Disgusted maid wants Makerere sold off [Daily Monitor, The (Uganda)]
(Daily Monitor, The (Uganda) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Last Saturday I had completely forgotten about the International Athletics Championships that were taking place in Moscow and was enjoying a nap when screams in the living room woke me up. Alarmed, I jumped up and ran to go find out what was happening. I didn't need to be told. The maids were jumping up and down clapping and ululating. There on the screen, Stephen Kiprotich was completing his race with a comfortable commanding lead.
The boy from Kapchorwa had done it again. I joined in and we celebrated a bit until they showed the rankings as of that day and there, unbelievably, Uganda was ranking Number 11. It was the minister's maid who drew our attention to it. Italy was lower down somewhere at Number 25 that day. Everybody kept quiet for a while as the enormity of the significance of Kiprotich's win sank in. It was the minister's maid who broke the silence with a question.
"So that single individual can raise the ranking of our country so high?""Gold is gold," was all I could say in response."So how much did the government invest in his training to earn us such great recognition?""But he was handsomely rewarded last year for his Olympics win," I answered in defence of our government."I am asking what investment was made to turn him into an Olympic champion," the girl said firmly."None, but it is his duty to represent his country to the best of his ability," I fought back.She turned and went to pour herself some tea. As she stirred her tea, she asked almost too casually for me to detect any trap,"Do people sponsored for advanced studies by the government have a duty to serve their country when they qualify?"
"I suppose they do," I answered cautiously."I see," she answered, as if she had lost interest, but then she went on. "But most of them don't, and end up going abroad and staying there." I refused to respond to her observation, after all, it was not a question. But she was not giving up. "Are the majority of students at Makerere University sponsored by the government or do they pay for themselves?" Now this was a question and it would be rude to ignore her so I answered, "Majority are self sponsored."
"So why are the minority sponsored by the government?""Because they qualify with high passes to enter the university.""I asked why they are sponsored, not how they are selected," she said with extra care to sound very polite."You better ask your boss, he is the one in government and certainly knows better then I do," I said, losing patience.
Either she did not feel my impatience or she pretended not to and simply went on, "Because it would help me understand why those lecturers are striking over pay rise. If majority of the students are privately sponsored, why should the government pay the salaries of the lecturers? What would Uganda lose if the government stopped sponsoring anybody and paying any salaries at Makerere? If some applicants are so clever, then someone who anticipates getting value from their cleverness should be able to sponsor them, same way various individuals helped Kirpotich to conquer because they saw potential in him.
Even government can sponsor some individual it has interest in at Makerere, just like it pays for people through the State House Scholarship scheme. And those on the State House scheme are more in number that the government sponsored students at Makerere. So why should the taxpayer pay lecturers? Does government pay lecturers' salaries in all universities where it sponsors students?"
I had wanted to avoid this conversation about university funding with an O'level drop out but I found myself listening. It seemed she could think more deeply than some of the people at Makerere. Whether she was right or wrong was another matter.
She went on: "Government sold off almost everything which was draining the treasury and when the private business people took over, the loss making bodies became more efficient. Why wasn't the same done for Makerere?" I wasn't going to let her go on like this so I reminded her that the university was of strategic and fundamental importance. But she quipped back,
"And telecommunication is not as important? How come the private phone companies are serving more people better than your old Uganda Telephone Corporation or whatever you called it? And wasn't the transport sector of strategic importance? How come government got out provision of all forms of transport be it is on the ground, on water and in the air? Aren't airlines moving a million people through Entebbe per year when Uganda Airlines could barely move 10,000 in 12 months?" I wanted to tell her that running Makerere was a matter of social service provision but I feared she would cite the private universities, some of them doing a better job than Makerere. So I excused myself and left them to continue celebrating Kiprotich's victory.
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