I have been reading Joachim Buwembo’s How to be a UGANDAN and while reading how to be a professor, it got me thinking what is the status of a University Professor in the presidential Age Limit Debate.
Joachim Buwembo alludes a reknowned Ugandan writer Okot p’Bitek’s question at Makerere University Main Hall in 1981 during a public Lecture.
“What use is a professor who has nothing to profess?” Okot demanded angrily while delivering a public lecture in a filled-to-overflowing main hall. But the professors were not in the audience to answer his question. They were busy elsewhere in the city, looking for money in different non-intellectual pursuits in order to make our personal budgets balance.
A couple of years after Okot’s public lecture, another Ugandan colleague of ours who tried to profess was stripped of his citizenship. Prof. Mahmood Mamdani had tried to tried too early to exercise his intellectual freedom and the government was not amused. As smartly put by Buwembo, in the seventies, many of our colleagues had paid with their lives for expressing their opinions freely. Prof. Ali Mazrui (born Kenyan but intellectually matured at Makerere) fled Kampala before the dictators exacted the ultimate price from them.
The Author indicates that by mid-seventies, the intellectual desertification of Makerere University was almost complete. Arguing that those who remained in the country were bound to have their mouths shut lest they be eliminated.
He indicates that the relationship between Amin’s Authoritarian regime and Makerere University has soured and in order to mend it, the university awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws and from then they started addressing him as Dr. Amin, a title he loved so much that prompted him to pay a visit to his “fellow” doctors at the teaching hospital of Mulago.
Once the staff meeting got under way, he asked the Minister of Health, who was a layman, to step out so that only “Doctors” remained in the room to discuss their own matters freely. “Fellow Doctors,” he began his address.
By the middle of seventies, the author says they had come to believe that a dead professor was no dead. For those who remained in the country, they exhibited two rules to survive.
Rule number one was to shut your mouth; someone could be tempted to feed you with a bullet. However provocative or interesting way a discussion that came up in your presence, you had to keep quiet and avoid provoking the state’s self-styled surgeons who had become obsessed with separating people’s heads from their necks.
Rule number two was to stick to what is already written and published. As long as you were teaching, you had to avoid sounding original and only quote the over-quoted scholars of yesteryear. For fear of state secret agents who infested lecturer rooms to report in case of teaching subversive ideas!
Professors resorted to part-time teaching in Kampala High Schools, taxi businesses, shop-keeping, chicken rearing, etc. in order to survive the gun rule and its economic pangs.
The author argues that post-1986 Uganda, university professors were ushered in good times. Despite the spate of strikes over their wages as highlighted in Prof. Mamdani’s Scholars in a Market Place, thirty years later, Professors salaries have been enhanced and to the commitment of country’s sole candidate and the all visionary leader, a professor will be earning Shs.15million by 2020.
There is no wonder however that could be a sign of another good turn since Makerere has been clear at positioning itself to the president. And indeed, on December 12, 2010, His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was awarded Honorary Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) of Makerere University for his exceptional and significant contributions nationally and internationally for the development of humanity.
The orator at the event Professor Elly N. Sabiiti categorically stated that Museveni was able to relate effectively with the University in addressing institutional aspirations and concerns. And that he supports and sustains scholarly activity at Makerere University with the capacity to help Makerere University reposition itself and continue to have influence nationally and internationally.“Therefore, we in Makerere University are delighted to recognize and honour him. This is a measure of how proud we are of H.E Yoweri Kaguta’s Museveni exceptional achievements and this bears testimony to the high regard in which he is held by all who know him,” Prof. Sabiiti said.
After the successful staff woes, the lecturers in public universities seem contented with the current political leadership. Indeed in 2013, a professor at Makerere was earning Shs 3.1m. By 2016, this increased to 8.04m – a 159% increase over three years. President Museveni insists that this should be enhanced up to Shs15million. A professor’s prayer currently would be that the Members of Parliament consider the bill carefully so that the old man keeps the taps dripping in their pockets open.