Makerere University VC: assessing trio's chances

Monday, 12 June 2017
Moses Talemwa

Last week, three candidates were shortlisted for the position of vice chancellor of Makerere University in a bid to replace incumbent Prof John Ddumba-Ssentamu on August 31, 2017. MOSES TALEMWA looks at the chances of each of the trio, taking up the main seat.

Later this Thursday, the three shortlisted candidates will make public presentations in the university’s main hall, which will show their suitability for the job. The candidates are professors; Barnabas Nawangwe, Edward Kasujja Kirumira and Venansius Baryamureeba

This is after a fourth candidate, Prof Elisam Magara, was eliminated. No reason was given for his elimination. In a brief press release, announcing the candidates, the chairperson of the Makerere University Vice Chancellor search committee, Irene Ovonji-Odida set out the rules for the debate.

“We advise all stakeholders in the search process and especially shortlisted candidates to comply with the guidelines as provided in the advert for recruitment. Any non-compliance will be dealt with firmly,” the release states. 

All four, who initially applied for the Makerere job, were also candidates for the same position in the last search process, in which Prof Ddumba-Ssentamu emerged winner in 2012.


Whether by design or default, the Ovonji-Odida committee eliminated Prof Elisam Magara from its shortlist, a move that makes a near certainty that all three remaining candidates could find their names before the University Council, the organ overseeing the process.

Article 3(a) of the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act envisaged that several professors would apply for the position of vice chancellor and a search committee would review the applications and forward at least four names to senate, which would then recommend three names to the University Council.

“The vice chancellor is appointed by the Chancellor on the recommendation of the University Council from among three candidates recommended by the Senate,” the article reads. This means that in the final selection round, all three could still be in contention.

Asked about this scenario before the applicants were formally unveiled last month, Ovonji-Odida insisted that her committee would stick by its work and refer any legal challenge to the university council.

“Right now, we have four applications; so, if we get to a point where we have to drop one or two of them before recommending them to the senate, we will do our work and then refer to the council for further guidance,” Ovonji-Odida said.  

This writer spent much of last week at Makerere sounding out various influential university staff. Some were willing to offer their opinions on who the likely winning candidate would be in August, but none wanted their name revealed for fear of any reprisals from the ultimate winner.


Prof Barnabas Nawangwe is currently the university’s deputy vice chancellor for Finance and Administration. Previously, he was principal of the college of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology (Cedat). The professor of Architecture is credited with streamlining this college both during his tenure as principal, and much earlier as dean of the faculty of Technology.

“He was known as shrewd but collegial administrator,” says a professor in Cedat. To peers here, his biggest strength was in mending fences with various personalities and harnessing like-minded individuals into winning research teams.

Through research collaborations with both local and foreign donors, Nawangwe managed to enable incredible progress in his college, culminating in several innovations such as the Makapads, Kiira EV and several solar and mechanical products.

“Research and innovation were a major buzzword in his time here – anyone who was not creating something was looked at as unserious,” another lecturer intimated.

Those who know him well, say those people skills were shaped back in the 1970s, when he served in various prefectoral roles at Busoga College Mwiri
Yet, critically, little was known of Nawangwe until he applied for the position of vice chancellor in the last search process. “He was only well known and respected in the engineering and architectural fraternity,” a professor offers.

Indeed, most of the shine in Cedat had been captured by the then vice chancellor, Prof Venansius Baryamureeba, although it was Nawangwe who had been in the trenches doing the hard work. His supporters believe that Nawangwe’s problem may be his modesty. “He does not market himself sufficiently,” says one.


Baryamureeba, a former presidential candidate, briefly served as Makerere vice chancellor for two years before starting his own university – the Uganda Technological and Management University. Before becoming Makerere vice chancellor in 2009, Baryamureeba was also the dean of the faculty of Computing and Informatics Technology.

Several lecturers say they remember Baryamureeba for his incredible vision and ambition. “There is no taking away credit from his achievement – elevating a department of computer science into the college of Computing and Information Technology was no small feat,” one lecturer says. “He quickly notices potential and enables others to achieve results by whatever means,” a professor offers.

“If Makerere needs a high achiever, Baryamureeba is the answer, but they have to be ready to contend with his poor networking skills,” another offers. “Barya only works well with those who agree with him – as his feud with Prof Eli Katunguka [current vice chancellor at Kyambogo] indicates; those who disagree will be fought at all costs.”

Where Nawangwe is accused of falling short in marketing himself, Baryamureeba is gifted at portraying himself as a high achiever.


Prof Kirumira is currently the principal of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Before the introduction of the collegiate system in 2011, he served as the dean of faculty of Social Sciences for two terms.

He is well known for his eloquence across Makerere, with the unique ability to calmly explain himself out of any situation.  “I have never seen him lose his cool in all the 20 years I have been at Makerere – he will patiently listen to you, then explain to you his side of the story,” a professor offers.

An amiable and respected academic, Prof Kirumira is criticized for being too stiff. He is rarely ever seen out of his trademark suit, usually with a black tie.


University staff are united in the fact that all three professors can claim to have overcome adversity to excel in their respective administrative experiences. This year’s race is also the most exclusive and has brought up strong candidates.

“In an ideal situation, I would want all three to be in senior management at Makerere, but I doubt that this will ever happen again,” a lecturer offers. “I suspect that Nawangwe and Kirumira could work together in the future but not Baryamureeba – he was too angry [at not being re-appointed vice chancellor] when he left Makerere in 2012.”

However, another offers that the ultimate decision of who wins the post may also involve the president.

“Under the law, the chancellor makes the choice, but like most of his work, I think his decision is made for him,” this lecturer says.

In an interview, Prof Mondo Kagonyera insisted that he alone made the decision to appoint Prof Ddumba-Ssentamu as vice chancellor in 2012. However, during this discussion, he let it slip that he needed help to make the decision, despite working with both Nawangwe and Ddumba-Ssentamu for over 20 years at Makerere.

Other sources have indicated that the president was unhappy with the choices offered to him, but felt that Ddumba-Ssentamu had been well established as chairman of Centenary bank’s board, in addition to nearly 30 years training administrators, yet Nawangwe had been hardly well known.

“Nawangwe was seen as a candidate for the future,” a source in the president’s office says.

Ironically, it was the numerous troubles with Ddumba-Ssentamu that thrust Nawangwe into the public spotlight.

“He was frequently out there negotiating with government officials, staff and students on behalf of the university during the many strikes, even when the agitators wanted the VC to explain their grievances,” the president’s office source offers. “Getting a heroe's day medal from the president last year was not an accident.”

Interestingly, the same day also saw Baryamureeba and Kirumira also receive heroe's day medals. Hence whoever wins the vice chancellorship this round can be guaranteed – a good working relationship with the visitor.