The events at the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) are of great concern to me as an alumnus of the great university. I confess to being possessed of limitless pride in Makerere, both because I am a lucky beneficiary of that university and the memory of people who have come before us.
My generation holds in high regard names like Prof. Ali A. Mazrui, Prof. Yash Tandon, Prof. Gingyera-Pincwa, Prof. Samwiri Karugire, Prof. Benon Turyagyenda Rugyema and Prof. Dan Muguwa Mudoola, a few of the people who kept MISR going even in the most difficult environments. Of these, only Yash Tandon is still alive.
In my youth, the East African Institute of Social Research (EAISR), which became MISR in 1970, was a highly regarded centre of excellence, as was everything else at Makerere University. Its recovery from the near-death experience of Uganda’s lost decades has been a source of joy for me. Anything that sullies the reputation of MISR causes great discomfort.
That is why I am very delighted and encouraged by the appointment of Professor David Justin Bakibinga to head the committee that will probe the circumstances that have led to the crisis at MISR. We can sleep better tonight.
Dr. Bakibinga is a very fine and very fair gentleman. Makerereans and Ugandans can be very confident that he will insist on the facts and the truth. Both Professor Mahmood Mamdani and Dr. Stella Nyanzi can breathe easy and cooperate fully with the Bakibinga Committee knowing that its chairperson will be just and genuinely impartial.
Without any prejudice, I can state with confidence that the members of the public who have taken sides in this conflict have done so without the benefit of the facts. We are not privy to the source of the disagreement between Mamdani and Nyanzi. We have had only bits of both individuals’ cases, given in a state of deep anger and frustration. To pass judgment without the benefit of full information is to do an injustice to our brother and sister, to MISR and Makerere University and to the truth.
Now that the conflict has come into the public square, Ugandans will probably be entitled to know the details of the Bakibinga Report. I urge all of us to withhold judgment until we have heard from Bakibinga.
For what it is worth, my advice to Prof. Ddumba-Sentamu, the Vice Chancellor of Makerere University; Prof. Mamdani, the Executive Director of MISR and Dr. Nyanzi, Research Fellow at MISR, is to ceasefire, completely stay clear of the news media and internet, and deal with the problem through the appropriate channels and forums of Makerere University.
I realize that there is anger on both sides. I know that a lot has been said and done in public that has made the combustible situation appear to have passed the point of no return. The urge to be heard and to counter the statements made against one is a very strong one. However, there is great value in remaining silent even in the face of extreme public assault on one’s reputation.
Whereas neither Mamdani nor Nyanzi will come out of this unscathed, it is possible to find a resolution to this conflict without destroying the persons and careers of the people involved. My personal wish is to see MISR survive and prosper (as it must!) with both Mamdani and Nyanzi standing side by side as colleagues who have reconciled and grown as a result of this hiccup. Makerere needs both of them. But if they must part, let it be with minimum damage to our university.
I am not so naïve as to think that the matter at MISR is a simple one. I have witnessed too many worse conflicts in various centres I have worked to think that the Mamdani-Nyanzi matter can be simply wished away or solved with a magic wand. However, where there has been a deliberate effort to find a solution that would leave the organization intact, the matter has been resolved without destroying people’s lives and careers.
I have seen this happen before. In one university department where I was on staff, a senior physician and my division head were literally at each other’s throats. The matter ended up in court. The tension in the Division was thick and dark.
In the end the matter was not resolved by the judiciary, but by a small group of us who arranged conversations with the two gentlemen, in an atmosphere that sought to build them, not to destroy either one. The Division survived the crisis and prospered. Both individuals stayed.
The leaders of Makerere University must rise to the occasion and find a solution to the crisis at MISR that will heal the rift and move the university forward. Yes, I know that Makerere of today is very different from the one I joined as a freshman 44 years ago. The challenges of Uganda are manifest in the place I called home for five years.
However, the crisis at MISR should not be allowed to bury the great work that is being done by truly illustrious men and women in the university’s various schools. For example, even as the journalists have been bringing us news from MISR, a very successful conference on adolescent health has been taking place under the leadership of Dr. Sabrina Kitaka and her colleagues.
I am already preparing to celebrate the Makerere Centenary in 2022 with pride and optimism that the great university will reclaim its premier place in the international academic community. The events at MISR must not be allowed to interfere with Makerere’s happy destiny.