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MPs Decry Shrinking Space for Freedom of Expression at Makerere University

Members of Parliament have decried the shrinking space for freedom of expression at Makerere University.

The MPs were on Wednesday speaking as parliament debated a motion to celebrate Makerere University’s 100 years.

Bugiri Municipality MP, Asuman Basalirwa said that Makerere University needs freedom in its total sense.

“I recall during our time, I used to invite MPs to come to speak to students. The late Ekullo Epak, the late Jacob Oulanyah, the late Aggrey Awori, Cecilia Ogwal and the others…I would invite them almost every week…we would have debates and discussions. That is no longer happening in the university,” said Basalirwa a former Guild President in 2000. 

Basalirwa said that there is a need to build an institution that promotes intellectual freedom and thought for both lecturers and students through their guild in order to set the national agenda.

Basalirwa also said that as the institution celebrates 100 years, there is a need for parliament to consider having and committing enough resources to support its infrastructural development.

“Makerere is bleeding. When you go to Makerere now…look at my former Hall, the great Lumumba empire…it is now a shell. The structure of education in this country is such that, when things go wrong in Makerere, higher education is affected. We must understand that Makerere sets the standard,” 

Anna Adeke, also a former Guild President said that celebrating 100 years should be used as a moment of reflection in regard to the abuse of freedom of expression.

Recently, the University Council suspended the students’ guild and indefinitely deferred elections for the university’s 88th guild president after Betungura Bewatte, a student of Uganda Christian University (UCU) was killed in clashes that pitted supporters of the National Unity Platform (NUP) against those of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) on the last day of the campaigns.

The Council then set up a six-member committee to review all operations of the student leadership before a final decision is made. A month later, the committee released a report to the council which was never made public, but part of the resolutions that were later made by the Council was to approve the Makerere University Students Guild statute subject to the amendments proposed by the council.

Four Makerere University students have since sued the University Council over the suspension of the guild elections, seeking the High Court to declare that the action as illegal and contrary to the 1995 constitution, the University and other Tertiary Institutions Act 2001, and the Makerere University Guild constitution as amended.

The students also contest the suspension of their colleagues by Vice Chancellor Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe, after they convened an online meeting which was attended by former Guild aspirants, intended to push for the reinstatement of the Guild leadership.

Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa said that actions by students sometimes call for decisions by leaders at the University that might not be popular.

Prof. Elijah Mushemeza, the Sheema South MP said that the university academic intellectuals must engage in quality teaching and research that reflect the scientific and technological needs of the society.

“I have observed at Makerere University the issue of high enrolment of students with few highly academic staff in some Departments. As a result, most academic staff are engaged in teaching undergraduates with little time to engage in research and professional development. There is evidence that universities in Africa contribute less than 1 percent to international referred Journals. The contribution of African universities to the World’s scientific publications is only 1.4 percent with more than half of these coming from Egypt and South Africa,” he said.

Mushemeza argues that it is prudent for universities to insist on an optimum level of student intake, under current circumstances, to address workload problems and release some energy to both basic and applied research. 

Dr Florence Asiimwe, the Masindi Woman MP said that Makerere University has over the years moved strides in human resource development, and its contribution to research has led to some innovations. Ahead of the parliament debate, a university delegation travelled to the House by the Kira EV which is one of the institution’s innovations.

Prof. Yusuf Nsibambi, the Mawokota South also cited a need for the university to work on retaining its senior teaching staff by ensuring good working conditions. The MP who taught at the university for 27 years recounted his experience to parliament.

John Chrysostom Muyingo, the State Minister for Higher Education said that the country has many reasons to celebrate 100 years of Makerere University. He also appealed to parliament to support the university as it re-positions itself into a research-led institution.

Makerere University was established on 1st August 1922 as the Uganda Technical College.

In 1923 it was renamed Makerere College and began offering programmes in medical care, agriculture, veterinary sciences and teacher training by 1935, the institution of learning has been expanded to become a Center for Higher Education in East Africa.   

In 1937, the institution began offering post-secondary education certificate courses and later became affiliated with the University College of London, allowing it to offer programmes leading to the award of degrees by the University College of London.

In 1949, the British Protectorate Government granted Makerere College, University status, and later in 1963, the College was renamed Makerere College, the University of East African following the establishment of the East African Community.

It became a national university on 1st July 1970 under the name, Makerere University offering undergraduate and postgraduate programmes leading to the award of degrees on its own accord.                                      

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