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Makerere closure paralyses teaching, threatens research

Teaching is paralysed and research is under threat at Makerere University in Uganda for the second week running, following a campus closure ordered by the country’s president.

Yoweri Museveni ordered the closure on 1 November after students joined striking staff who are asking for the immediate payment of eight months’ salary arrears of US$13.5 million.

“Makerere University is ordered closed until further notice to guarantee the safety of persons and property,” said a directive by the president widely quoted by Ugandan and regional media.

According to Lawrence Mugisha, a veterinary scientist at the university, research is under threat. "You cannot access the laboratory, and most importantly our biological samples are at risk with interruption of power supplies," he says. 

Externally funded research seems to be continuing off site—for now. "People are watching and waiting at the moment," says Janet Seeley, a UK-based anthropologist who participates in health research projects with colleagues at Makerere. 

On 31 October the powerful Makerere Academic University Staff Association had vowed not to call off the strike until the arrears were paid in full.

Two days after the university’s closure Uganda’s education minister and First Lady, Janet Museveni, called a meeting with the lecturers’ union to resolve the dispute. But at the time of publication of this article it seemed her efforts had not ended the stalemate.

Observers attribute the university’s inability to pay its staff to inadequate government funding and the absence of diversified revenue streams. Falling student enrolments and the inability of parents to pay fees on time have not helped, Makerere’s council chairman, Charles Wana-Etyem, told journalists.

Police have ordered international students at Makerere to vacate residences and contact their embassies to make arrangements to return home.