Makerere University is, without dispute, the best university in Eastern and Southern Africa. For years now, it has been consistently ranked by Times Higher among the top ten universities on the continent. In short, Makerere is considered a cremé de la cremé university, better referred to as ‘the Harvard of Africa’, in reference to world-renown Harvard University of USA.
With these excellent rankings and flattering comparisons, one would as well assume that Makerere is on equal footing with the world’s best universities as far as certain minimum standards are concerned, especially regarding student safety and general welfare. The situation on the ground indicates that one wouldn’t be any further from the truth than with that assumption.
1. Safety and security of students:
Insufficient security personnel and emergency buttons: I have been to UH, Complex, Mary Stuart, Livingston, Nkrumah, Africa, Nsibirwa and Mitchell halls of residence. None of them has even a single guard, armed or otherwise, manning their entrance points 24/7. At Nkrumah where I stay, the guard we are supposed to have is never around. He only shows up miraculously at midnight – and even then on just a few occasions – to lock the entrance. At Lumumba Hall, I understand the hall has two Policemen. But are the lives of Lumumbists more important than those of other students?
At Mary Stuart, a girls’ hall of residence, we have heard many rumors of sexual assault/harassment attacks, allegedly carried out by some residents of Lumumba or other unknown persons. Why don’t these girls’ rooms, and indeed all other rooms at all halls of residence, have panic buttons which one can press in case of any danger? What happens if a student gets a health emergency or a break-in in the middle of the night, in the absence of these panic buttons?
Sometime back when the security apparatus in the country put Makerere University on high alert after receiving credible intelligence of imminent terror attacks on the university, the services of extra security personnel were enlisted. They were placed at all major gates of the university to beef up security. But a regular user of the university’s premises could tell that this was only a cosmetic endeavor as numerous small entrances at different points of Makerere’s boundaries were never manned by security. If a terrorist were to strike, would they blindly go through the major entrances where they could easily get detected or they would exploit the obvious security blind spots? The situation is much worse now after the threat subsided.
No CCTV. At Makerere, the buildings which have closed-circuit camera systems (CCTV) are few. Whether these CCTV are functional or not is another question altogether. Students who stay inside the university in its halls of residence have perennially suffered from the problem of thieves who break into their rooms at night when they are asleep and steal their valuables – or even harm them when they attempt to fight back. In many cases when this happens the victims report to the concerned authorities but little, if anything, is done to solve the problem.
To begin with, the security offices have nowhere to start from because there are no CCTVs in place to help and identify the criminals behind these acts for purposes of prosecuting them or aiding police to search for fugitive culprits. Thus, reports by students of theft of their property on campus and other petty crimes can hardly be investigated and appropriate remedial action taken. Out of frustration with the system, students themselves now take to criminal behavior – especially mob justice with its inherent dangers – when they apprehend suspects.
Such an incident happened in 2015 with a tragic outcome. I April that year, David Ojok, a student of the university, was clobbered to death outside the entrance of Nkrumah Hall by a mob of suspected students who thought he was a thief. As it turned out, Ojok was an innocent victim who had come to collect his debt from one of the Nkrumah residents.
Two months ago, the late Ojok’s family sued Makerere claiming UGX 2.5Bn for his death which they say was caused by the university’s negligence. The university’s statement of defence simply and plainly denied ALL the allegations of negligence therein as “untrue”. To the outside world, the civil suit filed against Makerere by Ojok’s family is a shocking revelation of the negligence with which Makerere continues to handle its affairs. To the students who study or studied from there, the narrative is neither new nor shocking
Whereas the suit has not been concluded by Court yet, the family has raised very serious allegations the university cannot just coldly brush off by bare denials of any liability whatsoever and promises to put the Ojok family “to strict proof” when the case hearing kicks off.
However, any student at Nkrumah can attest to many of the allegations leveled by the family: the lack of adequate and well equipped security guards, lack of an electronically controlled access system, lack of visitors’ identification tags, absence of enough lights, lack of CCTVs, etc.
No rapid response services or emergency reception centre on campus. God forbid but if a major catastrophe were to befall Makerere, the university simply doesn’t have the capacity to save its students’ lives by responding swiftly, adequately, and effectively. Don’t even think about the university hospital because it is not only understaffed but also its facilities are plainly inadequate. Even if it could handle the numbers, there is no university ambulance service to rush them there. For example, if a multi-storied lecture room building caved in, Makerere doesn’t have a single emergency response centre on campus that would give the victims first aid before evacuating them to major hospitals for comprehensive treatment.
No standby generators or solar systems. One time we were in class at law school and electricity went off. Our lecturer rushed to a nearby research institute and requested to use its generator. He even offered to buy the fuel. The institute refused to let us use its generator because its director “who is supposed to give you permission is out of the country”.
At midnight as I type this, it is pitch black in our rooms at Nkrumah Hall since the transformer which serves our hall blew up in the morning. But most specifically, because Nkrumah, just like many other halls of residence and critical buildings like lecture rooms, has no standby generator or a solar lighting system. If we take a week without electricity at hall – and it has happened before – that means one week without revision, or perhaps even one week without having evening lectures. Remember that using candles is prohibited – for obvious reasons.
But even if they were allowed, should students be left to arrange alternative lighting in their rooms in case of a power black out? Has the university considered the potential risks that this poses to the entire resident-student-population?
To put it succinctly, this situation presents a grave risk to the lives of the hundreds of students in the hall and their property, liability for which would fall squarely upon Makerere’s shoulders. Supposing a student despite the prohibition lit up a candle in their room for light, dozed off, the candle fell and set the whole building aflame, God forbid? The university would come up and promise to “put to strict proof” whoever dared to place the blame on its shoulders for negligence as it did with the Ojok case, right? Or perhaps it would plead contributory negligence? And not just that, what if in this darkness an emergency necessitating the evacuation of all residents happened ? Or perhaps I am being too speculative?
Water heaters: When I joined Makerere in 2013, halls had water heaters in their shower-rooms. However, I was told when I asked around that these heaters were later disabled because they, ostensibly, consume a lot of electricity. But why didn’t Makerere take the less drastic measure of installing solar water heaters instead of disabling them altogether? One could claim showering hot water is a luxury, but is it really? For Africa’s 5th best university? Remember students are not allowed to cook in their rooms. What happens if a student falls sick or maybe sustains injuries which he must press with hot water to avoid infections? Has anyone ever had to shower cold water on a rainy morning? Wouldn’t you rather have a hot bath? Even if you wouldn’t, others probably would, and that has to be respected.
Makerere is very quick and unforgiving in enforcing its tuition policy on students, but it clearly takes for granted their safety and security on its premises. If this is not negligence, I don’t know what it is.
Thus when it comes to safety of students, Makerere has failed to do the bare minimum. The bare minimum is not putting a guard at all points of entry, but is ensuring that guard is well trained, well equipped and well supervised. The bare minimum is not in putting up a gate,but ensuring that gate is doing what it was erected for: keeping away unwelcome characters from accessing the premises. The bare minimum is not having a generator, but ensuring that the generator is functional. The bare minimum is not installing panic buttons in all rooms, but ensuring that they are functional. I could go on and on.
There is simply no justification for Makerere’s negligent approach towards ensuring the safety of its students while on campus.
2. Communication issues:
Limited internet coverage, exacerbated by con. For all the years I have been at Makerere, we have never had stable Internet connectivity be it at halls of residence or in our lecture rooms. Even during the rare periods of stability, the speed is infuriatingly frustrating. And this can’t be blamed on students downloading heavy files such as movies because these downloads are automatically blocked by the servers. In some locations which have access to MAK AIR, a Google page to do some academic research can take five minutes loading. Now imagine how long it can take if you are opening an online PDF file. Why won’t Makerere ensure that the speeds are reasonable?
To make matters worse, semi-reliable public Internet for the students can only be accessed in a few locations such as some parts of halls of residence. Even though boosters are put at these halls, the signal is too weak to reach all rooms. So it is only rooms adjacent to the boosters that receive internet. Some of the other prime locations for accessing internet include parts of FEMA, parts of CIT, parts of CEDAT and parts of CAES yet even then, this internet tends to be slow, or it has passwords, or it is off on some days.
Before its construction, it was touted that the WiFi tower would speed up the network once completed and also boost the MAK AIR network to cover all parts of the university but alas, this is hasn’t happened even after its completion!
3. Academic issues:
Students’ appeals against results for re-marking are rarely addressed. In my first year, I formally lodged with law school a request to have one of my papers remarked. I am now in fourth year but that request has neither been considered nor have I received any kind of response from law school. This, despite the fact that the current university policy which I found in place requires that my request for a remark must be handled within one month. I am told that only final year students get their appeals considered, but even then, that is discriminatory.
Omollo Juma, a friend of mine and a classmate, was scrapped off the list of contestants for the 2016/2017 guild elections just because his appeal for a remark had never been considered. Never mind that it was now three months since he filed it, although this clearly wasn’t his fault but a negligent omission by the relevant law school authorities. You could have thought that when he sued the university they would wake up, but did they? Nope. For poor Omollo, the university’s omissions not only robbed him of an opportunity to contest for political office, but also snatched from him the chance to achieve his childhood dream.
No supplementary exams. Currently at Makerere, a student who fails a paper in his final year must sit out for the next one year and seven months before they can finally graduate – if they pass the retake, that is. For example, the last semester in an academic year ends in May. If I am a finalist in 2016, my final semester ends in May 2016, and my graduation is supposed to be in January 2017. But if in 2016 I fail even one paper, the earliest time I will graduate is January 2018. If this is not unfair, I don’t know what is.
There has been talk that the university is in the process of enacting a policy to provide for supplementary exams – whereby a finalist is given a chance to repeat a failed paper within weeks after their final semester so that they can graduate on time – but this policy is yet to see the light of day.
It appears that for the university, aiding students to graduate on time is not a priority. After all, the more time they spend at university, the more money the university makes.
In conclusion, when compared to the lackadaisical way with which it continues to handle its obligations and conduct affairs on its premises, Makerere’s impressive rankings in the academic world pale in significance.
N.B. The challenges I have cited here are only a tip of the iceberg. Although all is not lost, we can no longer afford to keep quiet about what is wrong with Makerere.
“We Build for the Future”