18 June 2017

Uganda: Kigezians Should Worry About Kabale University's Demise As Private University

opinion

Kigezians and friends of Kigezi, both from within and abroad, recall why Kabale University (KU) was founded. The reasons are well articulated in its first interim charter which convinced the National Council for Higher Education to grant the university a licence.

For the overwhelming majority of the people of Kigezi, those objectives have never changed nor has the enthusiasm of Kigezi educational fraternity or its neighbours ceased, even after hearing the latest retrograde developments.

Perhaps it is worth reminding ourselves what those objectives and enthusiasm were. They included:

-Awareness of the ever increasing number of schools and big numbers of learners in Kigezi who qualify to benefit from university education and yet cannot be absorbed into the existing institutions of higher learning of the country.

-The mission of the university is to advance, transmit and preserve academic, intellectual and applied knowledge through educational, scientific, technical or other means in order to promote development and enlightenment in Kigezi in particular and in south-western region and Uganda generally.

-The university shall be a non-profit-making institution.

It shall have no shares, dividends, or other pecuniary benefit attributable to or claimed by any member of the assembly or board of trustees or any other person or body in a proprietary capacity.

-For the avoidance of any doubt, should the purposes for which Kabale University is founded fail or cease, then all the land and buildings donated to it shall revert to original donors.

It is the above objectives which led the university to expand and attract a great number of Banyakigezi, Rwandans and other nationalities.

At one time, the university prided itself of an intake of nearly 1,000 undergraduates, including hundreds from Rwanda.

During all that time, Kabale University has been a private Institution. It has attracted scholars and managers from as far as Europe, the US and other parts of the world. In fact, its first university head was from Italy and his successor was from the United Kingdom until they were replaced by local candidates.

Since the quest to convert KU into a public university commenced, that kind of interest and participation has waned or stopped altogether. The numbers of undergraduates and graduands have dwindled alarmingly. Today, we are informed that there are fewer admissions and last year very few students graduated.

This is very sad because the original objective of attracting thousands and may be tens of thousands of Kigezi school leavers and adult entrants has withered away and are back to the former levels in a desperate situation.

It will be recalled that with excitement of initiating the institution as a private university, countries such as Germany, Italy and the Netherlands offered material and financial assistance on condition that Kabale remained free and independent of government bureaucracy.

The government of Rwanda established a policy of associating with Kabale University as its major neighbouring centre of higher education for its citizens and Rwandan undergraduates had become an established feature of the university while it remained private.

Today, it is sad to note that following pronouncements that Kabale had been acquired by government and is now operated under the government regime, the Rwandan government has reversed its policy and stopped its sponsorship of students at Kabale University.

Incidentally, the first invasion of the university's private status was mounted by a former minister from Kigezi who, for reasons known to himself, wished to undermine the independence of Kabale University.

He first approached the President of Uganda and requested him to compulsorily acquire Kabale University and declare it a public university.

The President declined to do so for economic and other reasons but tentatively suggested that if the university's founders and people of Kigezi requested, the President could consider the possibility of Kabale University becoming an extension of Mbarara University of Science and Technology.

The suggestion was overwhelmingly rejected by the university fraternity as being incompatible with the objectives and principles for which it was founded. Some radical Kigezians actually regarded the proposal as an insult to their own thinking and vision. Thereafter, many of us thought the attempt to convert Kabale University into a public institution had ended there.

Unfortunately, following allegations of mismanagement and misappropriation of funds, two courageous founder members filed a case against the university governing bodies for restoration of the university's status in transparency and accountability.

When the accused leaders realised they had no credible defence against that accusation, they rushed to the then minister of Education who illegally declared the university to have been acquired by the government and converted into a public university.

In her hurry to legitimise what was unlawful, the competent and then existing leaders and managers of the university were ignored or sent into oblivion. Since then, Kabale University is in a very sorry state.

The Observer of May 15 reported that the overwhelming majority of government admissions of students came from districts outside Kigezi and they were admitted to do subjects that are offered elsewhere outside the programme of Kabale University.

To add insult to injury, only four students from Kigezi schools were lucky to receive government sponsorship. Perhaps, the destroyers of Kabale University themselves are paid in full from the government. How odd.

Prof Kanyeihamba is a retired Supreme Court judge.

Uganda

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