- Scholars in the Marketplace: The Dilemmas of Neo-Liberal Reform at Makerere University, 1989-2005
In 1999 a World Bank report lauded reforms at Makerere University as a "quiet revolution." Mahmood Mamdani disagrees. After analyzing internal documents and interviewing staff, he condemns Makerere's embrace of a crudely defined "market" as mere "commercialization" encouraged by a government eager to abandon its own responsibility for public higher education. "Vocational" programs proliferate for which Makerere lacks both space and qualified staff. Mamdani calls for a genuine revolution: shifting "vocational" courses to community colleges and making Makerere a research university serving national needs. While peculiar to Makerere in its details, this study may provide insights to managers and staff in other African universities.
Mamdani convicts Makerere's leaders of destroying the devotion to academic excellence that survived tyrannies and wars in the 1970s and 1980s by capitulating to the World Bank in the 1990s. He is uniquely qualified for his task: at once an insider (a former staff member) and an outsider (a professor at Columbia University). Working with Makerere colleagues who had access to vast quantities of data unavailable to outsiders, he remained free of the allegiances that have tainted recent reports for the Bank and American foundations. Perhaps to spare his associates from harm, he touches only lightly on the corruption that bedevils Makerere, including ethnic cliques.
Successive Makerere administrations have squandered the intellectual resources of full-time staff, who are now greatly outnumbered by part-timers. The decentralization championed by the World Bank and its Ugandan clients fosters ferocious competition for students and resources. Improvisation, cynically celebrated as "innovation," is the order of the day. Programs of study drawing on several disciplines are slapped together and taught by cheap part-time staff, many of whom fail to meet stated criteria for employment. In the process, the very concept of disciplines has been eroded to the point of extinction in all except science-based faculties. Dangling the lure of money, the more aggressive faculties "poach" staff from rivals, fighting "turf wars" that Mamdani documents in hideous detail. Secretarial Studies, Tourism, Environmental Management—what are these courses doing in the Faculty of Arts? Weakened by the powerfully centrifugal tendencies of decentralization, Makerere lurches almost leaderless from crisis to crisis.
In December 2006 prepublication excerpts of the book in a Kampala newspaper caused a storm. The Makerere administration accused Mamdani of selective use of data, but the leader of the staff union conceded that his main charges were correct and blamed the chaos on "poor remuneration." [End Page 215] As if to confirm Mamdani's analysis, a strike that caused Makerere to close for several months began shortly before the book's launch. Other strikes have followed. Recently the staff association demanded that certain top administrators resign—as recommended in February 2007 by a visitation committee chaired by another outsider, Gordon McGregor.
This book was first published in 2007 in Uganda by Fountain Press. For CODESRIA the text has been reset and better proofread, and the index greatly improved. In addition, Mamdani has revised the final chapter, eliminating a technical discussion of cost analysis and writing new sections. Of the new material, the most important is a damning account of the World Bank's "Assault on the Developmentalist University." If Bank policies prevail, Mamdani argues, African universities will cease to produce knowledge and become little "more than. . . glorified secondary school[s]." A. B. K. Kasozi came to similar conclusions in a wider-ranging study, University Education in Uganda (Fountain, 2003), which offers a detailed blueprint for radical reform. The McGregor visitation committee allegedly agreed with Mamdani's and Kasozi's critiques, but its report has never been released. In addition, yet another committee has exposed gross mismanagement. Is anyone listening? [End Page 216]