of the girl child from Northern Uganda. You know that young girls are the most highly vulnerable in times of insecurity. I noticed that with the intervention of programmes like the Carnegie Corporation Fund, many girls could access higher education and have tremendous testimonies thereafter. So when I had an opportunity to talk to the MasterCard Foundation, I was very glad that they were able to give us a grant of US$20.9million to pay tuition for the disadvantaged children, both male and female. I hope that the University will manage it properly so that all the money is put to good use. When we have achieved, we can go back and ask for more support. In fact I wished I could have done more using other organizations. The challenge with the position of a Chancellor is that it is a Titular position, therefore you have limitations.
The Loan scheme
All over the world, funding of University programmes is a problem. It becomes even harder in third world countries like Uganda where many of our people are poor. The most effective way of equalizing a society is to give them similar education. Give all Ugandans similar opportunities to acquire education. Even politically you build a nation by making all Ugandans equal. A loan scheme is a partial solution. Accessing the money is the easiest part of it, but when it comes to paying back, the terms and conditions need to be carefully looked into. If a student accesses this money but remains jobless three years after university, there has to be a way of establishing whether this person has genuinely failed to pay back. There must be a way that some people can get relief.
We also have this scholarship programme where student who get high grades are given government sponsorship. We are forgetting that these are the children of people who can afford to pay, people who have sent them to good schools right from an early age. We are forgetting that there is a brilliant child who has no nursery school to go to and goes to a third world primary and secondary school. With no access to a loan scheme, this child would be denied university education. I therefore think we should redesign this support and concentrate more on the needy children especially those from upcountry. We are risking dividing the country into two worlds; the first world around municipalities , towns and the city; and the third world in the villages. You cannot do this because it will bring social-economic conflict in the country. So we should do everything possible to equalize Ugandans based on making education available to as many Ugandans as possible.
Financial stability at Makerere University
We have a holdings company which is supposed to do the business of Makerere University in a business-like manner. We also have the Endowment Fund headed by Dr. Martin Aliker, which is supposed to help Mak identify and access resources that the Holdings Fund can utilize for the development of the University. I think those two funds if they can be made to work, they will bring in a lot of benefits to Makerere University. My appeal to the Management of the University is that they should continue to remind these two institutions, because most of the members are from outside the University, and out of sight can mean out of mind too.
The H.E Mwai Kibaki Presidential Library
This is a project we conceived to cost about $40m.I want to emphasize the anticipated functions this facility will be put to as an international centre. We also established the H.E Mwai Kibaki Chair in Economics and we hope it will make some difference in the stature of School of Economics. I look forward to actively engaging myself in promoting this Library project.
Israel is one of the most highly advanced countries in relation to agriculture. They use only about 2% of their land for agriculture and yet they are a net agricultural exporting country. Therefore if we learn a bit of their technology and adapt it to our country you can imagine the land mass Uganda has, if we utilize it the way the Israelis utilize theirs we could easily become the food basket of the continent. We must know that the academic courses we study are fine but the manner in which we practically utilize the theoretical knowledge is what matters most. Makerere students from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) and the College of Veterinary medicine, Animal Resources and Bio-Security (CoVAB), have been sending students for a one-year paid internship in Israel. I highly commend this. The project is very important and I hope that the people of Uganda will take maximum advantage of the practical skills these young men and women will acquire from Israel to make a difference.
CoVAB is doing amazing work through this AFRISA programme. First of all the teaching of veterinary medicine in the traditional manner in aspects like anatomy, physiology, microbiology and surgery can restrict the adaptability of the graduates. So this programme is very highly innovative. The graduates are able to develop very practical skills and set up their own entities after university.
Secondly this College has taken education to the people at the grassroots. Makerere University was initially labeled the Ivory tower. The Veterinary College has even taken this training to the villages, enhancing people’s skills in areas that they are already involved in, like poultry farming. The farmers graduate and we award them certificates of Makerere University. This psychologically makes them feel good, and when we are graduating them, we see the highly improved productivity.
Resilient Africa Network- RAN
The concept of this project is very interesting. Resilient Africa is studying the various ‘insults’ of the environment, politics, and many other aspects on the lives of the people. They then establish how people are able to survive for example the landslides in Mbale, and share this knowledge, propose further areas of research to benefit both local and international communities. It is an interesting programme, more so because the funds they have from USAID were very competitive. In Africa, Makerere University through the School of Public Health was the only one that competitively won.
Entrepreneurship amongst students
The issue of unemployment is very serious for the whole continent and the world. In Uganda the tradition has been graduates to be employed by government, but we are forgetting that the maximum number of Government employees is 300,000 and many are still young. So if Makerere University graduates about 10,000 students, only a few of them can get employment in government. The private sector which should be doing more than they are doing is still under developed and we need the private sector to grow. Therefore we encourage both foreign and local investment to create jobs. But even when all this is done, you will still get a number of Ugandans who cannot get employment, therefore I appeal to them to be able to get skills that will enable them to start their own businesses. I know that not everybody is born to be an entrepreneur and sometimes we error when we force them to.
This is a thing to be encouraged. Public lectures recognize the contribution that the various Guest speakers and Panelists have made to society, but they also enhance the stature of the university. We miss Prof. Ali Mazrui- who passed on recently, Prof Wasau- one of the first lecturers in Makerere- also died recently, Prof. Ominde and many others, are those whom we should recognize.
5. As you leave office, are there particular areas your Successor should focus on?
The Successor will partly continue business as usual but there are a few issues that need continuous attention:
Payment of tuition by private students
One of them is the perennial difference between students and management regarding fees. This should be sorted out so that each party understands its responsibility. It is always disheartening to hear about strikes at Makerere University. It is very surprising that it is at Makerere University and not any private institution of higher learning where students pay much higher fees but do not go on strike. I wonder what makes Makerere University students think that you can get a service for which you do not pay for on time without facilitating the budget. Perhaps students should sign a contract and after a certain period if they have not paid, then they should not be allowed in class.
The second is accommodation. Many halls of residence are dilapidated. I inspected Lumumba hall and it was in need of repairs. Part of these people’s training is about the environment in which they live, if they are in a dirty environment then they do not become the graduates we want them to be. The Government should spend money on physical infrastructure. It is not right to use money paid by students to do long term investments. I think fees paid by students should be strictly for operations. Makerere University, through the Endowment Fund and the Holdings Company, must also move faster. There are many people who have money and can invest in physical infrastructure at Makerere University. I would like to appeal particularly to the Chairperson of Council to make sure that he expedites the involvement of private investors. I know of plans to put up a teaching hospital, a hotel, apartments and more infrastructures. This way, Makerere University will be able to raise money and therefore stress less over fees collection. I would like to appeal to Makerere University to utilize all the land we have so that we are able to use the infrastructure to raise funds.
Mwai Kibaki Library
We have been working very hard on the Mwai Kibaki Presidential Library project. We have made a number of visits to H.E Mwai Kibaki in Nairobi and he is very excited about the project. We have even involved the Government of Uganda to the extent that when we visited President Museveni, he pledged US$5million on behalf of the Government. In December there should be a ground breaking for this project and I hope that we shall continue to raise funds. We have exciting proposals on how to raise this money, including involving the Archbishop of York His Grace Ssentamu- a graduate of Makerere University. We are not leaving anybody out. We hope to visit the London School of Economics, which is Mwai Kibaki’s alma mater. This building will change the functional skyline of Makerere University. We are imagining that it will host all sorts of functions, lecture halls, libraries, offices and accommodation for researchers. We are hoping that even Heads of State, Ministers of Finance and other dignitaries can come here for their conferences on Africa instead of going to Washington. The name might be misleading; it is not just a library, it’s a centre with so many functions.
6. You have advocated for more powers to the Chancellor, how best do you think this can be achieved?
First of all, there is enough power with people at the university. Previously Chancellors were the Heads of State and so everyone was exercising power on delegation of the Head of state. Now that Chancellors are ordinary citizens, I think they need a little bit more power, for instance to call people to order. I have had many people come to me and say, “Mr. Chancellor we have this problem with Makerere University.” And I say look I have no power. Chancellors are usually distinguished Ugandans, so some more powers to the Chancellor would be good.
This idea has been mooted for a long time and it is up to the Government through the Ministry of Education, to re-design the leadership structures of public universities, especially now that Chancellors are not Heads of State. This restructuring should also take into account their facilitation. I recall a time I had to go for graduation at Busitema University, I hired a car and paid my own money but I had been invited as Chancellor. Now there is some improvement, because when there is a function and I am invited as a Chancellor, Makerere University sometimes facilitates.
7. Which is the winning strategy for Makerere University to get to the number one position on the continent?
We need to improve on the support to Staff. If you do not feed a cow you cannot get milk out of its udder. We need to pay them reasonably well so that we discourage them from moon lighting. They will then spend more and more of their time at the University teaching and researching. Then we support them in getting research funds, get some allowances from it and publish too.
In relation to students, we have to be able to convince them that the most important thing they can do for themselves is acquire good knowledge and they can only do this through studying hard, obeying university rules and in the process they become more productive.
8. Staff of public universities continue to decry the low remuneration. Do you think this will improve to the desired magnitude as the years roll by?
I am glad that the last time we met the President he made an offer to improve the Staff remuneration and I am glad that recently all categories of Staff were considered. If this can be implemented, it is a good thing.
What we should recognize is that we must not as public universities isolate ourselves from the rest of the Public Service because they all have demands. So while we are advocating for our interests, we must know that we belong to a larger family and therefore our demands on Government must be reasonable. Secondly the Government’s purse is not big enough to put ample funds in everybody’s pocket. I think you should form a public employees association. Both Universities and public service should have an association where their interactions with the Government on their welfare is coordinated. The best scenario would be for Government to take over the entire wage bill so that internally generated funds can attend to other needs.
9. What next after Makerere University?
God knows what next. Many people will be surprised that I do not make deliberate efforts to plan this and that. I have lived for 74 years, my father died when I was only 15 and here I am. I don’t normally plan, that doesn’t mean that I don’t look at the future, I do. But I do not anxiously wait for what may come my way. I am an academician and politician, therefore it is in this realm that probably a role will crop up. And if it doesn’t, I can quietly live my life in this ‘manyata’ of mine. No big problem. Whatever will be available, private sector, government I will be happy. I am still a very strong man.
4th Call For Applications: MURBS Departmental Ambassadors
In February 2018, the Makerere University Retirement Benefits Scheme (MURBS) launched the Departmental Ambassadors Programme. MURBS hopes to use this Ambassadors Programme to engage more directly with its membership and enhance member education. MURBS further perceives this Programme as a means to mitigate succession planning risks.
MURBS Fund Value continues to grow, and as at 31st March 2021, it stood at Ushs 235.5bn as compared to Ushs 209.6bn as at 30th June 2020. Given this growth, there is increased need for prospective Trustees, who are well equipped with relevant knowledge and skills, and with practical exposure to the management and governance of MURBS.
- Must be employed by the University on permanent terms
- Must be an Active Member of the Scheme (currently contributing to the Scheme) and appear on the Official Register of the MURBS Active Membership as at 30th April 2021.
- Must be willing to commit time to trainings and other ambassadorial activities organised by the Scheme.
Mode of training for 4th Cohort of Ambassadors
Training for this (4th) Cohort of Ambassadors is envisaged to be conducted over the zoom online platform only, due to Covid-19 restrictions. The Scheme does not envisage any face-to-face interactions.
Tenure of Office & Termination or Withdrawal
There is no tenure of office for the Departmental Ambassador. As long as a member is willing to continue serving as an Ambassador, and the Ambassador continues to satisfy the eligibility criteria above, she or he will remain a MURBS Ambassador.
How to Apply
Interested members should complete the MURBS Departmental Ambassador Application Form 01-0218. The completed Form together with the requested attachments should be sent to info[at]murbs.mak.ac.ug and copy to wilber.naigambi[at]mak.ac.ug no later than 5:00 p.m. on Monday, 14th June 2021. We discourage hand delivery of applications.
MURBS shall acknowledge receipt of each application received within 12 hours and will respond to the applicants to confirm the status of their application in writing (by e-mail). Upon approval of the application, the name of the approved Ambassador together with the Department and School/Unit will be updated on the list of the MURBS Departmental Ambassadors in the Group 4 category and published on the MURBS website.
NOTE: There is no limit as to the number of ambassadors that MURBS can have in a department.
Please see Downloads for the detailed call and application form.
Chair Council Communication on Closure of Makerere University
7th June 2021
All Members of Staff
All Students and Stakeholders
RE: CLOSURE OF MAKERERE UNIVERSITY
Following the address to the Nation by H.E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of Uganda, on 6th June 2021, this is to inform you that the University will be closed with effect from today 7th June 2021 for 42days.
During the closure, the University shall observe a 30% physical presence of staff while other faculty and administrative staff shall continue to work online.
Management will inform staff and students on the implementation of teaching, learning, and research activities online. Construction activities shall continue as per the President’s directives and with strict adherence to the COVID-19 SOPs.
Lorna Magara (Mrs.)
Chairperson, Makerere University Council
RUFORUM: Transforming Higher Education Videos and Links
Video Series developed by Julieta Mazzola, EARTH University.
- What is Community Engagement? Video 1 of 3. https://youtu.be/etv2-W1U3O0
- Different Forms of University Engagement with the Community. Video 2 of 3. https://youtu.be/73h2p8P0BLw
- Student learning through Community Engagement. Video 3 of 3. https://youtu.be/Ule3P1-tjC4
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