Thursday, January 31, 2019

UGANDA: @MakerereU University worried donors might pull out - AND DONORS SHOULD PULL OUT till @ProfNawangwe is fired

Some of the students in class
Mak impasse: Management 'worried' donors might pull out

Written by URN for THE OBSERVER

The management of Makerere University has expressed fears that the ongoing staff strike, if not immediately resolved, is going to have a negative effect on the institution's donor-funded projects. Some top managers feel they are "held at ransom by uncompromising staff."

Staff at Makerere went on strike about two weeks ago following the suspension of the association leaders including Dr Deus Kamunyu Muhwezi, Bennet Magara and Joseph Kalema. Dr Kamunyu chairs the academic staff association (Muasa) while Magara is the chairperson Makerere Administrative Staff Association (Masa). Kalema is Masa general secretary.

The trio was suspended for what vice chancellor Prof Barnabas Nawangwe termed as indiscipline and inciting staff. Kamunyu in particular was also accused of intimidation of university officials, using abusive and or insulting language, insubordination and making false statements among others despite several warnings.

The staff however demanded for the unconditional reinstatement of their leader, arguing that he was suspended illegally and irregularly. And by way of protest, the staff downed tools since the opening of semester on January 19. This standoff between Makerere management and staff has left teaching activities paralysed.

Projects affected

URN has accessed an internal communication between the top university management team including the vice chancellor and his deputies, college principals, school deans and heads of department.

The communication reveals that the university management is concerned that the strike could have adverse effects on research projects which are donor-funded. A senior female academic staff from the department of nursing in the school of health sciences said in the conversation, that the university management appears to be held at ransom by the uncompromising staff.

"This time around we feel that we are being held hostage as these matters can be resolved at a totally different level than we the staff. I would advise that people here attend the next general assembly and voice our concerns. This is a real threat to hard earned grants and future collaborations," she said.

In response, Prof William Bazeyo, the deputy vice chancellor in charge of finance and administration, who is currently on leave following the death of his wife late last year, confirmed that projects are unlikely to continue if the teaching does not normalise.

"Staff can only do projects under normal university business. [Management] will have no option but to actually halt ALL project activities until normality is achieved. This will hurt many of us though," Bazeyo said.

In what appears to be an attempt to secure consensus among the top leadership, Bazeyo threatened to inform the funders about the impasse.

"At the same time, we should know that funders do fund us when university recognises our presence but if university activities are halted or suspended, management should or will take steps to inform the concerned funders and let them know and appropriately advise. We all can predict their advice. These are my thoughts as I try to stabilise and come back to serve!" Prof Bazeyo said in a post.

A professor from the college of education and external studies expressed worries that unless the current stand-off is quickly mitigated, the institution risks closure. He relates the issue to the November 2016 university closure when heavy security was deployed and staff locked out of offices for at least two months.

"The environment won't be conducive at all for project operations. We shall painfully lose the hard gotten projects. For instance, we will lose a NORPART [Norwegian Partnership Programme for Global Academic Cooperation] project whose agreement signing was slated for 15th February," he said.

The senior academic further lamented: "Do we have any avenue of averting the standoff? At the moment, our only tool is to 'force' an EGA [Emergency General Assembly], which I understand is also "an effort in futility" as per legal minds in Muasa executive. We are really in a hostage situation."

Other senior officials observed that the 'university image' has become a mystery where efforts aimed at protecting it have actually damaged it.

"Deployment of security to protect property nails down the image further," one of the leaders said.

There was a consensus among top university managers on the need for Makerere to rethink and style up in enabling a right research and learning environment if they were to achieve their goal of a research-led university.

Empty rooms, notice in newspapers

The top managers also agreed that they need to devise a strategy focusing on bringing back students to the lecture rooms. Some of the members argued lecture rooms are largely empty. One official explained that reports in the media have convinced students that there are no lecturers going on at the university.

A top official from the school of women and gender studies advised the group to encourage some of the willing staff ready to teach to come to class and teach whoever comes.

She said: "We had a similar problem. We did the following: Ask the student leaders to post in their WhatsApp groups about the start of lectures; teach whoever comes, whether 1 or 2; introduce the course outline at least; allow them to take pictures of the session and post on the WhatsApp groups as evidence of the classes going on. From two students at the beginning we now have 20 and the numbers are still increasing," she said.

This view was supported by Prof Nawangwe, the vice chancellor, who in a post said; "We will put a notice in the media on Thursday."

Indeed, in both The New Vision and Daily Monitor on Thursday, January 31, the vice chancellor placed the notice.

"The vice chancellor Makerere University informs all students, parents, guardians and the general public that Makerere University opened on Saturday, 19th January 2019. Teaching commenced on Monday, 21st January in all colleges. All students who have not reported for classes should do so immediately," reads the notice.

Nawangwe in a phone interview says that although the strike is illegal, the staff have refused to return to work and the teaching business has been all but sluggish.

“It is obvious that if the university is not running normally, nothing can run normally not even research because research can only thrive in an atmosphere when the university is normal and students are being taught and everything else is being run normally. So if other things are not being run normally, research will have to suffer. And this happens every time when the university gets closed and we want very much to avoid that. There is no doubt that if the university remains not fully functional, even research will have to suffer.” said Nawangwe.

Isaac Semakadde, the lawyer for affected staff in an interview said that the university managers had buried their heads in sand and resorted to propaganda over the normalcy at the institution.

Semakadde described the situation as acts of 'fear victimisation and cult-like respect' for the vice chancellor currently advanced by a section of staff in support of his administration.

“I want to warn the few departments that have decided to spread propaganda among students that everything is normal in the university whereas not. I warn those few department heads that are engaging in unpatriotic acts of teaching a class with one, two or three students for the purpose of taking a WhatsApp photo on student platforms. That 'I issued coursework - you better turn up' when there is no conducive learning environment. The media has reported excessive deployment of police during the day and excessive deployment of the military during the night. This is not the environment in which students can learn freely.”

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