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Analysis on the strikes at Makerere

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Added 1st November 2019 08:37 PM

Is the malaise at Makerere underfunding? Some pundits say it isn’t. Students and a section of MUASA think it is bad institutional leadership and governance. Prof Venansius Baryamureeba contends that Makerere’s problems are institutional and no amount of money can solve them.

Analysis on the strikes at Makerere

Samuel Baligidde

Is the malaise at Makerere underfunding? Some pundits say it isn’t. Students and a section of MUASA think it is bad institutional leadership and governance. Prof Venansius Baryamureeba contends that Makerere’s problems are institutional and no amount of money can solve them.

By Samuel Baligidde

The joke and pun about a ‘Tower of Iron and Chaos' instead of Ivory, is not funny anymore.  Strikes result in the disruption of the university's almanac; students do not study and the progress of university projects is retarded.

The cost to individual students and the university goes up. There may indeed be more to the strikes than meets the eye but that hardly justifies the misfeasance of using excessive force to maintain law and order. Military intervention is ‘effective' and ‘efficient' but couldn't ‘Soft power' rather than ‘hard power' have been more appropriate? Angered students are prone to surreptitious manipulation. Where did the Movement gurus of ‘siasa' of the yesteryears go?

Chaos impacts Makerere's Strategic Plans in ways that need to be empirically measured. The current Plan whose launch was delayed in order to run alongside the National Development Plan has unfortunately received the ‘Baptism of Chaos'. The main conditions for a chaotic system are non-linearity; the output of one cycle becomes the input of the next, and small variations in initial conditions lead to larger differences in the outcomes.

The situation pertaining to Makerere fits the above framework and fulfills all the conditions except one: chaos (as conceptualized by Edward Lorenz) at Uganda's oldest institution of higher learning will not repair itself without intervention and guidance of Parliament and the Executive.

Is the malaise at Makerere underfunding? Some pundits say it isn't. Students and a section of MUASA think it is bad institutional leadership and governance. Prof Venansius Baryamureeba contends that Makerere's problems are institutional and no amount of money can solve them. He revealed that before the introduction of the private programmes, the University was supposed to be fully funded from the consolidated fund.

With the introduction of the private programmes, the University was supposed to be managed and operated according to corporate commercial criteria. Greater commercial freedom entailed setting tuition fees.

The argument that the government shouldn't be scared of allowing the constituent Colleges to set fees through the market mechanism has been perforated. As a triple alumnus [Bachelor's, Master's and former Part-time Lecturer] of Makerere University and now undertaking a PhD research inquiry on the ecology of chaos [focusing on the impact of strikes], I think the suggestions of experts and practitioners of higher education management, could be collated into a framework for solving the problem.

Prof. Mahmood Mamdani contends that the seeds of Makerere's troubles were sown in the 1990s when the Government, with "the uncritical enthusiasm of a convert", embraced the World Bank's "then-held conviction" that higher education was "more of a private than public good". In Scholars in the Marketplace, Mamdani argues that Government's decision to make public universities partly responsible for their own funding led to a commercialization policy that paved the way for fee-paying private students alongside students on government sponsorship. Syncretism which is inappropriate in religion doesn't seem to be a good idea in financial management as well.

Founding Executive Director of the National Council for Higher Education Prof. Abdu Kasozi's advice ‘not to crush students but to listen to them' is in tandem with Prof Apollo Nsibambi's suggestion that decisions affecting students require the Chairman of Council and the Vice-Chancellor to meet the Guild President and his/her Government to get their input. The students are then shown the logic of increasing fees so that they accept the percentage increased. Kasozi's argument that ‘governments fear student activism because it pertains to broader political and economic issues in society' is cogent.

Students in African universities have appropriated the role of championing good governance and checking seemingly authoritarian regimes to themselves. Where incumbent governments circumspect their intentions, the temptation to react by crushing organized crowds with excessive force is high but can be avoided by substituting it with dialogue and persuasion. Both sides must be willing to compromise.

The writer teaches Diplomacy, Negotiations, and Politics of Public Policy.

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