Lecturers at Uganda’s prestigious Makerere University have ended their weeks-long strike over demands for salaries increase. The strike, which began more than a month ago, led to the closure of the university because the Ugandan government said it feared that untaught students would become jittery and unruly. There are reports suggesting the government might have played a role in weakening the resolve of the lecturers.
Augustus Nuwagaba is chairman of the Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA). He explained why the lecturers called off their strike.
“They suspended the strike because there was some increment in what they were asking for in terms of salaries for professors. All the professors were granted three point nine million shillings per month (about one thousand 600 dollars), and there has been an increment of up to three point three million per month. So there was an increase of approximately 800 thousand (shillings), which we think is a good increment, although we didn’t get the exact position which we had wanted,” he said.
Nuwagaba said the increment was across the board for all lecturers.
“Everyone has been increased proportionately, from the professors up to the teaching assistants,” Nuwagaba said.
It had reportedly been suggested that the strike probably ended because President Yoweri Museveni might have succeeded in weakening the lecturers’ resolve through the use of a divide and rule method. Nuwagaba explained what happened.
“I think what happened before was that the increment in salaries had been done for the younger teaching staff, leaving out the professors. I think this is what people could have called the divide and rule. But eventually later, the MUASA executive insisted that there must be increment across the board, and this forced the University Council also to provide for increment for the professors, which then on proactive basis moved down to teaching assistants,” he said.
Nuwagaba said he was not ready to declare victory, but he said the increment was substantial. He also said university lecturers in Uganda still had a long way to go in improving their pay situation.
“The staff of academic persons in public universities is still the lowest compared to other public servants both in Uganda and in the region. What the staff have been demanding for is something very modest, genuine, and absolutely the lowest,” Nuwagaba said.
Some parliament members of President Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement party had reportedly been threatening a walk out if the government did not pay them their mileage allowances in time for Christmas and also help them purchase luxurious 4x4 vehicles. Nuwagaba said this shows the government has yet to prioritize education.
“The government still has not prioritized education…and while it wants to pay for the cars of members of parliament, it continues, for example, not to prioritize the remuneration of the staff in public universities," he said.
Nuwagaba said Makerere University would be reopened once the Council, the university’s highest decision-making body, decides it should.