It is common knowledge that the former University of Botswana Vice Chancellor, Professor Thabo Fako, was unpopular with some people on campus. A draft academic paper that is being penned by Professor John Makgala and being circulated among “Dear Colleagues and Friends” on his email list gives an idea of just how unpopular Fako was.
Makgala asserts that of all UB VCs, Fako was “the most contentious, confrontational and left many members of the UB community disenchanted.” While he had initially been welcomed with open arms, Fako is said to have wasted no time in revealing his true colours “after being ensconced in his imperial throne.” What motivated him were “insecurity, paranoia and incorrigible snobbery.” Strong language indeed but it gets stronger than that in some parts. The paper contains very serious allegations about what UB turned into during Fako’s administration as well as how he treated his juniors.
“It was whispered that the dreaded directorate on intelligence service (DIS) operated at UB which made it difficult for people to trust fellow colleagues and express unfavourable opinions about the Fako regime. Reports emerged that meetings he chaired often had toxic atmosphere as discussions were not collegial and colleagues talked to abusively, reprimanded or dressed down like hooligans sometimes in the presence of their juniors. It is also said that it was not uncommon for senior administrators such as deputy vice chancellors, directors, deans, and heads of departments among others to be threatened with dismissals sometimes over the vice chancellor’s own lapses or mistakes,” Makgala writes in a 21-page paper titled ‘Political Patronage Gone Horribly Wrong’: The Professor ‘Fako Syndrome’ and the ‘Makererization’ of the University of Botswana, 2011-2017.
The paper is “dedicated to my friend and former colleague at University of Botswana, Reverend Dr. Obed Kealotswe, who lost his job at the university under humiliating circumstances.” The title has its own back story: the first part comes from the headline of a Sunday Standard story – ‘Fako as UB Boss is Political Patronage Gone Horribly Wrong.’ The story detailed how Fako’s politically motivated elevation was not a stroke of genius. The ‘Makererization’ in the post script refers to the Ugandan public university that which once had a reputation “so impressive that it attracted students from all over East Africa and even Britain.” Beginning in Idi Amin’s era to today, a set of adverse circumstances conspired to knock Makerere off its pedestal. That is the context in which Makgala uses the analogy.
“The political appointment of Fako and the resultant persecution of academics and students, as well as his unilateral reversal of his predecessor’s reform policies and processes constituted what in this paper is referred to as the ‘Makerererization’ of UB,” he writes.
Fako resigned last month at a time that the Ministry of Tertiary Education and Research wanted to have him suspended. As the paper notes, Fako never qualified for the post. The UB Council had recommended Professor Brian Mokopakgosi, the former Deputy Vice Chancellor for academic affairs at UB from 1998 to 2008.
“However, for the first time the minister of education decided against council’s choice and went for someone who was said to have been distant seventh in the queue,” Makgala’s paper says.