Witchcraft Fears at Makerere

By Jacobs Odongo Seaman

Makerere University main gate in Kampala. Dark arts, intrigue, egos, and so many ills are said to be a commonplace at the ivory tower. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

On Thursday October 27 last year, a laity from St Augustine Chapel in Makerere was called into a college principal’s office. The principal was thoroughly shaken. A quick spiritual exorcism in the office reassured the principal enough that he was able to post an unusually lengthy sermon on Muasa’s WhatsApp group by Sunday.
More than the length, the sermon was unusual because it was pegged to a dark, embarrassing revelation–witchcraft. The principal had found fetishes abandoned in his office that Thursday. A few dons thought it was too bizarre to hold.


“Real funny things have happened. Two weeks ago, they placed a kaveera(polythene bag) full of a head of a puff adder, a dry frog, chameleon, monitor lizard, bark cloth, and some red substance like blood on a HRs car,” the principal revealed, adding, “Then last week, [together with] my messenger and secretary, we found a funny thing tied like a dead body below one of my office rovers.”
The principal then joked that they had made a mistake in calling a priest to burn it. We, the principal joked, “should have invited guys from [the College of Humanities and Social Sciences] who specialise in African religions and practices.”
Another don offered their sympathies, adding that it was true fetishes had been abandoned on the HR’s car. The HR declined to comment on the allegations, referring us to the college spokesperson. The latter admitted to reading the WhatsApp messages but declined to comment further.

“I’m not sure what the HR did [to resolve the matter]. I also just learnt of it,” the publicist said, adding that efforts to investigate the matter had been difficult since there were no CCTV cameras around the college to rely on.

The principal declined to comment on the matter, saying the university has its communication policy and that “as academics, we cannot peddle in rumours.”
Sources at the ivory tower say dark arts are commonplace. Competition for promotions and job retention drive the elite into much more than relying on books.
“I’ve heard of dog skulls placed in people’s offices. I thought educated people were way above these things, but I think I am wrong. Looks like it is a way of life for some people,” a professor added on the Muasa forum.

In most African settings, hills are held in divine awe as homes of some gods. Makerere sits on one of the seven hills that make up Kampala. Revered as the “spring of knowledge”, it has served much more than the buffet prepared in its lecture rooms.
Dark arts, intrigue, egos, and so many ills are traded in ink and on mortarboards. While there is one college wary of dark arts, that of education and external studies (CEES) appears to have taken their game beyond the hill’s height and imagination.
The Vice Chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, on May 10 agreed to institute an investigation into allegations of theft of and doctoring of minutes of meetings after the principal, Prof Anthony Muwagga Mugagga sought his intervention.

Stolen minutes
The last thing Prof Mugagga would want to see is a newspaper article like this—about the strife at the college he heads. He said as much. The “bad publicity” reflects negatively on the college and can put away prospective sponsors.
But Prof Mugagga also admits the media has a role to play in cleaning up society.
Recently, Mugagga felt helpless as he shared his frustrations on a public forum. He lamented that while other principals are thinking and spending their time looking for resources for their staff and colleges, mentoring staff, he was “drained with issues” like people stealing and hiding minutes so that others cannot be employed or promoted and blocking other people’s promotion.

“I really thought with Jude away for some time, we would rest a bit, I’m wrong. Now the pressure is from a woman not a man. Kitalo nnyo (so tragic),” he said.
Jude Ssembebwa is an associate professor who was in March suspended by Prof Nawangwe following protracted in-fighting among lecturers and administrators at the East African School of Higher Education Studies and Development (EASHESD).
With Dr Ssempebwa cast aside, Mugagga has been taken aback by events at the college. In several memos, orders platefuls and pleas for help from the top galore.
“Reference is made to your letter dated May 4, 2023, regarding the above subject. I have read and noted the contents of your letter. Accordingly, I will investigate this issue as requested,” Prof Nawangwe wrote on May 10, taking responsibility to investigate several academics implicated in fraud and breach of trust of the university’s human resources manual.

More dark arts
Prof Mugagga had told the VC that staff either sold or gave away university property (EASHESD Minutes) without following due processes.
“The minutes arose out of a meeting called by the acting dean of EASHESD, Dr David Onen, and attended by university staff, including the college human resources officer, Ms Janet Nabukeera, dated March 15, 2023, which were not sent to the principal’s office or brought to the CEES meeting held on April 18, 2023,” Mugagga wrote.
He said a staff member  “deceitfully took the minutes in the pretext of bringing them to the principal or the CEES” meeting but did not do so.

This paper has withheld the names of the accused staff members under investigation by the VC as it was not readily possible to contact them.
As the college searched for the minutes of the March 15 meeting, the academics were taken aback to learn that a copy of the same had been sent to the university secretary by a law firm filing an affidavit.
A source privy to the goings-on said the law firm representing the very staff member accused of taking hold of the missing minutes had filed a notice of intention to sue. But the story got twisted further because the copy of the minutes used by the law firm is said to have been doctored.

“Sir, I want to alert you to the fact that in this particular school, staff promotion letters documents and files have allegedly been getting lost or stolen and hidden so that staff are never promoted,” Prof Mugagga told Prof Nawangwe, citing cases a one Dr Nabayego, Dr Livingstone Ddungu, Dr Kyaligonza and Dr Hillary Mukwenda, who complained of delayed or lost promotion application papers.
Before even the VC had responded, the principal wrote a terse memo to the dean and the Appointments and Promotions Committee of the EASHESD to submit minutes of the meeting in line with orders from the Directorate of Human Resources.
“By this letter, failure to hand in these minutes by the close of the day May 8, 2023, will have serious administrative and disciplinary implications,” Prof Mugagga said.
The dean did not follow the order.

Dr Onen responds
When contacted, Dr Onen chose to dwell on the matter of a PhD defence for one of the students, which was another issue the principal had raised with him.
The student, Peter Dithan Ntale, has had his doctoral studies delayed amid accusations and counter accusations. Prof Mugagga asked Dr Onen to make a public invitation and organise the PhD defence panel within two weeks.
One told this reporter he had since organised the PhD defence for Monday, May 29. Sources say the stolen minutes cover the appointment of a replacement for one of the senior administrators at the college whose retirement clocks in on June 2.

“It would seem that all those gimmicks were made with the view to sabotage the process of appointing a new member of staff. That would strengthen this administrator’s claim to a post-retirement contract, the argument being that he should be retained until his replacement is found,” a source familiar with the issues at CEES said.
The college level meeting went ahead and interviewed the applicants. The next level would be the appointments board picking a candidate, this time based on the minutes of the college level meeting.
To block the appointments board from making a selection, an intent to sue was submitted to the university secretary. It was completed with the school level meeting minutes which had been reported to be unavailable.

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