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Uganda:University Lecturers Decry Government Tactics in Strike

Lecturers’ strike at Uganda’s Makerere University continues today two weeks after it began. The professors have been demanding increase in salaries. The government closed the university Sunday because it says it wants to keep the students from becoming jittery for not being taught. In addition, the government earlier this week denied the lecturers access to their offices and official websites and email facilities. Tuesday, the government reportedly relaxed some of the restrictions. But the government’s handling of the strike is not settling well with the lecturers. Mohammed Kiggundu Musoke is the spokesman for the Makerere University Staff Association. He tells VOA English to Africa reporter James Butty the government is being inconsiderate.

“It’s like people think that we made a crime by refusing to go back to teach. But we say this is a university. We are the freedom of expression. This is the center for generation of knowledge. This is where it starts. So it will be very hard for individuals to be pushed against the wall like that without sitting down and reasoning things out. Denying the lecturers access to the Website and emailing and at the same time you are saying that you are working out everything possible to discuss, to settle out with the lecturers becomes unfortunate,” he said.

Ugandan Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi told VOA earlier this week that his could not afford to meet the lecturers’ demand for salary increase because the government had other demands such as the energy crisis, the country’s 20 year-old war with the Lord’s Resistance Army in the north, and hosting the Commonwealth Conference. But Musoke says the government must choose its priorities carefully.

“In 2004, we were told that professors they should wait we have the problem of Kony in the north of the country. We waited. In 2005, the professors were told you’ve got to wait because we have the power crisis. We waited. This time, we are being told that we have CHOGM, that is the Commonwealth conference and that we have to wait. Who knows what other problems are going to be there another year?” Musoke said.

Besides, Musoke says one of the issues that will likely be discussed at the 2007 Commonwealth conference in Uganda is the development of education in the Commonwealth. He says it would reflect badly on Uganda when it is shown that its professors make far less that professors in other Commonwealth countrie.

Musoke says the lecturers are open to a compromise provided the government is serious in its negotiation.

“What we are saying is that the university, instead of coming closer, they are passing resolutions which are actually isolating the lecturers. If you look at modern technology that the Websites are close, what does that mean? Will that show a sign of working together? Will it mean that if they laid off the entire staff and brought in others, that would be the best solution? No, this will be creating problems. So they have to listen and come to a permanent solution to this,” Musoke said.

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