Deus Kamunyu Muhwezi (PhD) is the chairperson of Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA). He spoke to The independent’s Agnes E Nantaba about the troubles at Makerere University that led to his suspension.
What does the suspension mean to you and MUASA?
This is my greatest challenge as chairperson MUASA because I was suspended as a lecturer for performing my duties as MUASA chairperson. What gave birth to this conflict was the suspension of leaders of staff associations and that caused stampede which resulted into a one month strike. But in the circumstance, staff felt that it’s not good to hold students and parents at ransom now that issues have been forwarded to council. It’s challenging but as a leader, I expected an uphill task arising from talking about issues and processes that serve the common good. There were already formations who were aligned to take up future council positions and yet the Rwendeire Report demanded for the reconstitution of council members; something that we have always pushed for but didn’t go well with some leaders. We, however, appreciate that at least the government responded and gave us representatives under the leadership of Lorna Magara whom we believe will effect improvements in the system. With the council in place, there will be stability, some reforms and systems will begin to work and government shall be served with the right reports going forward.
Does that mean that the issues of Makerere University are leadership oriented?
Makerere problems arise from leadership. For instance, the manipulation of the human resource manual is leadership oriented. That is why I disagree with Prof Mahmood Mamdani who is going around painting MUASA as a bad group. He is a part of the problem because the human resource manual was partly amended to accommodate him. I would rather he thinks about how that could undermine the way we feel about our employment system not as individuals but as a team. MUASA is expected to ask questions that would enable us to be fairly treated in an employment system. If rules are changed for the benefit of one person, it completely undermines the transparent functionality of the system.
Apart from the manipulation of the human resource manual, what are the other key challenges cited by MUASA?
The hostility of management to opinion and the performance of the former council are some of the other challenges. Our argument is that this hostility should end and allow for more engagements that mean well and build our society together. We don’t want to be part of management but we are stakeholders and we must therefore be understood from that angle. The issues also stem from bad governance that had taken root in the institution; including poor management of resources. All these undermine the way we work as associations – squeezing us on the wall. Once that has been attended to and we begin to tolerate and appreciate opinions, there will no more issues. For instance, the law school just gave a mere opinion but it caused someone to threaten closure. That proves intolerance and hostility. We have also heard some people declare that it is time for propaganda and that is partly what we see everywhere including the media. This is just a simple industrial dispute about rights and wellbeing of workers. From my side, it has nothing to do with regime change as invented by some people and we can’t be part of the propaganda theory to this level.
MUASA has focused on the unlawful suspension of its chairman and leaders of other staff associations. What are the underlying issues in the suspension process?
On the advice of lawyers, we have been told that the vice chancellor has no powers or direct responsibility to suspend an association leader or academic staff. The head of department should have been involved in the whole process. However, what we see are our activities being misconstrued to mean our personal engagements with the Vice chancellor as workers; forgetting that the Unions Act and other Acts provide for our positions and that sometimes we have to ask the hard questions as part of our mandate. That is where the Vice chancellor misinterprets our activities as association leaders to be personal engagements; forgetting that we are meritoriously in office and that as leaders, sometimes we have to ask the hard questions for the good of the university.
How best should the suspension have been handled?
I don’t think the law provides for my suspension as MUASA chairperson. There are established procedures for removing a leader of an association including petitions, call for general assembly and disposal of errant leaders all of which never happened. That was a mandate of fellow members and if they wanted, that would have been the path. To suspend me as a representative of the staff is going off the board. If I erred as a lecturer, my head of department should have been the originator of the suspension being my direct supervisor. There is a fusion of things that keeps us wondering how we got here and yet the university has a whole directorate of legal affairs.
Where does the suspension of staff leaders and the strike leave the glory of Makerere University?
It sets a precedent which staff were trying to fight against. It shows that if management can hack MUASA and other staff associations leaders because of an academic exchange and a difference in opinion, then they can do it to anyone else. We can’t allow connecting politics to it and stampeding people. Makerere cannot be stampeded by one decision maker because it’s a university with a legacy that will continue to shine.
Now that the staff grievances have been escalated to be handled by the University Council, what does it mean to the entire review process?
The council committee would have been the rightful organ to handle the cases if I was lawfully suspended. I have always respected the rules and if that is where we go next; let’s go there and see what comes out. But also, let’s attend to other matters arising from court because there is a case that requires court to look into the circumstances under which I was suspended.
What is your next step?
Suspension expired after one month and within that time; I should have been given a report by a competent committee which never happened. We are waiting for the appointments board to consider us in the circumstance and see how we will go forward. Staff gave one month for these issues to be addressed and we hope that they will be resolved competently by Council. We rejected the committee formed by the vice chancellor; especially him being the complainant, prosecutor and judge because it wasn’t appropriate. Now that it’s been taken to appointments board, we have confidence that the merits of the case will be handled appropriately.