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Against privileges for a few

Why Makerere University students (and lecturers) do not need or deserve special treatment

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | The strike by Makerere University students over a 15% increase in fees, actually based on a recommendation by the Students Guild, has dominated media for a week. The government of President Yoweri Museveni, in its characteristic militarist fashion, sent in the army. A video of soldiers frog-matching students, kicking them with their boots and rifle butts went viral. This is the stuff that gives Uganda’s noisy elites an opportunity to exhibit their pretentious middle class human rights sensibilities.

I abhor the tactics used by the security forces and condemn them in the strongest terms. However, they were not surprising. Opposition politicians may scream their lungs out at such horror perhaps deluded into the belief that if they were in power they would act differently. Nonsense. Poor countries rely more on repression than persuasion to secure compliance with their demands. Thus regardless of the many changes of government on our continent: by electoral victory, military coup, armed struggle, popular insurrection, or death of an incumbent, the reliance on repression to secure compliance with state demands remains (alongside patronage and clientelism) the instruments of rule.

I am less condemning of these strategies recognising that they are not only cost effective and cost efficient but also perhaps the only affordable weapons of poor governments (and even poor families) in the management of power relations across time and space. In fact I have just been reading an interesting book by Paul Collier, The Future of Capitalism, where he shows that poor families tend to rely more on violence than persuasion in dealing with their children. But let us reserve this for another column.

For now, we need to address the roots of the current strike at Makerere. The increment in fees cannot explain it. Our country has many private universities where students pay much more in fees than Makerere yet do not strike. Uganda has other public universities not paralysed by incessant strikes. Makerere University Business School (MUBS) at Nakawa is part of Makerere and regularly increases fees but its students there rarely strike.  Therefore the issue at Makerere is not increase in the fees or even the expectation of students in public universities for free/cheaper education but rather a suffocating sense of entitlement.

Given its history as the only high centre of learning, students at Makerere think they occupy a unique place in our country, hence demands for special treatment. If government is unable to bend to their will, they hold it at ransom through strikes and protests. Thus to address the problems of Makerere University we need to strike at its gilded self-image as an institution with the right to hold the country hostage. This behaviour is not among students only but covers the academic and non-academic staff.

First, there are more students enrolled in private than public universities in Uganda. And they pay higher fees that are regularly increased to cope with rising costs. There are even more students enrolled in all the other public universities than Makerere facing similar or even worse problems. Such students feel aggrieved at their fees but do not harbour this exaggerated sense of entitlement to make them believe that their needs must be addressed – or else.

Those who defend this dysfunctional and self-indulgent culture of Makerere students argue that as a public university it should be free or cheap. But Makerere is not the only public university. The more critical issue is the belief that being at Makerere gives someone a special status above other citizens. The second justification is that university education paid for by the taxpayer is a right. A right is something enjoyed by all equally and cannot exclude others – like the right to vote or express oneself. To enter Makerere and benefit from free or subsidised education is exclusive. Therefore it is a privilege over which the country should not be held at ransom.


  1. ejakait engoraton

    “What we are seeing at Makerere is decades of indoctrination into a mentality of entitlement, victimhood, and grievance. It is a mentality that spreads across many aspects of our national life and is promoted by opposition politicians and by Museveni for selfish reasons – to win votes”

    THIS mentality, has over time right from the time he came to power, an example being the abolition of poll tax and the introduction of crudely thought out and even more crudely implemented universal education and likewise medical provision as well as other schemes like BONNA BAGAGAWALE(BAVUWALE) as well as the practice of walking around with and throwing sack loads of money at every problem , championed by none other than the VISIONLESS M7 and purely for his own political reasons and his evil grand scheme of putting the whole nation in a trance , and at his mercy, so that he can rule and loot forever. The opposition are only getting in on the act as a counter measure- what other choice do they have

    THE scholar of FANNON and MACHIAVELI that he is, this is the best way for him to go in order to achieve his evil goals.

  2. 1.The tuition MUK students pay is ridiculously low you may think they are paying for short courses.In Universities abroad you can’t access facilities like the Library when you owe the university money
    2.Its easier to implement a new fees structure when students have just joined the university rather than when they are continuing students.
    3.World over, in trying to play safe and not to rip the feathers of donors governments are finding it difficult to handle riots just look at HongKong.
    4.When i was still young i would begin a fight with my siblings then when beaten i would tell my parents that my brother has beaten me for nothing.This is the same with MUK they were beaten by soldiers for a reason i.e destroying property.
    5.Which poor student can afford a flat TV screen,Tinberland Jeans,wear lip stick while demonstrating?

    • Just like the the writer of the article, you seem not to understand the student’s grievances or the root problem. Cost of living and inequality!!! You have 1 percent of the population with so much wealth calling the shots! How have they made all this wealth we are talking of!! Can Andrew ever talk of this, probably long after this government. A civil servant earn net salary of 2m for example, has 4 children. House rent, medical, food and other expenses, there’s little left for education expenses. My friend earns 650,000 shillings a month as an administrator and has 2 children. You can help me out do the maths. Several strikes at the Makerere are as a result of what I described above. Andrew will tell us a different story but I don’t blame him, his income or wealth may be higher than those above. This government just like most African government want pple to serve them other than the other way round.

      • Let us leave the Makerere chaos for a moment and let me tell Mr. Yiga, Ugandan civil servants are a rotten lot, the majority are disproportionately wealthy, with wrotten sense of self importance and entitlement, they are feasting with the regime big time! To hell with them, I wish I could nuke them! Now we can go back to Makerere madness

  3. 1.@ Yiga what happened to people living within their means?Why would someone who earns 2m, has 4 children want to take their children to study at International School of Uganda or Kampala Parents and when he falls sick he wants to get treatment from Paragon of Nakasero Hospital ?
    2. Someone will always be better than the other whether in terms of beauty,intelligence,wealth you may do nothing about it and its ridiculous to blame government for such inequality.
    3.Government has done alot interms of welfare for example; government pays all the tuition for students at PTCs,NTCs,Nursing schools,UTCs Government owned universities its all about studying hard inorder to get government scholarship.
    4.Ugandans love keeping up appearance there is this craze that every one should obtain a Degree please go and obtain one but dont stress government incase you fail to pay tuition.
    5. Why are governments of late under alot of pressure whether in Asia Europe USA?
    6.What are governments not getting right?
    7. What Is the new world order?It used to be ideology.
    8. innovation and self employment is the way to go Richard.

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