Makerere University is yet again in the limelight after the infamous nudity scare two months ago. Then, it pitted two dons of Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR), Prof. Mahmood Mamdani and Dr. Stella Nyanzi against each other, over lectureship assignments.
This time round, while it still concerned MISR, it is now concentrated on one don: Mamdani. The concern is the renewal of Mamdani’s contract to continue heading the institute. Accordingly, the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Ddumba Sentamu, is opposed to the renewal of Mamdani’s contact on grounds that he has reached the retirement age of 70 years.
This maybe as well; but a closer look at Sentamu’s logic may indicate an element of revenge on behalf of Nyanzi. It is to be remembered that Nyanzi went nude before her students and other on-lookers protesting that Mamdani had given her an assignment which she had deemed not commensurate with her intellectual pursuits.
Mamdani had duly taken the administrative action of locking her out of her office. The merits or demerits of the case is not on the cards here.
What is relevant is that two facts emerged out of this debacle which put Sentamu in bad light. One was that Nyanzi is his niece. So, over the MISR lectureship/researchship issue, Sentamu allegedly appeared to side with his flesh and blood. This is a clear case of a conflict of interests and a case for nepotism.
The importance here is not in how Nyanzi originally secured the position in MISR, but on Sentamu wanting to keep her there possibly against the wishes of the head of the institute – Mamdani. In other countries, Sentamu should have tendered his resignation; or at best, kept completely quite over the matter.
The second problem was that Mamdani has been able to attract a considerable amount of money to the institute for its research work from international donors, a thing which Makerere had not been able to do for MISR prior to Mamdani’s tenure.
Sentamu seems to have allegedly had a considerable interest on that purse, not corresponding to, either Mamdani’s MISR dictates for the funds, or that of Makerere University itself. Mamdani appeared to have taken a poor opinion of this whole money matter. It would appear Sentamu was not in agreement.
It is therefore difficult for Sentamu to argue the age limit case for Mamdani, especially where there are cases of a waver on this, to allow the respective parties to continue with their contracts.
Indeed, the Head of the Appointments Committee, Bruce Balaba, argues that the issue of a waiver of having reached the retirement age is still on the cards. It was therefore premature for Sentamu to have been unequivocal over the matter.
It would not to be far-fetched to conclude that Sentamu has merely latched on to what appears to be reasonable to deal a malicious repartee on Mamdani for having treated his niece in the way that Nyanzi let it be known that Mamdani had treated her. It is also not inaccurate to assume that Sentamu is seeing an opening to snub Mandani over the issue of the MISR finances.
This brings in the issue of Mamdani’s academic credentials. Two months ago, I surmised that he was such an academically engaging figure internationally that his intellectual application to work is much sought after by many academic centers worldwide.
If Mamdani’s presence is that globally crucial to MISR, and by implication, to Makerere University, as a whole, it would be, to say the least, miscreant, for anybody to wish his departure.
Over the years, especially in the NRM regime, the credibility of Makerere and institutions of higher learning have taken a mean beating. The pursuit of academic excellence, which used to be taken for granted, has been shunted aside at the altar of greed for mainly pecuniary interests.
The issue is such that Makerere University has been linked to students getting degrees under the table of, either money, or sex bribery. The older generations that witnessed Makerere’s excellence, decry this slide.
In Mamdani many of them see a minuscule revival of the lost glory that Makerere used to be taken for granted for in the global academic setting. Is Sentamu seeing the resurrection of Makerere University as a function of his own tenure as the Vice Chancellor?