KAMPALA – There is a suffocating sense of entitlement among students at Makerere University that they occupy a special place in our country and should be treated as princes. The current strike over the 15% increase in fees is just one of many examples.
First there are more students enrolled in private universities than Makerere. Second, private students in public universities pay less than their counterparts in private ones. Yet while students who pay nothing or little at Makerere are always going to strike, students who pay a lot of money in private universities do not strike. Given that Makerere is the 4th best university in Africa, it means students in private universities pay more for less quality of education.
Why should being at a public university entitle anyone to special treatment at taxpayers’ expense? Why are those who send their kids to private universities not also entitled to the same benefits of free or cheap education paid for by the taxpayer? Are they lesser citizens? Do they contribute less to the country?
What we are seeing at Makerere is decades of indoctrination in the welfare state ideology of entitlement, victimhood and grievance. It is an ideology that is promoted by opposition politicians, journalists, academics and pundits and is pandered to by President Yoweri Museveni to win votes. It is an ideology that will destroy this country.
It is also an ideology that has created a dysfunctional elite – angry, intolerant and quarrelsome. They want to get everything from the state for free or cheaply: health, education, roads, etc but contribute nothing in return. This was most evidenced during protests against the social media tax.
We have therefore a highly cultivated sense of entitlement without a corresponding sense of obligation or even proportion to the resources available to meet such entitlements. This has put us on a perilous path to social upheaval.
Many Ugandan elites blindly support this entitlement culture because it places them on higher moral or intellectual plane than others, at least in their own estimation. For the politicians, promoting a sense of victimhood and grievance among a section of the population is profitable as it brings them votes by projecting themselves as defenders of the downtrodden. Yet this entitlement culture is economically counterproductive and socially destructive.
Andrew Mwenda is a Ugandan journalist and the founder and owner of The Independent.