Probably you don’t remember the word ‘Makunika’. From Morse code to telegrams to fax, to emails, we have come a long way. The word ‘Makunika’ is an acronym for Makerere University Kampala. In the days of the telegram, if you wanted to send an urgent message to someone, they had an address name and the one for Makerere University was ‘Makunika’. Those who went to university in the heyday of the telegram fondly remember the acronym ‘Makunika’.
So you can imagine my consternation when Professor Mondo Kagonyera, former Chancellor of ‘Makunika’, ambushed me with the question, ‘Why don’t Makerere University’s alumni support their alma mater?’ I was dumbfounded for a while. I hesitantly answered that I didn’t really know why but I would think about it. He then asked me to imagine the impact of what we could do for Makerere if each of us who had walked through its gates gave as little as shillings 10,000/= per month. He believed that maybe there were probably as many as 200,000 of us out there but we were not doing anything to ‘help’ Makerere.
“We have a fund raising run this weekend, and I wish you could write about it. Try and explain to me why others can donate to their alma mater but you fellows are not coming to help.” I promised that I would think about it and give an answer. That was two weeks ago, and I have been pondering the question but now I must regret my big mouth for I must try to answer the Professor’s question.
My probable answer came as a flash while enjoying a drink in my favorite joint. I love this place to bits and the only way you are going to stop me going to this joint is in a coffin. As I sat in this hang out of mine, I could not fail to be conscious of the frayed furniture, chipped glasses and crappy service. The patrons regularly complain about the service but they keep on coming. They literally live here and have many happy memories of the place. But ask them to pay a little more and they will conspire to bring the roof down.
This joint has the highest concentration of professionals per capita in the whole of Uganda but we are comfortable with the crappiness of place. I also know for a fact that many of them are alumni of ‘Makunika’. And so its suddenly struck me. If we lived our social life in such decrepit quarters, why would we want to support our alma mater? My take is that the education ‘Makunika’ gave us did not prepare us to be self-reliant. Rather, it imbued us with a sense of entitlement, and the belief that we were the ones who were owed, rather than the ones who owed ‘Makunika’.
The taxpayers paid our tuition, upkeep and in addition gave us ‘boom’, book allowance, and transport allowance to boot! As we walked out of ‘Makunika’, the Public Service Commission was waiting to hand us a job. Makerere’s current crop of students are our children and we think they too are entitled to a free education. Only that they are getting a very crappy one.
On the other hand, ‘Makunika’ hasn’t done itself any favours. It is consistently manipulated by Government and plagued by negative publicity. Because we take Makerere for granted, despite the privileges it has bestowed upon us, we do not care to support it, or be openly associated with it. Who wants to be associated with bad news?
It is time to change all this and there is a group of men and women who are trying. ‘Makunika’ must first be an independent institution, which sets the right price for its services. The professors must stop their soup fights and future alumni must be imbued with a feel good factor. Only then, will Makerere produce alumni who are not penny pinchers like us. Then we can ‘build for the future’.
Samuel Sejjaaka is Country Team Leader at Abacus Business School. Twitter@samuelsejjaaka