The government of Uganda has indefinitely closed down Makerere University, the country?s largest and one of Africa?s prestigious universities, after striking professors rejected a government order to resume teaching. The lecturers have been on strike for more than a week, demanding that President Yoweri Museveni fulfills his 2004 pledge to increase their salaries. Apolo Nsibambi is Uganda?s Prime Minister and Chancellor of Makerere University. From the capital, Kampala, he explains to VOA English to Africa reporter James Butty what his government has done to satisfy the lecturers? demands
?The government had increased, for example, the salary of a professor to two point eight million shillings per month. I think the debate was whether it should be gross or basic. When it is gross, it takes into account the money paid to them from the internally generated revenue. When it is basic, it excludes the money from the internally generated revenue. So that?s really the debate now. But his Excellency, the President, made it clear that the increase was gross,? Nsibambi said.
The Ugandan prime minister said his government believes the lecturers? demands are legitimate. But he says the government cannot afford to meet those demands at the moment.
?The professors and other lecturers are entitled to what they are saying. Even the President made it clear that their demands are reasonable. But we cannot afford them now because we have to take into account other demands. And as you know, we do have a crisis of energy; we have also critical problems regarding the northern question where we have guerrilla activities taking place. We?ll also be hosting the Commonwealth,? he said.
The Ugandan government has been talking about harmonizing salaries in the country. Yet observers say there is a huge disparity between the salaries of government ministers and university lecturers. Prime Minister Nsibambi says the government has a plan of reconciling the salaries.
?The government had proposed that an independent body should determine the salaries of all the groups. But this was not accepted by parliament. This would have solved the problem. But one has to remember that there are different ways of handling this matter of determining the salaries of people,? he said.
Nsibambi, who as a professor at Makerere University also agitated for higher salaries, says he and President Museveni are sympathetic toward the current lecturers. But he says the government cannot afford their demands at the moment.
Nsibambi says the government?s options in dealing with lecturers? demands are limited.
?We have continued to appeal to them to accept the increase because there are other stakeholders who are also making similar demands. But as I speak to you, council (the university?s highest decision making body) is meeting tomorrow to make a final decision. The council may decide to close the University because the students who are not being taught become jittery, and it?s difficult to keep them in a calm atmosphere,? Nsibambi said.
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