The unintended outcome of the Cindy-Shebaah battle

Cindy performs at Kololo

One of this year’s most anticipated music shows took place on Friday and lived to its billing with thousands of people filling up the Kololo ceremonial grounds for a music ‘battle’ between perhaps two of Uganda’s most sought-after musicians — Cindy and Sheebah.

I am not qualified to discuss who won the battle between the two. However, the fans and maybe even music or the music industry won given the interest people had in the show. Other areas may have won too.

One of the issues that attracted attention in the run-up to the ‘battle’ was the promoter of the show — Victoria University. It is perhaps the first time that an academic institution was not promoting a research paper, an innovative product, or a debate on some of the major challenges of our time. So, the question is should universities busy themselves with concerts like the Cindy-Sheebah one?

Universities teach music and drama and lots of other stuff in the entertainment sectors, and many of them are known to own theatres.

I have attended several shows in auditoriums that belong to universities and located on campus. I have also attended music concerts on university grounds. So, if universities can organize musicals on campus, they can organize them as well at national ceremonial grounds.

Ugandan private universities for many years have relied on tuition fees to do their work. That model has many challenges because fees alone are not sufficient. Ugandan private universities charge less than primary and secondary schools. This is because private universities compete with Makerere University, which is subsidized by the government.

So, they put their fees lower than Makerere yet without subsidies. In fact, many Ugandan private universities are struggling to stay afloat and many will either close or ask government to buy them like we saw with Kabale, Busoga and Mountain of the Moon universities.

Those that will survive need to do what universities in Uganda may not usually do — aggressive marketing. I used to teach at a university and I urged them to consider setting up a marketing department to improve their student enrolment, grow their brand and look for other ways to increase their income beyond student fees.

Many universities in developed economies do that. They organize roadshows in markets where they expect prospective students and approach corporate brands to fund certain activities.

At many universities, private and public companies fund research in certain areas or sponsor the training of students in some courses. The stock exchange regulator would sponsor business journalism courses on securities and the central bank would do the same on treasury bonds and bills.

Other universities like Harvard are known for their endowment funds from which they get money to supplement tuition fees. In Kenya, universities own private hospitals and some even shopping malls. I think Makerere also owns a printery but I am not sure it does a lot of work beyond students’ thesis booklets and some university publications.

The university hospital down the road I think is more of a clinic for the students yet it could be one of the biggest hospitals in Uganda bringing Makerere a lot of extra income. But again, Makerere is a public university!

The success of the Cindy-Sheebah battle with a private university as the major promoter shows that academic institutions can do some of these things, to supplement their income, use them as marketing platforms and wean themselves off their overreliance on tuition fees.

Universities like Witwatersrand in South Africa once owned a successful football club that even won that country’s premier league. American universities and colleges own basketball teams and get some of their income from this sport.

Can Ugandan universities own music studios? Why not? But they could also do more than just organizing concerts. Using the Cindy-Sheebah show, they could look for new academic courses and programs to introduce that are relevant today’s young people. Courses that can lead to meaningful and decent sustainable jobs.

I don’t know if there is a university in Uganda that teaches events management yet to organize a show as big as the Cindy-Sheebah one, there is a lot that that needs to be done: planning, venue selection, sales and marketing, security, vending and lots of stuff.

There are events almost every weekend everywhere, many of which are poorly organised due to lack of expertise. Look at weddings where hundreds of millions are spent and how the majority are poorly organized. Many of the so-called wedding planners simply learnt on the job and are as unprofessional as they come.

What about an academic program in events management with wedding planning as one of the courses? What about another academic program or course in decoration? Influence marketing, anyone?

Such programs and courses would make universities more relevant, teaching stuff that could lead young people to getting real jobs, a key perhaps unintended outcome of the Cindy-Sheebah ‘battle.’

The writer is a communication and visibility consultant.

Source: The Observer

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