KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) -- On a hill a local king called Makerere -- "cradle of the infant sun" -- the British built one of black Africa's most famous universities.
Some of east and central Africa's best minds were formed at Makerere University during nearly a half century -- leaders in politics, business, the arts, medicine.
Then Idi Amin imposed his brutal dictatorship, and like much of Uganda, the school withered. During the 1970s, hardly a building was constructed or repaired. Foreign professors were expelled. The medical school lost crucial British accreditation.
But, 20 years after Amin's ouster, Makerere has clawed its way back. The number of students has quadrupled. Instructor salaries are way up. Library shelves have been restocked.
"The education offered here is the best anywhere," said Charles Otai, a Ugandan in his second year as a political science major.
To many Africans, Makerere still has a reputation that Ugandan poet Susan N. Kiguli described as "a river of knowledge" at a recent celebration marking the university's 75th birthday.
But Vice Chancellor Pancras J.M. Ssebuwufu isn't thumping his chest, even though Makerere attracts more applicants from Uganda and neighboring countries than it can admit.
He remembers when Amin seized power in 1971, expelling all Asians -- as people with ancestry in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are referred to here -- and terrorized other foreigners.
"It was a big setback and the beginning of our nose dive," said Ssebuwufu, who as a senior had to teach lower-level classes.
Neglect is still evident. Walls and floors of many buildings are cracked and paint has peeled off. Lecture hall benches sag and equipment is old.
Founded in 1921 as a technical school with 14 boys and five instructors, Makerere became a college of the University of London in 1949 and in 1963 the nucleus of the short-lived University of East Africa.
Only Fort Hare University in South Africa and Achimota College in Ghana rivaled Makerere in excellence among the institutions of higher learning that admitted blacks before most African countries gained independence in the 1960s.
Retired Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere and Uganda's President Milton Obote, who was toppled by Amin, are both former students. So is Bethuel Gecaga, who managed British American Tobacco Co. -- one of the largest businesses in East Africa -- for more than two decades.
Makerere also produced some of the region's major literary figures, including Kenya's Ngugi was Thiong'o and Ugandan Taban Lo Liyong.
"It was a very intellectually stimulating place," said Anyang Nyong'o, a Kenyan legislator and graduate of Makerere.
The university suffered a severe blow in 1978 when its pride and joy, its medical school, lost recognition from Britain's General Medical Council. It did not regain accreditation until 1986.
Makerere's rehabilitation began with a conference of national and university officials in 1987. The school estimated it would cost $130 million to get Makerere back on its feet.
Donors, including several European nations, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, put up $38 million. The World Bank extended a $200 million loan.
Other assistance followed. Basic repairs on the university's oldest buildings have been completed, and new structures are being built.
Postgraduate studies -- abandoned during Amin's rule -- have resumed and morale is high among instructors, whose salaries have risen from an average of $140 a month to $1,060, Ssebuwufu said.
The student body has risen from 5,000 to 20,000, with the majority of students paying their own tuition. Annual fees range from $600 for a bachelor of arts degree to $1,400 for a degree in medicine.
With Uganda's government starved for cash, the state-owned Makerere has found ways to raise its own money -- running a bakery, a printing press and a hotel.
"Given the current trend," Ssebuwufu said, "we will be as good as any other university in five years."
Makerere University Medical School is to start DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) tests to resolve parentage disputes.
Prof. Wilson Byarugaba, the head of Human Genetics section in the medical school, said yesterday that they had acquired the necessary equipment. People who are obliged to undergo DNA parentage tests have been sending samples to South Africa at a minimum cost of about U$500 per test. Byarugaba said the cost of carrying out the tests in Makerere was yet to be determined but it would be a lot cheaper than sending them outside. He said the department, with the help of Johannesburg Institute for Medical Research, was training medical workers on how to carry out the tests. "We are also soon carrying out tests country-wide to determine Uganda's genetic markers which we shall use as a background against which to determine individual cases," Byarugaba said and added the tests would also help the police in investigating forensic related crimes. Such crimes include rape, defilement and murders. He also said Uganda would be able to treat patients using the gene therapy, and also carrying out research on different disease-causing agents by identifying their DNA make-up. "We hope also to develop vaccines and other biotechnology using the DNA tests for combating different diseases," Byarugaba said.
Makerere University is to initiate a project to fight malnutrition in six districts in the country.
Dr. Florence Isabirye Muranga, head of the project at the Alliance for Improved Nutrition and Food Security for All (AINFSA), said during a review meeting on Thursday that malnutrition was rampant even in districts that have plenty of food.
The project is under the department of Food and Science in the Faculty of Agriculture. "If people are not well fed they cannot perform well. Instead of two people you need 10 to do the same work. They fall sick frequently and you lose a lot of man-hours. Economically we lose," she said. Muranga said AINFSA is to identify the main causes of malnutrition and the most cost-effective ways of enhancing nutritional status. She said the project proposal was being finalised for presentation to donors. The project, she said, would form focus groups in villages and schools, to be trained by Makerere University using various distance learning techniques. They would in turn influence the communities towards better feeding. Demographic surveys indicate that 38% of Ugandan children are stunted due to poor feeding and that Ugandans consume between 50% and 90% of the food requirements stipulated by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations. "We are trying to have a mass outreach for nutrition and food security," adding, "We are going to have focus groups at the grass roots which will be composed of opinion leaders and school clubs These will be the medium for disseminating information on nutrition in the communities," Muranga said.
Makerere University is to increase student intake from the current 22,000 to 35,000 in the next five years.
Kibirige Mayanja, the director of planning at the university, said the planned increase is due to demand and additional income the university expects from fees paid by private students.
Mayanja was on Thursday speaking at the launching of the Makerere University Strategic Plan 2000/01-2004/5 at the University's Main Hall in Kampala. The university currently enrolls about 8,000 students annually for bachelors degree, diploma and certificate courses.
He said enrolment of more students would mean more fees from private students to be used for various projects like construction of buildings, provision of equipment and increasing staff salaries.
Mayanja said the university requires sh135b if the student intake is to be increased to 35,000.
He said during the five-year period, the university intends to lay more emphasis on priority areas which include information and communication technology, library services, research and science-based disciplines. Good governance, human rights and gender mainstreaming have also been identified as priority areas that the university will pursue to be able to respond to society's changing demands.
David Matovu, the chairman of Makerere University Council, officiated at the function.
Matovu said the university has to prepare itself for the challenges of the 21st century.
He urged the university administration to uphold high academic standards and integrity while pursuing the expansion of the university.
THE Makerere University Library has launched a US$650,000 (sh1.13b) project, part of which will computerise the library and hook on the internet, reports Edris Kisambira.
The project, to be funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, is aimed at increasing the library book stock in science and gender disciplines and reduce thefts of library books by installing electronic book check systems.
The second phase to the project, will involve showing participants how to access e-journals and databases and will be sponsored by Sida/SAREC. Under this phase, the library has receive US$943,000 (sh1.6b) to be used in two phases for five years.
The library will conduct workshops, receive computers and accessories, consultants, library system software, E-journals and Phd training among others.
The chief librarian, James Mugasha, in his address to lecturers, deans and some library employees at the Library Building during the launch on Monday, said the project would strengthen the university library's capacity and make available relevant and up-to-date scientific publications for study and research by the students and staff.
He said the project has started with 52 computers at the main library. He said other computer labs would be installed at the departmental libraries.
Vice-chancellor Prof. John Ssebuwufu said, "Now my colleagues the deans and lecturers, we have to be up-to-date, you should sit at your computers and look at what the new journals and other publications on the internet have got to offer."
ABOUT 140 students in the faculty of Social sciences Makerere University have already received discontinuation letters for failure to meet academic standards, report.
The students failed to raise a Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 2.00 and others failed their core course units for three consecutive semesters.
According to Academic Registrar Sebastian Ngobi, the semester system rules provide for the discontinuation of students who fall short of the above standards.
The affected students have appealed to the Academic Registrar's office, challenging the decision taken by the faculty Board.
The Faculty board meeting, which sat late April, recommended that the students be discontinued.
Ngobi confirmed the discontinuation to The New Vision, but declined to comment on the appeal, since he had just returned from a duty trip.
"It is a fact we have discontinued the students and they have received their letters. But I can't be certain on the figures. I have been out of the country, so I haven't been briefed about the appeal yet," Ngobi said.
"The students were not satisfied with the decision and appealed, saying that most of their results were missing," sources said.
The most affected students were third and second year Economics evening students.
Sources say the Academic Registrar's office has ordered further consideration of the students' complaints and a compilation of a satisfactory report and decision.
The Social Science Faculty Dean, Dr. Joy Kwesiga, declined to comment.