Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Makerere Institute of Social Research
Student evaluation of the MPhil/PhD interdisciplinary program
April 2017

  1. Courses:
Please describe the usefulness and meaningfulness of the courses that
are currently offered at MISR, evaluating:

  1. How meaningful you think they are in developing your theoretical engagement with the debates;

Answer: I must be very frank, while I appreciate the courses I have so far covered viz: SSR 7101 Major Debates in the study of Africa, SSR 7102 Pre-modern Social and Political Thought and SSR 7103 The History of Economic Theory, I do not think I have benefited a lot in terms of the grasp of issues and the debates.

I also have found some thinkers very contradictory which to me is alright. People are not supposed to think the same way. What I have found disturbing though is that some of the instructors want to push their views and ideas onto us. I think this is not only unethical but also unacceptable and defeats the whole purpose of scholarship.

What I expected is that I should be exposed to different schools of thought and paradigms with the purpose of taking my own stand without the fear of being in any way penalized. My considered view is that I have not performed well in the two courses (SSR 7102 and SSR 7103) in the responses and I do not expect to perform better) simply because I am nonconformist. I am convinced that we have an ideological conflict with one of the instructors if not with both.

I am socialist and believe in equality and social justice which I know can be attained by adhering to the Golden Rule (Luke 4:31) that is strongly enunciated in Thomas Hobbes Philosophy (the Leviathan) which states “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. I refrain from harming anybody and other people. I fight fiercely and ruthlessly when anybody harms or attempts to harm me.

Prof. Mahmood Mamdani knows very well that I sent him what I called my statement of purpose telling him, I join the programme with solutions not problems. I am solution-oriented not problem-oriented. We have problematised for so long to the extent that we (scholars) are beginning to portray ourselves as utterly irrelevant and a liability to society.

I am an admirer of Julius Nyerere’s school of thought. Education should prepare us to serve society better not to confuse society. I have for all my life benefited from the Ugandan society having been brought up collectively by the people of Bitereko and Kanyabwanga. Different people paid my school fees and I joined Makerere as a state-sponsored student. My tuition and living expenses were met by Ugandan taxpayers’ money. I have a duty to account to my sponsors.
This PhD programme I am pursuing is sponsored by donors whose stated mission is to build capacity for people (scholars) from third world countries or LDCs to enable them think critically and provide solutions to the problems afflicting their societies.

And yes, a de-colonised education system is the one that enables post-colonial state thinkers to get out of the malaise into which their societies are entrapped. I am first and foremost a member of the global human family; secondly, I am a Christian; thirdly I am an African, fourthly, I am a Mukiga. Being a Ugandan is neither here nor there. After all Uganda as a project and concept is a colonial creation. As a member of the global human family, I take every other person to be either my brother or my sister – not uncle or aunt. This denotes equality. I have been shaped by the trade union movement and the Pan African movement. Both movements are leftist. In the trade union movement, we address each other as Brothers and Sisters. The idea is to create a sense of equality.

In the Pan African Movement we address each other as comrades. Still the idea is to create a sense of equality. That I am an ardent promoter of equality does not mean I do not appreciate that we are different. That is why I embrace the Platonic concept of justice. And yes, my firm belief is that we must be led by philosopher kings for they are sharp thinkers and are well-endowed with virtue.

If one doesn’t understand Plato very well they might think all highly educated people such as professors are philosophers. Professors who brazenly do wrong things do not qualify to be called philosophers or philosopher kings/queens. It means either they do not know that what they have done is wrong in which case their intellect is in dispute or they deliberately know that things are wrong and continue to do them which means impunity. Anybody who presides over the dehumanization of another; anybody who condones the abuse of another’s rights cannot be called a philosopher king. It also means the education they got did not liberate them. Such people would need to be liberated.

As a Christian, I am bound by the Golden Rule in Luke 6:31 which goes: DO TO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD WANT THEM DO TO YOU. I want to be loved, so I give love to others. I want respect from others, so I must respect everybody. I want to be treated humanely so I must be humane. I love Prophet Amos' exhortation, Amos 5:24, "Let justice flow like a river and righteousness like a stream that never runs dry"

As an African and a     Mukiga, I am bound by the values of Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a derivative of Rukiga word Obuntu which means being humane. Among the Bakiga, we say “Wagira Obuntu, nibukuha abantu, abantu bakuha ebintu”. To me a decolonized PhD should focus so much on the Ubuntu philosophy. It should teach us how to marry theory with practice.

Our Political Though instructor told as in the very first lecture that philosophy is about praxis. She called it doing the works. On a serious note, she is a very brilliant woman. Anybody who has read the letter of St. James agrees that faith and talking without actions is dead.

The question I want to ask: with all intellectuals in the world, have we failed to diagnose our problem as Africans and as humanity? I read all the Hare series in our home library. I remember in the world of Mr. Hare it is written in black and White that any problem once it has been diagnosed has a solution.

Seriously, I don’t want to concentrate on problems – that is why my work methods are unconventional because the conventional ones have failed miserably. And in any case, is there a one size fits all methodology in academia? Why should we hold same views or articulate them in a similar manner?

If God wanted us to be the same in all we do, he could have created all of looking the same such that even a mother wouldn’t distinguish her children. By the mere fact that we don’t have the same facial appearance, we are meant to be different in all aspects. What we need to do is to tolerate each other’s differences but strongly emphasize the ground rules and those ground rules must be underpinned by virtue. And to me virtue is nothing other than the GOLDEN RULE. I sharply disagree with my own mother on many issues. But she understands me and I understand her. She will never harm anybody, I will never harm anybody.

  1. Their relevance in light of you research and scholarly development/interests;

Answer: I am yet to know the relevance of the courses I have done in light of my research and scholarly interest. While I appreciate that the courses I am doing are handy in light of my scholarly interests, I have been challenged openly in class by my two instructors as to why I am doing a PhD. I was told on Easter Monday by my instructor that a PhD is for people who want to do only academic work. I totally disagree. Most of the public intellectuals are not academicians but also academic work cannot be confined to the Ivory Tower.

I am a trained researcher and I have all my post-university days done research – academic and non-academic. I have done academic research under the mentorship of Prof. John-Jean Barya and I have done non-academic research with human rights organisations. I also do personal research and publish either on my blog or with print and electronic media houses.

Each time I have been challenged as to why I am doing a PhD I have said, I need to raise my profile, amplify my voice so that I can be a better voice of the voiceless. To be a voice for the voiceless you need a voice – a loud and clear one at that. Accordingly, I need a research advisor to help me tailor what I am studying to suit my research interests. My major research interest is justice which encompasses equality and non-discrimination and respect for the inherent dignity and worth of the human person.

  1. Their strengths and any perceived weaknesses;

Answer: I think their strength is that they expose us to various paradigms and theories. This means if well grasped we shall be strongly theoretically grounded. The main weakness is that we are given too much to cover in too little time. Prof. Mamdani told us that we should read for fourteen hours a day if we are to grasp the issues and do the responses and semester papers. I contend, it is practically impossible and ill-advised. If you read for only eight hours every day (I say eight because the working day comprises of only eight hours) most likely you will have a mental breakdown or a physical breakdown or both.

Both the body and the mind require adequate time to relax. As for me, I must say, it is impossible to over read. If I read for all those hours, when will I write and when will I think? When will I relax my mind to generate fresh thoughts? This is a very big weakness. Nobody grasps the message in those readings fully besides academic publications are the most difficult and most boring publications. They have caused me serious headache. It has been like a punishment to read some of the publications.

  1. Their theoretical and methodological soundness.

Answer: The authors whose works I have read give their original thoughts. Some of those theories and methodologies are sound, others not so sound while others are outright outrageous. Again that does not surprise me. Human beings are not equally sharp, equally intelligent and are not uniform. Human beings are equal but not similar. They should be united but not uniform. On a serious note, I have found politicians and political activists more relevant than academic/scholarly theorists.

  1. Subject clusters:
Four clusters are currently offered for student majors and minors (Political Studies, Cultural/Literary Studies, Political Economy, Historical Studies):

  1. Are they reflective of the range of scholarly and intellectual inquiries in the humanities in general?

Answer: Yes, the clusters are reflective of the range of scholarly and intellectual inquiries in humanities but they are insufficient. My honest view is that the PhD was not well-crafted. It is not a fully-fledged PhD in social sciences (which some prefer to call social studies). I would expect the programme to have options of sociological studies, psychology and legal studies. A PhD in sociology or Psychology would be more relevant to me than a PhD in political science which is what I am doing given that my major is political studies while my minor is political economy.

  1. How satisfactorily do you think they incorporate and engage with the range of existing and new debates in the field(s)?
Answer: I think we need to be given what the new debates are. But as for decolonizing the university education, I am convinced that this programme is not satisfactory. Why don’t we have the Ubuntu studies for instance? Why is there no focus on African morality and African knowledge? We have bone-setters and herbalists for instance, why are they taken not to be educated yet we know education starts from the cradle to the grave? But also, aren’t the so-called uneducated people more relevant to society than those with western education? Am I in any better than a bee keeper or maize producer if I don’t condemn the brazen injustices in our societies?

  1. Are there suggestions you can make towards reformulation of the existing subject clusters that would benefit the MPhil/PhD program? Answer: integrate sociology, psychology and ubuntu studies into the programme. But also provide us with advisors to work with us throughout the five years. The MISR PhD programme does not have advisors.

  1. Can you comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the existing subject clusters?
Answer: I can only give an informed comment after I have covered all the subject clusters. But my earlier disenchantment with the failure to teach sociology, psychology and legal studies can partly answer this question.

  1. Teaching:
How would you evaluate the mode of delivery of the different courses on offer:

  1. How effective do you think the teaching tools and methods currently being used are with regards to imparting knowledge?

Answer: The teaching tools are effective to some extent but not so effective. My experience is that the university instructors should not confine themselves to imparting knowledge (most times their biased views). There must be interactive sessions. The role of an intellectual is to generate knowledge, synthesise knowledge and disseminate knowledge. Accordingly, we should be doing community outreach. The undergraduate school of law students are better than us in this area because under the stewardship of Dr. Christopher Mbazira they do community outreach, they visit slums and do work for the communities. If someone asked: How relevant is the MISR PhD to the Ugandan communities? I would not have an answer. I beg that you help me answer that question. I deal with professors most of the times.

Professors are ordinarily humble people who give a chance to everyone to express his/her thoughts. It is from that humility that professors learn from the very ordinary and sometimes subalterns or what may be called “lumpens”, or “The wretched of the earth” according to Fanon. Such people, John Naggenda christened them “The unwashed of society”. Ironically, our instructors hardly listen to our views. I learnt very long time I think when I was in Primary three that a University is a place of liberty, a place of light and a place of learning. I later found out that this definition is attributed to Benjamin Disraeli. I think the environment should not be tortuous, we should freely express ourselves without fear of reprisals in any form; we should be the light to society by working for them and we should continuously learn from each other. Knowledge is not an exclusive preserve of professors. Even some of us know some things.

  1. Can you comment on the time allocation per week for each course?
Answer: The time allocation is perfect. It is standard as far as I know. The problem is that what we are given to read and respond to is too much for a normal human being to handle.

  1. What is your view on the student-teacher ratio, and how do you think this ration impacts on the learning process?
Answer: The student-teacher ratio is good enough. But practically because of the amount of readings, we have no time to consult with our teachers. But also MISR should give teachers five or ten years’ contracts. We need teachers with whom we shall work until we finish.

  1. Please describe your experience as a student with specific reference to the classroom learning experience.

Answer: The content covered in three hours is too much to grasp. In fact, teachers should share with us their power-point presentations if we are to remember any of what they have taught us. Frankly, I have not gained from the classroom learning experience as it is currently structured. That is not to say it is useless.

In fact it is very useful and very much needed. But more time should be put in interactive discussions than what other people say. In comparison to my undergraduate experience, this is the worst. The undergraduate experience allowed us more time to critique and debate and raise our personal opinions. This one is based on readings some of whose standpoints are not clear.

  1. How would you rate the learning environment and facilities available at MISR, including library, technology, classrooms, reading facilities, recreation, etc.?
Answer: The facilities are inadequate. Up to now we have no computers yet of the four computers in the library only one or two is okay. The four not so good computers serve all the users and subscribers of the MISR library who include students across all disciplines and members of the public. The wireless at MISR is erratic and unreliable. Whenever I am to access internet I have to go to Dag even in the middle of the night. This means my security is at stake. We have no laptops – we have to call friends if we have any work to do. The classroom hours are overstretched since the amount of work to cover is too much. We have no time to even learn from each other as students.

In Makerere students are represented on academic boards to raise the concerns of the students. This is what was called the Students’ Union for which Charles Prempeh was a President. Here at MISR I am told students are not allowed any more to be represented on the board. Personally, I was a student representative on the faculty board of social sciences. I was an equivalent of the former MISR student union president in the Social Sciences Faculty during the tenure of Prof. Edward Kirumira as Dean while Dr. Simba Salie was chairman staff-students’ liason committee. As a board member I would attend all the meetings of the staff-students’ liaison committee chaired by Dr Simba. Before I was on the board, students could not use the computer lab. People would pay to access the lab yet students would suffer as they wouldn’t search material on the internet or even own an e-mail. I raised the matter and the chairman told me the problem is that students want to use the lab to read pornography and soccer. I told the board that abuse and misuse don’t disqualify use. I added, “that some people would use computers to read soccer and whatever you say does not mean that others will use it to do academic work.” Since that day, it was unanimously agreed that students use the lab. Many students opened emails, learnt how to type and so forth. I remember me myself taking Bruce Balaba the current University Appointments Board chair to teach him how to use a computer.

Again, one day students woke up in a fighting mood. They were to fight over faculty allowance which they believed they were entitled to. Because I was on the board, I stopped that looming strike. I told them that faculty allowance was abolished in 1990/91 and that two students were shot dead in front of the Social Sciences Faculty.

We did so many other things such as organizing symposia and later the idea of exhibitions was my brainwork. Accordingly, students’ representation on the MISR Board is very crucial. It helps both the students and the administration. In Kigezi and Ankole we say, the fate that will kill a dog begins by blocking its nostrils. The administration must listen to the students and the other way round. I studied conflict management and peace keeping under diplomacy and IR and I still want to apply it. The question here is: Why are students not represented on key decision making bodies. We used to say that there can be nothing for us without us.

  1. Research:
Development of strong research perspectives and capabilities is a core component of the MPhil/PhD program:

  1. What is your experience of the different research groups and their value in developing your research perspective?
Answer: I do not have any experience of the obtaining different research groups because I have worked with none. Nevertheless I have expressed interest to work on the Higher Education project. My primary interest was my passion for positive rights of which education is later I learnt that we shall be focusing on decolonization of the university. I find this a very interesting area and I beg to be helped by whoever is the project coordinator.

  1. For students in Year 3 – how would you rate the contribution of the Research Colloquium towards the development of your research project?

  1. For students in Year 5 – how would you rate the contribution of the Dissertation Colloquium towards your final year of study?

  1. What is your view of the research outputs at MISR, including: publications, research seminars, workshops, and policy forums?

Answer: They are good but MISR needs to focus more on the pressing issues. Not much attention has been put on human rights, justice, decolonization of education, ubuntu and Pan Africanism for instance.

  1. Describe your fieldwork experience and level of support for research.
Answer: This is not applicable to me who is still in first year I would imagine.

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