In Summary
  • “I don’t know what a dictator means because everything I do goes through concerned committees. Probably they have got a certain definition of what a dictator means. A university is not a political organisation. It is an academic institute governed by a certain set of rules and regulations. It is a professional organisation.”
  • Changes. What is happening is that we are trying to transform some things at the university to enable the university contribute more meaningfully to the development of the Ugandan society. A few people may not be happy with the new reforms.”
  • Interview. Sunday Monitor’s Eric Kyama caught up with the Vice Chancellor Prof Barnabas Nawangwe at his office at the university.

During your installation in September 2017, you promised to provide ‘much needed leadership’ with ‘transparency and absolute humility.’ But a strike is currently underway because the staff don’t seem to agree with your style of leadership. Where could the problem be coming from?
I don’t know about the strike you are talking about. I want to emphasise that there is no strike because teaching is going on. You are probably talking about some defiance by a section of the staff. That doesn’t mean that we are not being transparent.
Probably we are being very transparent and that is what is shaking people who were used to lack of transparency. Now we are transparent and the administration is saying ‘you have not declared the strike as required by the law so we don’t recognise this, go back to work’ and people have gone back to work. But a small section of people are trying to be defiant.

But the strike has been captured, including by the media…
Well, I don’t control the media. The media has the right to report what it wants. But you are a journalist; you can walk around and go to the colleges.
I will tell you that at the moment it is only the School of Law where no teaching has taken place, and College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences where only partial teaching is taking place. At the rest of the colleges, the situation is back to normal.

You have met a lot of resistance from some of your staff and students alike in introducing some of your reforms. Why do you think this is so?
Any change comes with resistance, whether it is for the good or for the bad. It takes time for people to appreciate what is being done. Universities are very traditional institutions, they have developed certain traditions.

It is a bit hard for some people to move away from certain traditions that have been there. What is happening is that we are trying to transform some things at the university to enable the university contribute more meaningfully to the development of the Ugandan society.
A few people may not be happy with the new reforms. They are used to some traditions that are not helpful at all to the university and the Ugandan society.
But the administration is saying no, as the top brains of this country, lecturers are obliged to do more to help the country overcome some challenges since a lot has been invested in them.

And the same lecturers you are appealing to seem to question your leadership style, with some calling you a dictator
I don’t know what a dictator means because everything I do goes through the concerned committees. Probably they have got a certain definition of what a dictator means.
A university is not a political organisation. It is an academic institute governed by a certain set of rules and regulations. It is a professional organisation. If people find that they are being challenged that probably they are failing certain things and somebody is trying to enforce that these are rules that govern us, they might think that I am a dictator. But in actual sense I am just trying to put things right.

You recently suspended or fired lecturers from the university. This is just the most recent in a string of suspensions during your reign. How should the public perceive you?
How will the public know? We know why these people were suspended and fired because we supervise them. There is tendency of people thinking that Nawangwe has suspended or fired so and so, the VC doesn’t fire anyone; the VC can only report cases to the appointments board.
It’s the appointments board that acts on such cases and decides whether to fire or suspend someone. [For] the people who were dismissed, I think Daily Monitor ran a story indicating why some lecturers were dismissed, which member of the public can claim that these people were not dismissed fairly?

Does the public believe that the university can accommodate a person who sexually harasses a student? Does the public believe that Makerere University should accommodate a member of staff who absconds from duty?
Does the public believe that Makerere University should accommodate a member of staff who ends up harassing a fellow lecturer? Does the public believe that Makerere University should accommodate a member of staff who uses abusive language yet we, as the top brains, are expected to be exemplary? Does the public believe that these people were fired unfairly? I don’t think so.

Let’s talk matters concerning academics. You promised to lift Makerere to the epitome of academic excellence and make Uganda proud. How is it going so far?
I think we have made good progress with that. We are still ranked among the top five universities by the Times Higher Education, a ranking that measures the quality of what we do; the quality of education and research. Times Higher Education also ranked us among the top 500 universities in the world.

On the issue of some other rankings like Webometrics, we have also made some progress because we had slid to number 14. The recent rakings place us at number 11 and I believe that if we continue doing the right things, we shall go back to top 10.
Webometrics simply measures information you provide on your website. I believe we are doing the right thing since Times Higher Education, which measures the quality of education, has put us in a good place in its rankings. We are also ranked number two in research on the entire continent.

Nawangwe’s take on Key issues

On getting bad press
I don’t know what you mean by being in the press for the ‘wrong reasons.’ It might be for the right reasons but viewed by people differently. I believe that since I became VC, the number of strikes has drastically reduced.
There has only been one demonstration by students as opposed to almost weekly demonstrations previously, so it cannot be that we have been in the press for the wrong reasons.

On ongoing strike
I will tell you that at the moment it is only the School of Law where no teaching has taken place, and College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences where only partial teaching is taking place. At the rest of the colleges, the situation is back to normal.

On meeting resistance
It is a bit hard for some people to move away from certain traditions that have been there. What is happening is that we are trying to transform some things at the university to enable the university contribute more meaningfully to the development of the Ugandan society.

On being called dictator
If people find that they are being challenged that probably they are failing certain things and somebody is trying to enforce that these are rules that govern us, they might think that I am a dictator.

On public opinion
There is tendency of people thinking that Nawangwe has suspended or fired so and so; the VC doesn’t fire anyone,the VC can only report cases to the appointments board.