President Museveni has halted Makerere University's move to raise tuition fees this academic year by announcing that he will pay the proposed 10 per cent increment for at least one year.
The new fees structure that was approved by the university council but opposed by students was meant to start with first-year students this academic year. With Uganda's largest public university admitting at least 21,000 privately-funded students this year, the bill now due to Museveni is more than Shs 2bn.
It is now common for President Museveni to make big financial pledges for one cause or another outside his own government's known structures. A couple of months ago, Museveni pledged billions of shillings to enable Ugandans to watch the football World Cup on Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) television outlets.
The president has also been called upon a number of times to fund a stranded national team travelling for some competition abroad, etc. To be clear, these causes are important and his government needs to fund them. However, they don't have to become his personal effort and glory.
It is suspected that the president does this to reap political dividends, which he wouldn't get in equal measure if the funding was handled through the official government structures such as ministry of Education and Sports or ministry of Finance.
No wonder during the World Cup screening, almost half the time was consumed by adverts recommending another term in office for the president. Hopefully, Makerere University will not have to erect billboards at the campus calling for Museveni to be sole candidate in the 2016 elections!
Perhaps Ugandans would not begrudge the president if the source of the money was clearer. Unfortunately, it is not known for certain whether it is from his personal savings or from state coffers. If it's the former, it would make some little sense. But if it's the latter, which looks much more likely, there is a serious problem.
Working outside existing structures, a major failure on the part of this government, has the effect of promoting indiscipline, undermining institutions, and is unsustainable.
Postponing the financial challenges Makerere University is facing for one year to enable a politician to score some political points is not the best way to run a country, let alone a university.