Several records and documents will not be recovered from the Makerere University main building that was gutted by fire in the wee hours of Sunday, according to officials. They say that a majority of the documents that were stored in the building were still kept in hardcopy files and few of them had been digitized.
The areas affected by the fire had documentation about the university investment portfolio, council records, Memorandums of Understanding and audit reports. Legal and financial documents were also stored there, alongside human resource information including staff contract and staff retirement information.
Sources at the university say one of the most important items that were destroyed in the fire could be the university seal which was kept by the University Secretary.
Alex Kakooza, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education said that although the university has lost the iconic building, the biggest damage is on records that were inside the building. According to him, less than half of the documents that were kept in the building had been digitalized. Most of the documents that are as old as the university had been kept in the central registry and had not yet been digitalized.
“We have lost the building and a lot of records. Fortunately the University was digitizing, puting their documents online that process had gone like half way. Some documents could have been saved. But there are some that will be hard to reconstruct, especially those very old files relating to individuals kept at the registry,” Kakooza said.
At the scene of the fire, some university members of staff were seen with a few documents that they had managed to save. It also remains unclear whether any documents located in the offices that remain standing will be salvaged given the huge amounts of water used to put out the fire.
Jackie Keirungi Ayorekire, the head of planning and investment at Makerere University told URN that most of the records and documents that were located in the right-wing might never be recovered since the university had only just recently begun digitizing a few. Ayorekire told URN that her entire office was burnt to ashes and no document was saved.
“I doubt we shall be able to recover anything because even the few that had been digitized might be destroyed since the servers, where the information was stored, were also in the same building,” she said.
She adds that although they have off-campus data servers, they do not know how much could have been saved there at the moment.
Earlier, the University Vice-Chancellor Barnabas Nawangwe allayed fears that records had been destroyed. “The fire at our Main Building was a very big tragedy. However, I would like to assure all our alumni, staff, students, and the general public that all our records past and current; Human Resource, student, academic and financial records are… safely stored in digital form,” Nawangwe tweeted.
Prof Nawangwe added that they are comforted by the fact that most of the university’s finance documents are with the Ministry of Finance since they are undergoing an audit. Nawangwe adds that other information is also kept at the different colleges and can be recovered from there. However, he hastens to add that the damage is enormous.
A source knowledgeable about the university says the institution has three major data servers that are located at different sites within the university including the main building. The other areas that host the servers are the College of Computing and Information Science and the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology.
“Even with the other servers, a lot of information will be lost because what happens in the main building normally affects the running of the entire university. The building housed many offices that are vital in the running of Makerere,” the source says.
As many people who have gone through Makerere are scared about the safety of their academic documents, university officials say that there is no need to worry as far as student academic information is concerned. They say university transcripts and student records are kept in The Academic Registrars Office which is located at the Senate Building.
This is not the first incident of fire where the main building has been involved. In 2018, a fire broke out in the central registry, although it was put out before it caused any damage. The cause was later attached to old electrical wiring that was eaten by a rat thus causing a short circuit.
Simon Sagala Mulindwa, a 70-year-old man who managed the Printery for over 13 years says in the late 90s a fire broke out in the cash office but to date, the cause of the fire remains unknown as there was no police report issued on the matter.