Makerere denies Gaddafi a degree

April 19, 2002

A standoff between state and academia in Uganda over a proposed honorary degree for Muammar Gaddafi has ended with a rebuff for the Libyan president from Makerere University's senate.

Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, who has had long and close dealings with the Tripoli government, from whom he received arms during the guerrilla war he waged between 1980 and 1986, wanted the university to award a degree to Colonel Gaddafi as a token of thanks.

But when the university published the list of 3,700 graduates for the ceremony, Colonel Gaddafi's name was conspicuously missing, although the university council, a body whose members are appointed by the president, had agreed to the award under pressure from the minister of education, Kidhu Makubuya.

Of the 180 members of the senate, only 28 returned ballots - all "yes" votes - too few to meet the two-thirds majority required for a valid vote. One senator, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "Makerere has given many honorary degrees before, but what happened in this case was that the recommendations were accompanied by a political message saying how much he (Gaddafi) has done for his country.

"What turned members away was that they were asked to sign their names. It was not secret any more."

It is the second time that Colonel Gaddafi has failed to receive a degree from the institution, once Africa's best known. When the education minister first proposed his name in August 2001 for last autumn's graduation, the request was turned down.

While it is too early to say what the impact of the senate's rejection will be, university academics fear for the academic freedom that the senate enjoys.

President Museveni, chair of the National Resistance Movement, Uganda's ruling party, was believed to be infuriated.

He said: "We don't expect Makerere to be a hotbed of anti-NRM feeling. NRM does not like anti-NRMism."

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