Makerere: A University for the Rich?

Published on 14th August 2009

Open letter to the President of The Republic of Uganda

Makerere University   Photo courtesy
The sudden and unprecedented tuition increment has shocked very many of us although I may be among the few that have gathered the guts to write to you. I write to you not because you are the alpha and omega in Uganda, but because you have portrayed this image. Everyone with even the simplest problem is consequently running to you. We have seen MUASA running to you whenever they have deep concerns regarding their welfare; trade unionists and many other social groups also run to you.

When the university council wanted a fee increment, they ran to you. As far as my understanding is concerned, you never gave a nod to their request on the premise that our people are poor and they cannot afford paying exorbitant fares. How come all of a sudden, there has been a heartless tuition fee increment? A Bachelor of Laws course whose tuition has been 600,000 Uganda shillings has been hiked to 1,260,000 shillings. If one adds the functional fees of 546, 500 Uganda shillings, the whole figure comes to 1,806,500 Uganda shillings away from 1,146,500 Uganda shillings for day private day students and 1,116,500 Uganda shillings for evening. This is morally repugnant and politically imprudent. As citizens, we vehemently oppose this scheme. Any increment at a time when students are already admitted must be opposed by any sound Ugandan.

Graduation ceremony   Photo courtesy
What is more perturbing is the fact that the university administration has gone ahead to set stringent rules. For instance, they say that every privately sponsored student is obliged to pay all the functional fees before he/she can be registered, allowed to attend classes and be issued with an identity card. They further warn that if one fails to pay within three weeks, their place will be forfeited to another candidate. Further, the university council reserves the right to vary fees chargeable any time with or without prior notice. This begs the question that I asked in 2006 during the convocation elections: whose institution is Makerere University?

Although I got two degrees from Makerere University, I have been forced to enrol for a bachelors degree in Law for two reasons- to offer pro bono legal services to the indigent who normally fall prey to the decadent institutions we have in Uganda, notably the police, paramilitary organisations and mental hospitals and to be self-employed in my own chambers since the talk from you Mr President has always been self-employment.

Mr President, the unprecedented tuition increment could be a pointer that the centre can no longer hold and things have fallen apart. Otherwise, I wish to let you know that the increment hurts the peasants more than anybody else. Ironically, peasants are and have been the bedrock of your support. As a politician, you should be in position to decipher and discern the implications of such a decision.

Mr President, you have always demonised and vilified the past leaders by calling them swine. But those “swine”  made education accessible, built hospitals including Itojo and Kitagata from our home area; hospitals that are better than Mulago when it comes to services. Although, the state parastatals were less effective, the leaders who held the parastatals in trust for Ugandans never gave them away. Paradoxically, for you, a leader with a monopoly of the vision have either sold, given away or taken these parastatals without giving accountability of the proceeds thereof.

Mr President, going back to the gist of this letter, you must reign in the University council to reverse their position because that position is not sacrosanct and the rescinding thereof shall not tantamount to abrogation of the constitution.

How then will the university get money?

Makerere University is a public university. Like any other public institutions, it MUST be funded by the government. I don’t believe that the military and state house should always get supplementary funding in addition to the one provided by the budget while Makerere University is starved of funds. The money that Makerere University always demands is not the president’s money. It is taxpayers’ money. No patriotic tax payer would complain if Makerere University was given adequate funds.

My former professor in the department of political science says, “bamwe omubebembezi beitu beinire Makerere University enugu ahabwokuba bakaremwa kushomerayo, ekizibu nobu bagiire omu bwebembezi bakaremwa kumanya ngu enugu egyo eshemereire kuhwa” this literally means that “some of our leaders are envious of Makerere University because it rejected them. Sadly, even after capturing power, they failed to outlive that envy”. I tend to agree with my former don and mentor in political science and I think your Excellency are duty-bound to dispel that notion which is held by many elites.

You may naively think the elites have no impact on your project of retaining power (since you have effectively manipulated the peasants typical of all Machiavellian politicians) but as Professor Mamdani argues in his book “Imperialism and Fascism in Uganda” the livelihood of the peasants is rooted on the soil and they depend on the voices from the cities to explain reality around them. Accordingly, once the elites get fully disenchanted with you, they will mobilise the peasants against you.

If you are against peasants remaining in their peasantry, how would you explain an increment of tuition by more than 100% for a course like law and this excludes accommodation, meals and other scholastic needs? In a semester, students of law will part with not less than 4 million Uganda shillings.

I beg, Mr President, that you order Major General Kale Kayihura to respect and protect us as we exercise our constitutional right and not to oppress us. I also wish to state that should he choose the latter option (oppression and repression), I will not hesitate to drag your government to the courts of law.

Mr President, I wish to bring your attention the Runyakitara saying which goes, “ku oteera abaana obateera boona.” Please, prevail on the University Council and Parliament to rescind their position in the interest of the common good. The timing of the increment is ill and is bound to boomerang on your government with drastic results. It is illogical and heartless to increase tuition when students have already been admitted and are in the final preparations to report for studies. If the increment was to be made, it should have been before application so that the applicants know how much they are to pay for which course. 

The University Council members and Members of Parliament should not drop the ladders they have used when climbing because they feel those ladders are no longer relevant to them. They must be guided by the Ubuntu philosophy which embraces compassion, selflessness and respect for human dignity. If the stringent measures they are calling for were in place, few of them, if any, would have attained university education. Let us realise that the university’s primary role is knowledge production, reproduction, synthesis and dissemination. Makerere University is not for the rich but for everyone. Ultimately, if the poor are locked out, education will be exclusive to the rich who may be academic dwarfs and intellectual peasants.

Mr President, the rich have already had enough and the poor need to be assured that they too are citizens with rights. Majority of the rich in Uganda are top politicians and politically connected businessmen and women. The former pilfer tax payers’ money and other public resources entrusted to them and the latter get favours from the government through tenders, contracts, tax rebates, and exemptions among others. I know of many businesses that don’t pay taxes. I have learnt from a top official in Uganda Revenue Authority that Protea Hotel doesn’t pay taxes.

I call upon government not to starve the University of research funding. This has led to declining of standards, making lecturers to opt for consultancy research which is inimical to academic advancement. Remember, Makerere University is a pace setter. If it sneezes, the rest of the academic institutions catch a cold. Therefore, your government must redeem Makerere University if it believes in prosperity for all, health for all, education for all and wealth for all.

Finally, Mr President, Remember education is a right and not a favour and all human rights instruments enjoin all the state parties to make elementary education free and higher education easily accessible. The Makerere question involves everyone without exception because if one is not a student, he or she is a parent or guardian. If one is neither a student nor parent, he/she has a sibling there or a friend. And if you have neither sibling nor friend, you are a potential student there or your brothers, sisters, friends or relatives are potential students in the institution.

By Vincent Nuwagaba

Mr Vincent Nuwagaba studied Political Science and holds a Masters degree in Human Rights from Makerere University and can be reached on [email protected] or +256702843552

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