MAKERERE UNIVERSITY’S position, on a hilltop commanding a panoramic view of Kampala, is fitting for a place some call the “Harvard of Africa”. By many measures, it is the continent’s best college outside South Africa. But it was closed for two months from November by Uganda’s autocratic president, Yoweri Museveni, after a strike by lecturers over unpaid bonuses sparked student protests.
Founded by the British to train local colonial administrators, Makerere has a reputation for educating the powerful. Tanzania’s founding president, Julius Nyerere, studied there. So did Kenya’s third leader, Mwai Kibaki, and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s current head of state, Joseph Kabila. The university went through a rough period between 1971 and 1979, when it felt compelled to make Idi Amin, a barely literate despot, its chancellor. Amin awarded himself a doctorate of law, despite neither studying much nor believing in the rule of law. But those dark days are past. Makerere’s researchers are now some of Africa’s most prolific, creating everything from low-cost sanitary pads to an electric car. Nonetheless the institution’s problems—too many students and too little money—are all too common across the continent.