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My heart beats for Makerere University – Dr. Stella Nyanzi

FILE PHOTO: Dr. Stella Nyanzi

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Former Makerere University Research fellow, Dr. Stella Nyanzi says she will not rest until she is allowed back at Uganda’s highest institution of learning. She is one of the 45 Makerere University employees who were laid off by the Appointments Board in December 2018.

Dr. Nyanzi was locked up in Luzira prison on charges of cyber-harassment when she was dismissed. In February this year, Justice Henry Peter Adonyo of the International Crimes Division of High Court overturned Dr. Nyanzi’s conviction and 18 month’s sentence for cyber harassment, saying the magistrate’s court lacked jurisdiction to hear the matter.

He also noted that the court didn’t grant Nyanzi a fair hearing when it failed to summon defense witnesses and ordered her release from prison, where she had spent several months. Now, Dr. Nyanzi says she has embarked on her journey to return to Makerere University. She contends that she was unfairly thrown out of Makerere University and will not relent until she is taken back.

According to Dr. Nyanzi, Makerere University is like a fountain of patriarchy and patriarchal oppression. “It starts there. The torture starts there, the oppression starts there. But Makerere is also a very liberated space where feminists excel and queer scholars such as myself excel and students liberate themselves from the different points of oppression at Makerere. Ideas are fashioned and refashioned at Makerere, alright,” Dr. Nyanzi observes.  She says everything else would be an alternative for her and that her dream is simply to return to Makerere University.

Dr. Nyanzi’s problems with Makerere University leadership started from her feud with Prof. Mahmood Mamdani, the Director Makerere Institute for Social Research-MISR on April 2018. Dr. Nyanzi staged a nude protest when Prof. Mamdani evicted her from her office at the institute because of her refusal to teach.

Following the incident, Makerere University Appointment Board convened a lengthy emergency meeting on April 22, which resolved to suspend Nyanzi effective immediately.

The Board noted that Dr. Nyanzi had “used abusive and insulting language unbecoming of the university staff” and that her, “conduct and behavior dented the image of Makerere University, both within and outside Uganda.” She was reinstated after the end of her suspension period. She was suspended indefinitely in 2017 for allegedly insulting the First Lady and Education and Sports Minister, Janet Kataaha Museveni.

However, the University Staff Appeals Tribunal chaired by Senior Advocate, George Omunyokol ruled a year later indicating that Nyanzi’s suspension was illegal and contravened Sections 63(2) of the Employment Act, 2006, which require that no suspension should exceed four weeks or the duration of the inquiry.

The tribunal ordered the university to pay Nyanzi’s remunerations, but the ruling was simply ignored by the university authorities prompting her to run to high court. Despite this, Dr. Nyanzi says she is still optimistic about returning to Makerere University no matter how long it takes.

How Nyanzi Got Confirmed as a Permanent Staff of Makerere 

Although the Bruce Balaba Kabaasa-led Appointments Board of Makerere University decided to terminate Dr. Nyanzi’s employment on December 11, 2018 citing expiry of her contract, records show she was on permanent and pensionable terms. Information of Dr. Nyanzi’s university file shows that she was initially appointed as a Research Fellow on probation in Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) effective June 1, 2011.

The decision was taken by the University Appointments Board during its 462nd meeting held on May 30th and 31st 2011. It was communicated to Dr. Nyanzi on June 6, 2011 by the then acting Makerere University Director Human Resources, Godfrey Bazanye Nangi. She applied for confirmation into the University service on July 18, 2012. The then manager of the employment Division, Dorothy Sennoga Zake wrote to Nyanzi on Thursday May 30, 2013 indicating that her application wasn’t handled on time.

“You are hereby requested to convene a meeting of senior staff in MISR (you may co-opt others from related field/academic unit if you have less than five Senior Staff) to consider her application, then send your minutes signed by members who attended the meeting in 18 copies to the Employment division office room 406, Main Building,” reads an instruction letter for Nyanzi’s confirmation request.

A special meeting of the Establishment and Appointments Committee convened at the School of Women and Gender Studies Conference Hall on September 23, 2013. Chaired by Professor Edward Kirumira, the meeting received and considered Dr. Nyanzi’s application for confirmation into the University Service, minutes from MISR recommending her confirmation, a cover letter from Professor Mahmood Mamdani, the MISR Executive Director, her CV, Academic Certificates and statement of achievements.

Upon review of her application, the meeting recommended Nyanzi’s confirmation into University Service on grounds that “she had exhibited satisfactory progress in research.” Following this recommendation, Mary Tizikara, the then Director Human Resources of Makerere University confirmed Dr. Nyanzi into University Service on October 30, 2013.

“I am pleased to inform you that the Appointments Board at its 499th meeting held on 28th of October, 2013, agreed that you should be confirmed in the University service effective 1st December, 2011. The rest of your terms and conditions of service remain unaltered,” reads Tizikara’s letter to Dr. Stella Nyanzi.

Born in 1974, Dr. Nyanzi is a medical anthropologist, feminist, queer rights activist and scholar of sexuality, family planning and public health. She holds a Bachelor of Mass Communication and Literature from Makerere University (1997), a Master of Science in Medical Anthropology, University of London (2000), a Master of Arts in Development Studies and Public Finance, Nkumba University (2003) and a PhD of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London, (2009).

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