Last week, academic staff at Makerere University found themselves in a dilemma. Initially, some elected to go with the decision of the Makerere University Academic Staff Association (Muasa) management, calling for a strike over unpaid allowances.
They initially insisted that they would only teach from 8am to 5pm on weekdays, since they had not been paid an allowance for conducting evening and weekend classes for six months. The money is said to be worth about Shs 15bn.
Before the decision was reached, the Muasa management had met with the university administration over the matter. In reply, the vice chancellor, Prof John Ddumba-Ssentamu, called for time.
“Currently the university has no money. We are waiting for government to help us. We can’t have money and refuse to pay,” Prof Ddumba-Ssentamu pleaded. “Even the number of students on evening programme has reduced.”
Prof Ddumba-Ssentamu added that lecturers ought to be patient since they had just received a salary enhancement. But the Muasa chairman, Dr Muhammad Kiggundu, was uncompromising.
“We are not here to offer our services for free,” Dr Kiggundu told a press conference, hurriedly convened at the university guesthouse, hours later.
Some of the colleges ignored the strike and continued teaching while others observed the industrial action. Several discussions later, Dr Kiggundu called another press conference on Thursday to deliver a new ultimatum.
“Muasa are ready to resume full services to their students but on condition that between now and October 21, 2016, all negotiations to restore incentives to a level acceptable to academic staff should have ended and all reports promised submitted and discussed,” he said.
However, there was a clincher in the agreement. According to Muasa spokesperson, Dr Deus Kamunyu, there was also a demand that their incentive arrears must be paid before the end of this month, before their incentives are restored to 100 per cent. Those allowances were recently reduced to 75 per cent, by the university council on the grounds that the institution was in a financial crisis.
Dr Kiggundu then added: “Staff this month have resolved that if issues regarding their incentives are not dealt with within this time frame, come October 21, 2016, all services to students will be put to a halt”.
Since his appointment two and a half years ago, Kiggundu has been hard to figure out. Although he lacks the charisma of his predecessor, Dr Fred Tanga Odoi, who could turn a fairly civil situation into a crisis, on the fly, Dr Kiggundu is reputed to be more stubborn.
He seems to prefer to act rather than talk loudly. Consequently, the university has had to deal with four staff strikes, this year alone. Dr Tanga Odoi averaged two a year in his time.
Previous firebrand Muasa chairmen have often seen their time at Makerere shortened with positions elsewhere. Before Tanga Odoi, Dr Augustus Niwagaba and Dr Abel Rwendeire were lured out of Makerere.
Rwendeire even scooped a ministerial position, while Niwagaba has won several lucrative international consultancies, if only to stop him returning to Makerere to rouse the rubble. Only time will tell, if the language expert in Dr Kiggundu will follow suit.