When I argued last week that the ways in which the state was run set the example for running Makerere University—like all other public institutions—a curious friend of mine wondered whether individuals at Makerere actually had any agency in these matters.
I answered in the affirmative. Individuals have agency, and at the right time, they will have to singularly answer for their crimes. Thusly, among the many afflictions facing Makerere is the insincerity, immorality, disingenuousness and cultist mentality of individuals in senior professorship and administrative positions.
To this end, Makerere is a tale of ruined careers and frustrated lives – for students and faculty alike. Let me return to my department, Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) to make this case more vividly. [The Baganda were right, it rains only where the child knows].
There was once a student called Mubaraka Nakku. If ordinary folks were apt characters for tragic drama, his encounter with Mamdani/MISR is a tragedy of our time. Nakku once worked with the Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU), and taught at the department of history of Makerere University.
Upon admission in 2016, as spelled out in MISR/Mamdani admission letter [successful applicants at MISR receive two admission letters, one from Mamdani and another from Makerere. Hastily admitted by Mamdani, students often start studying before Makerere University actually admits them.
Several times, only high-level manipulations have averted ugly situations where Makerere queries these admissions seeking to revisit the process], Nakku resigned his jobs for fulltime study.
One semester into his five-year programme, he was awarded a C in one of the courses, which saw him into “bad academic standing.” Being in “bad academic standing” actually means dismissal but Mamdani loves to euphemize it as simply “loss of scholarship.”
Strangely, the notion of “bad academic standing” was not determined by the Makerere University Senate as expected, but Mamdani singularly, and parameters change depending on his mood and agenda.
So, it would be below B in 2012; B+ in 2014; and presently a C for first-year students. It can actually change within a singular academic year. This uncertainty notwithstanding, it is difficult to tell how much MISR had mentored Nakku in just one semester. In truth, he was admitted, examined and dismissed. But that is not the story.
Nakku was not communicated to about his loss of scholarship so as to consider his options elsewhere. Several other students had been awarded Cs and collectively queried the teacher’s competence and grading.
At the conclusion of his first academic year, Nakku, unlike his peers, never received his long-vacation and research stipend. He was told his grades had an issue, which would be resolved at the 2017 Academic Board meeting.
Nakku never understood why he would be denied his share on a decision to be taken the following year. With an academic year that ends in August, without subsistence stipend, Nakku ended 2016 eking out an existence by begging from friends and kindred.
The year 2017 would be even harder for the inexplicably patient Nakku. Without explanation, his name was struck off the list of students receiving the $400 monthly subsistence allowance. He would also quickly learn that while his peers received emails about the courses for 2017, he had not. No explanation still.
When Nakku’s issue came up in the board meeting of January 2017, one of the tutors, Dr James Ocita vehemently queried the matter: “Why are you harassing the board to rubberstamp a decision, which is already in effect?” Ocita, challenged Mamdani. The discussion could not be concluded, pushing it forward to an unspecified date. Again, Nakku received no communication.
But Mamdani was not done. On 23 January 2017, days after the explosive meeting, he signed a letter copied to university management announcing Nakku’s loss of scholarship. Sadly, despite addressing this letter to Nakku, the student never received his copy.
If Nakku had not written endless emails to Mamdani begging to know his fate between January and May, we would believe the student copy of the loss of scholarship letter got lost before reaching his address.
Often pretending sympathy, Mamdani often responded to Nakku’s emails with appeals for more patience. In absolute display of cold-heartedness, Mamdani would be overheard telling his cultist lackeys that without subsistence, Nakku will be frustrated and they will have him counted among the dropouts.
In May 2017, Nakku finally gave in and applied for a dead year. Mamdani graciously granted it amidst hypocritical expressions of sympathies that they had delayed to decide on the matter.
Dejected, Nakku returned to his native Iganga to pick up the pieces of his painful life. After two months of reflection, on 10 August 2017, Nakku wrote to the office of the college asking for guidance.
It was then that he learned that the office of the principal had a copy of a letter from MISR announcing his loss of scholarship. Nakku could not believe his eyes. If this letter had been written on January 23, why would Mamdani carry on telling him to be patient? Why would he sign him a dead year request on the grounds that a decision was yet to be reached?
Aware that there was no office in Makerere to express grievance and get redress – picking examples from those who had tried before – Nakku, humiliated, abused and grievously wronged, chastened himself with the thought that this was the cruelty of the Third World, where men, like beasts in the wild, make their own rules.
The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.