The vice chancellor candidates' debate was a marked event on many calendars.
And when the three candidates stepped onto the stage yesterday at Makerere University's main hall to publicly debate each other, the audience was eager to hang on every promise they made.
It was also the first time all vice chancellor candidates were presenting their agendas publicly and on live television. In the 2011 search process, only Prof Venansius Baryamureeba presented his plan for Makerere.
The remaining seven candidates, including incumbent Prof John Ddumba-Ssentamu, and this year's other candidates Edward Kirumira and Barnabas Nawangwe boycotted the planned event in protest at the perceived unfairness of the process.
This time, however, there was no room for boycott, as all three shortlisted candidates had agreed to the terms of the search process. The presentation was moderated by the vice chancellors of Mbarara University, Prof Celestine Obua and Muni University, Prof Christine Dranzoa.
First on the podium was the Principal of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Prof Edward Kirumira. Dressed in his characteristic black suit and a gold tie, he pledged to use the extensive knowledge base at the university to Makerere's benefit.
"I plan to harness the collective expertise at Makerere to provide institutional advisory services to government at a cost, but generally to benefit Makerere," he said. "I come to this office aware that I don't know it all... but I bring an ability to learn."
Asked later what his strongest point for the job was, he was quick on his feet. "Anybody who knows me knows that my strongest point is my people skills... I will work to enable our staff improve their skills, bring together various strengths so we pull in the same direction for Makerere."
Next on the podium was Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, who drew the loudest cheers from the audience with his animated presentation, which included various architectural impressions of coming projects, including a 5-star hotel in Kololo, a 3-star hotel to replace the Makerere Guest House, as well as five modern hostels in Katanga and a state of the art teaching hospital in Katalemwa, near Gayaza.
Prof Nawangwe also vowed to use his immense networking abilities to harness more financial support for Makerere and work to improve staff and students' welfare. He vowed to work to restore Makerere's credentials.
"The time to play with our academic documents has ended. We will strengthen the systems to ensure no one tampers with them again," he said.
Prof Baryamureeba, on the other hand, raced through a detailed presentation, in which he pledged to implement electronic-management systems, which should see Makerere raise its enrolment to over 100,000 students by 2022, through distance learning. He also pledged to offer an active engagement with the public. Prof Baryamureeba added that he hoped to expand Makerere's revenue streams and increase income by five times, each year.
However, during question time, Hussein Kisiki Nsamba, a staff in the college of Natural Sciences, rattled Prof Baryamureeba, when he reminded him about what he said during the 2016 presidential candidates' debate.
"You said your biggest regret was working at Makerere straight after your PhD, what are you doing here [now]?"
Prof Baryamureeba struggled to answer that question.
"You know you need to appreciate the context in which that comment was made. I wanted to convince the unemployed voters of my capacity to help create jobs... .so surely," before he joined the audience in laughter.
In closing, the chairperson of the Search Committee, Irene Ovonji-Odida then noted that they had been rating the candidates' responses and they would be compiled into a report to be presented to the University senate before the end of the month.