But we have failed, or deliberately refused, to use our knowledge to solve our problems. Ultimately, we have allowed mediocrity to flourish. Makerere University is in the process of searching for a substantive vice chancellor, with Professor Venansius Baryamureeba’s tenure having ended. Here is what the university should focus on: Some Makerere University lecturers (certainly not all of them) solicit money from students in exchange for marks, just as some students solicit marks from lecturers in exchange for money.
Some staff in the senate, who enter students’ marks also solicit money from students in exchange for better grades, just as some students solicit better grades in exchange for money. I am at pains to reveal this grim reality, as many people are aware, but have not had the wherewithal to have this information published. But like Norbert Mao says, “you cannot treat a cancer with Vaseline”: we cannot solve problems without tackling their root causes.
I reveal this not because I hate Makerere University, which is my alma mater, but because I love the institution dearly and I fell in love with its motto “We build for the future” when I joined it. The press has reported about cases of sex in exchange for marks in the same institution before and these reports cannot just be dismissed.
While appearing on a UBC TV show on March 6, 2008, I stated that because the job market favours the mediocre, the philosopher kings, if I can borrow from Plato, were busy working as coursework mercenaries, running coursework bureaus in Wandegeya and around Kikoni and Nakulabye, and I was vindicated a few weeks ago when Sunday Vision ran a comprehensive feature on coursework mercenaries.
This is happening, not because the ‘academic giants’, as Dr Simba Kayunga used to call them, have no integrity, but because for them to survive in Kampala where virtually only the dirty thrive, they have to break some moral rules and trash their values. Corruption begets corruption and if one cheats in the exams, or hires mercenaries to do coursework for them, they ‘earn’ a certificate not a degree. I should add that those who buy marks usually pose around with Makerere University papers but they do not have degrees.
A degree is intrinsic. It is not just a transcript or a certificate. And alas, this problem is not confined to Makerere University. During our school days, some students in relatively good schools also used to access UNEB exam papers beforehand, which they used to call it akasasi in Runyankore-Rukiga parlance.
If a Law student cheats exams to be admitted to the Law programme, buys marks at LDC and he or she ends up enrolling as an advocate, what sort of advocate will he/she be? What will stop such a person from being compromised with bribes? If such a person is ultimately appointed as a magistrate or judge, what sort of justice will they dispense since from their formative stages, they will have been corrupted? Those retained as teaching assistants are selected basing on their Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA). Now, if one coughs money to get good grades, what sort of lecturers are we getting for our children?
If Makerere, which churns out professionals of all kinds, is promoting mediocrity, why should we be surprised that we have mediocre lawyers, teachers, physicians, pastors, and politicians? Why should we be surprised to find journalists who practise yellow journalism and do public relations instead of sticking to principles of accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, balance and attention to detail?Of course, what happens at Makerere is replicated in other institutions. If anything, in other universities it could even be worse. I remember in one of the ACODE breakfast meetings, economist Bernard Tayebwa stated that Ugandans survive through kuyiiya (cutting corners). This explains the dubious deals many Ugandans engage in. It is absurd that today, people with integrity are shunned and labelled failures while the crooks are glorified. Makerere can only build for the future by embracing integrity and leading by example.
The author is a human rights defender.