Upon his inauguration in 2011, a seemingly buoyant University of Botswana (UB) Vice-Chancellor, Professor Thabo Fako laid down a road map for his vision for the University. A vision that undoubtedly that resonated with the dreams of many within the corridors of the institution. Seven years later, a close perusal of his inaugural promises including his fall from grace suggests that his tenure failed to achieve the lofty aspirations he set.
Fako inherited a transforming and troubled institution that many thought required a firm administrator but while he was widely described as an intellectual par excellence- Fako lacked the administrative wherewithal to drive the reformation.
Following his unforeseen fall from grace and an alleged fall-out with his superiors at the parent ministry and subordinates at the university, many are wondering- what legacy Fako leaves.
As with most newly appointed leaders, Fako without a doubt was a beacon of hope for the highest learning institution in the country, which had to close ealier this year following yet another destructive strike. Having joined the University in 1978 as a Sociology lecturer, Fako who resigned a fortnight ago rose through ranks to the position of the Chief Executive Officer.
Prior to Fako’s inauguration, the UB faced several challenges from the deteriorating working conditions demoralized and demotivated staff, the loss of staff, flawed Performance Management System, thorny supplementary examinations, impending reorganisation of academic structures, bad parking policy, acerbic employer-employee relations and the lack of organisational democracy among other challenges.
Fako, alive to the fact that in such challenges lay opportunities, grasped the challenge and made several promises to the nation, UB staff and the student community. The promises compounded the issues he had promised to address, giving rise to a fierce public debate after the old UB logo was scrapped for his new and controversial one. He also engaged in several court battles with staff and the later the Parliament Committee on Statutory Bodies and Enterprises which threatened to jail him for failing to appear before the committee for the second consecutive year.
An assessment of Fako’s inaugural speech promises
In 2011 during his inauguration, Fako made a few promises, The Gazette speaks to University of Botswana Academic and Senior Support Staff Union (UBASSSU), Secretary General, Aobakwe Banamile on Fako’s inaugural speech.
Fako: To share appreciation of where the leadership is taking the university requires a leadership style that believes in consultative management. Botswana was built on a culture of consultation and that is the culture that I am going to nurture at UB, the university has a great potential to achieve its strategic goals through its highly-trained staff, provided that the working environment is improved and tendencies towards various forms of maladministration, including favouritism, nepotism, tribalism, and cronyism are addressed.
UBASSSU: Ever since Fako’s initial appointment as the Vice Chancellor in 2011, he has disregarded the practice of the collegial, annual address of staff to update them on the implementation of the university’s strategies in fulfilling its mandate. He has only addressed staff last year on the 20th of October after almost six (6) years. Apart from the six-year lapse, the address had no substance and had not even been shared in either electronic or print form as a point of reference for discussion. This was a complete departure from an established culture of consultation at the University of Botswana. His administration was riddled with maladministration, favouritism and cronyism.
Fako: I promise to improve transparency and participation, promoting a culture of efficiency and effectiveness and improving the image of the institution as a compassionate and caring employer.
UBASSSU: His administration was clouded with secrecy. UBASSU representatives at Council have been barred from sharing information on decisions of Council with their constituents due to a misconstruction and misapplication of the “confidentiality clause” that they signed to, thus making their representation nugatory.
The memoranda of information from Secretary to Council which communicate decisions of the council were not shared timely, fully and in good faith. Staff is in the dark as to why the council has taken some of the decisions such as rationalisation which create fear and anxiety amongst staff. This has left staff in despair and has affected productivity.
Fako: I have a vision of the university as an institution that is committed to access without jeopardizing the quality of university experience for students.
UBASSSU: Fako has never focused on student issues. UB witnessed shrinking student numbers which threaten job security at the county’s oldest institution of higher learning which has been the national pride over the years.
Fako failed to make a case to the authorities as to why the university should have sufficient numbers of students to sustain its programmes and operations. It was questionable whether he had any comprehensive strategy in place for attracting both local and international students beyond 2016, as part of the University of Botswana chapter or section within the National Development Plan 11.
He delayed admission of students into the University of Botswana programmes due to bottlenecks and inflexibility in the administrative processes which was an indictment on Fako’s performance.
Fako: My dream is of the University where staff and students know that it is not enough to have a good mind, one must use it well and reason with others, for it is reason that distinguishes people from animals and that differences of opinion are not due to differences of intelligence but to the fact that people use different approaches and consider different things.
UBASSSU: He has never been tolerant to views that are different from his. He always clamped down any views that were divergent to his. He has never engaged staff and students meaningfully.
Fako: I pledge to faithfully discharge my duties and responsibilities in accordance with the provisions of the University Act and the Statues, and to the best of my ability to provide sound academic and administration leadership of the university.
UBASSSU: Fako’s administration was characterised by a disturbing culture of lack of respect for the university statutes and guidelines for appointments and promotions of staff. The first clear case of this has occurred at the Faculty of Education with respect to the deputy deanship position, where a sole senior lecturer applicant was denied appointment and the opportunity to assume that position under the pretext that only a person of the rank of associate or full Professor was preferable.
The second example comes from the Department of Human Resources at which three staff members were appointed in March 2016 to positions of deputy directors outside of the sanctioned norms. This matter is before the lawyers in preparation for litigation.
The third example comes from the CCE where two staff members without the necessary qualification of being senior lecturers were appointed acting heads in the Department of Distance Education and the Department of Extra-Mural and Public Education, respectively. Their appointments were an act of rewarding them for not having joined in a court action that foiled the illegal en masse transfers and dispersal of the CCE academic staff in May 2014.
The fourth example is with respect to the irregular appointment of the current Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences who is a staff member and professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine. Statutes don’t provide for a faculty to be headed by an individual whose discipline and department is administratively located in another faculty that is to say, an outsider.
A renowned American author, entrepreneur and contributor to Forbes Magazine, Jeff Boss writes that:
“Leading isn’t easy. In addition to the responsibility of making tough decisions every day, there is another critical component that pervades a leader’s thinking, something that he or she can’t help but wonder from time to time, and that is: What will be my leadership legacy?”
Boss continues that “a leader’s legacy is a by-product of the historical decisions one makes driven by his or her personal values. In other words, a solid legacy plants the seeds from which consistency and expectations sprout that, in turn, become the organizational funnel for future performance.”
In conclusion, Fako’s supporters argue that like every leader, Fako has got his failures and success stories. “It is through Fako that we have seen UB’s infrastructural transformation,” said one of his supporters who argued that infrastructural development is one of the modern day’s key aspects of development. The University has closed down and Fako has jumped ship.
Despite repeated efforts to contact Fako for two weeks, message sent to his contacts were not responded to at the time of going to press.