Let me from the outset agree with Prof. Baryamureeba and others that it is extremely regrettable that such an ugly incident at the MISR took place.
By Prof. Mukwanason A. Hyuha
I have been following with keen interest events following the bizarre actions of Dr. Stella Nyanzi of the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR).
I have also listened to interviews of the two main protagonists and reactions to the interviews aired by the NTV and NBS television networks, as well as newspaper reactions to the saga by, among others, a Mr. Sserumkuuma (a MISR student), Mr. Opiyo Oloya and Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba., a former Vice Chancellor of Makerere University and a very good friend of mine.
Let me from the outset agree with Prof. Baryamureeba and others that it is extremely regrettable that such an ugly incident at the MISR took place. I believe that, as of now, the ultimate objective is to avoid such or similar incidents occurring at MISR or anywhere in the university in future. If we all agree that this is a noble objective, then we should look deeply into the causes of this Mamdani-Nyanzi saga, and why measures had not been taken earlier to prevent or forestall its occurrence.
Yes, one can blame Dr. Nyanzi for the unwanted drama or Prof. Mamdani for one reason or another; but, as Mr. Opiyo Oloya pointed out, there may be more than what meets the eye. I am glad that a committee has been set up to dig deeper into the incident; whether or not the membership and terms of reference of the committee are appropriate is not my current concern, for that is the prerogative of the relevant authorities of the university.
However, I present below my views on the saga. I hope, as an old boy and a former Academic Registrar of the university, these views will help clarify certain procedural issues surrounding this saga, in addition to contributing towards a prevention of future incidents of the sort.
First, I am not in agreement on a number of issues with Prof. Baryamureeba. Prior to the establishment of the new PhD programme at MISR, each member of MISR was appointed most likely to concentrate on research alone, no teaching. When the programme was established, each eligible member should have received official communication from the appointments board that he/she had to embrace the new terms of 75% research and 25% teaching. Granted that supervisors have a leeway to vary assignments, but this, I believe was a major change in the terms of reference to be merely delegated to a department's head. Hence, Prof. Mamdani was right to request the university to inform MISR members accordingly. Further, the method of informing a member of the new terms also matters.
I hope Dr. Nyanzi and other concerned members were informed through a cordial departmental (MISR) meeting before written communications were sent to them. This is how we used to incorporate members of the Economic Research Bureau (ERB, then a purely research department) into participating in teaching when I was a member of the Department of Economics, University of Dar es Salaam. People tend to react negatively to orders or communications whose purpose they hardly comprehend, unless they are appropriately initiated and sensitised beforehand.
Besides, there are people who dislike teaching/lecturing but they like research supervision. Such people are allowed to do the supervision for their 25%. Was this an option for Dr. Nyanzi?
Second, when Dr. Nyanzi allegedly refused to participate in the teaching, the right procedures to discipline her should have been followed—from the department (MISR) to the appointments board and beyond. Rather than the MISR boss, it is the relevant university authority that should have disciplined her (e.g. by locking her out of her office, if this was one of the available, prescribed options).
In my view, Prof. Mamdani was not right to unilaterally decide to lock her out of her office. In any case, by the time she was locked out of the office, the authorities in the Main Building allege that they had already decided against that action; a letter had already been sent to Prof. Mamdani requiring him not to effect the locking out.
Prof. Baryamureeba, wasn't this insubordination on the Director's part? What about the Director's announcement to the public that he will not attend any of the meetings of the committee set up by the university to delve into the saga? Who is, rationally and legally, the boss (the CEO) of the university: the MISR Director or the Vice Chancellor (irrespective of who of the two one supports)? What is insubordination?
Third, with open quarrels between Prof. Ddumba-Ssentamu and Prof. Mamdani through the media and press releases, the university is washing its dirty linen in public. There are appropriate channels for such accusations and counter-accusations (the appointments board, senate and council, among others).
Why not use these available bodies to settle differences? It appears that the communication avenue between the Director and the Vice Chancellor has broken down. Apart from negatively affecting the university's domestic and international image or standing, isn't such an exchange of sharp words a sign of insubordination on the Director's part?
Fourth, a suggestion that Dr. Nyanzi should be suspended to pave way for smooth investigations into the saga is rather one-sided. If any suspension is to be implemented, both Prof. Mamdani and Dr. Nyanzi should face the music during the duration of the investigations. Let sheer emotions not overtake our reasoning capacities and sense of fair and impartial judgement.
Fifth, that Prof. Mamdani's contract should be renewed should be left to the appropriate authorities in the university. I believe these authorities are bound to follow laid-down procedures to decide whether or not to renew the contract. Prof. Baryamureeba, I and other ‘outsiders' should not bias the authorities one way or the other!
Indeed, the professor is hardworking, a renown academician, a good friend of mine right from the time we met in Dar es Salaam, an excellent resource mobilizer, a good thinker and organizer, et cetera, but all of us need to look at this Mamdani-Nyanzi saga as objectively as humanly possible. By the way, Dr. Nyanzi also deserves a fair hearing in accordance with the principle of natural justice, not outright dismissal, as some convocation members argue.
The writer is a former Academic Registrar, Makerere University