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What is wrong with Makerere University?

State patronage. Careerism. Money dealerships. Before these three witches put their gowns down, it is highly unlikely that Makerere misfortunes will end. 

I will use my department, Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) to demonstrate this affliction. Let me start with a note about myself:  Renowned for taking a bold stand against the endless follies of MISR director, Prof. Mahmood Mamdani, I was elected president of the Students Union for 2014-15.

During this period, I fought innumerable battles with Mamdani on both logistical and academic issues. However, in 2016, during the Nyanzi-Mamdani-Ddumba-Sentamu standoff, I sided with Mamdani. 

Earlier on, taking a family decision, the Mamdanis had decided to resign the position of director before we – Dr James Ocita, Dr Sarah Ssali, and myself – encouraged them otherwise.

While Sarah Ssali, ensconced in the quietness of my office, phoned Mamdani’s wife, American-Indian filmmaker Mira Nair to reconsider the family resignation decision, Dr Ocita and I fought Mamdani’s image and technical battles.

Started as a low intensity fight among students (Mamdani enjoys pitting students against each other), climaxing in Dr Nyanzi’s naked protest, the Nyanzi-Ddumba-Sentamu camp appeared to focus on dismantling the PhD programme. We were threatened. 

For years, we had fought Mamdani’s cruelties seeking to steady – institutionalise – the programme than dismantle it.  Indeed, while we sided with Mamdani this time round, we were clear this was a choice between the lesser of two evils. 

Dr Ocita displayed the most amount of maturity in defending a man with whom they had parted ways months earlier. He had just resigned as co-director of MISR protesting Mamdani’s otherwise egregious dishonesty. Ocita simply loved the PhD programme.

In the heat of this standoff, someone asked me why a renowned and proud academic at the level of Mahmood Mamdani would fight blood and tears for a job as small as being director of a research unit at a Third World university.

Look, the good professor still holds a professorship at an ivy league university in the United States – Columbia University.  Why bitterly fight for a small penny-paying job to the point of being author of an advert for the position of director that only himself would apply for?  [Recall the MISR job of director had two adverts in 2016. Yes, the revised ad – surreptitiously only advertised online – had been written by Mamdani himself. He got the job].

But the advert was not enough. Mamdani would follow this by seeking Museveni’s intervention for a job he knew he was clearly unqualified for as his age was beyond the employable university age-limit.

Presently, Mamdani is director of MISR by a presidential appointment – which, of course, was disguised under some shady competition. But for years, Mamdani has been, subtly and openly, critical of the Museveni government. But why swallow own vomit and beg for favour from offices he so cogently criticised?

Why would Mamdani be so obsessed with keeping a job at Makerere University where he so openly despises the intellectual credentials of all Makerere University faculty – as his book Scholars in the Marketplace, and later insults to his colleagues as “native informers” have showed? My questioner insisted. 

For the record, Mamdani employs only expatriates at MISR. Local members of faculty are but by association. Minutes of meetings at MISR record Mamdani arguing that Ugandan students are too weak for graduate work as justification for recruiting more foreign students – to sadly benefit from foreign aid meant for the government of Uganda. 

Why is he so committed to keeping a job at a place where local students and academics are below his standards? He would have set his dream of “decolonising the academy” in South Africa or the USA. Ironically, this man argued while starting the MISR PhD programme that it was meant to train local timber.

I should not hide my quarrel with Mamdani in these otherwise discreet questions: Members of faculty, several other students and I have sued Makerere University, and Mamdani for abuse of basic university procedures. 

About three times, in writing to university authorities, I have accused Mamdani of forgery. He has not been investigated. My former supervisor, Dr Ernest Okello Ogwang often openly decried Mamdani’s staff harassment. 

Dr Ocita, Mamdani’s former co-director, now whistle-blower, has often accused Mamdani, among other things, of doctoring minutes, and scheming to fail students before they write their exams after a predicted slump in funds. Several appeals committees have recommended punitive actions against the director of MISR. But management has effected nothing. Why?

An impudent letter – outright insubordination – that Mamdani wrote to Prof. Nawangwe on 16 July 2018 blasting him off that he did not answer to Makerere University but donors provides insight to this puzzle:  It is the money, and the having the backing of the state.

This letter followed an appeals committee constituted by senior university academics (including profs., David Owiny, J.D. Bakibinga, Gilbert Mayiga), who after listening to an appeal against Mamdani by student Judith Ekiring ruled in the favour of the student.

When Mamdani receives the decision, he rebukes the VC that he had a mandate to protect the interests of donors and not the University’s stupid hearings and decisions.

Strangely, our martinet VC sucks up to this insult and hides it in his closet. State patronage, money laundering, and careerism continue to bedevil Makerere – and yesterday’s Marxist intellectuals are today’s beneficiaries of patronage.

The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.


+2 #1 Lakwena 2019-01-09 14:13
In other words Yusuf, since cold-blooded Putin is in our State House, it follows that another heartless Putinist must be stationed at the national premier, Makerere University, to fight his and family battle and machinating his selfish belief.

Otherwise, why should the menacing Red Army be placed at Main Gate of Makerere University?
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-4 #2 Mwesige 2019-01-09 16:40
This is a one-sided story, therefore should be taken with that in mind. Yusuf does not also mention that, he has an axe to grind with Mamdani (talk of egos), given the wrangles they have had at MISR. But why bring your dirty linen in the media?

Despite Mamdani's flaws (I bet Yusuf is also not perfect), on balance, isn't MISR better-off than without him?
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-3 #3 Rajab Kakyama 2019-01-10 20:49
Yusuf, help me and clear this. Are you saying that it is better/ok for you to share both sides of the pie but wrong for others?

You criticize Mamdani when is wrong (or you presume that is wrong) and offer support when he/ presume is right but when any other than yourself presumes that Mamdani is wrong/wright then there is a problem?

This is what I gathered from your article.
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-2 #4 richard wacha 2019-01-11 00:56
Lakwena.Putin loves his country.
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+1 #5 Apollo 2019-01-15 09:51
Makerere University is facing a bigger crisis and the issues at MISR are simply a microcosm. Makerere has, with the help of the state, abandoned sacred free thinking, thought provocateur and leadership of opinion ideals.

Tolerance of dissenting views, questioning long held traditions or entertainment of new thought are things unMakerere.

That is its death. When for example, the state unfairly fails Hon. Kyagulanyi's Music or Performances, Makerere should have been the first to invite him so as interrogate his thought and ideals as well as offer him grounds to perform his "undesirable" music. Makerere is quiet, DEAD.
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