BURKINA FASO: Lost academic year at Koudougou?

The outcome of the 2008-09 academic year remained uncertain last week at the University of Koudougou in Burkina Faso, as the National Association of Burkina Students (ANEB) continued its strike over conditions of study and against the university management's refusal to lift a collective 'zero' for students who boycotted coursework.

Students in the economics-business and arts-human sciences faculties had demanded improved conditions, and when they received no satisfactory response ANEB called a series of strikes. Under university rules students who followed the boycott were then awarded zero for the work they had missed.

Now a principal demand from ANEB is for lifting this penalty and rescheduling the missed courses.

Students were divided between solidarity with ANEB, and the wish to resume their studies and avoid sacrificing the year, reported San Finna of Ouagadougou. For now, said the paper, there was an impasse, with politicians unwilling to get involved and leaving the university to find a solution.

The 24th congress of the General Union of Burkina Students (UGEB), meeting in Ouagadougou last weekend, voted in favour of a motion supporting the ANEB action at Koudougou, Le Pays of Ouagadougou reported.

The Burkinabe Human and Peoples' Rights Movement also supported ANEB, criticising the "serious attack on the right to strike" at Koudougou, reported Le Pays.

But FESCO, Federation of Students of the Centre-West, described as a non-union students' association, called for calm return to university in September, said Le Pays. At a press conference, reported the paper, FESCO's secretary-general Urbain Bassolé said: "From mid-May to June our university passed through an unprecedented crisis after an order to strike by the ANEB section of Koudougou. We have reached a decisive stage in university life which needs all society's forces to mobilise to save the 2008-09 academic year."

He criticised the 'intransigence' of some students who had boycotted lectures, examinations and practical work following ANEB's strike order, and questioned why the protesting students had not considered "dialogue as the wisest way to resolve the current crisis". Students wanted to return to their studies, said Bassolé, who called for respect for "freedom of expression and the right not to strike".

The university's president, Bila Gérard Segda, also held a press conference on the crisis, accompanied by a host of university and political authorities, reported L'Observateur Paalga of Ouagadougou. He said that during the year's second semester ANEB had incited students to boycott lectures, practical work and assessments.

"These boycotts were carried out though the provisions of an order clearly laid down the conditions for handing in exam papers and controls," said Segda. Students all knew the conditions governing the university's operations which stipulated that all courses missed through strike action would be considered taken and penalised by zero marks, he said.

"We were therefore surprised to see that once again ANEB ordered all the students to boycott educational activities with a 72-hour strike from 4 to 6 June when they were informed that solutions were being planned for the practical work papers, regarding the texts for which the economics/business and arts/human science departments had to award zeros to several classes of students."

Segda claimed several further attempts had been made by the university to end the crisis, so far in vain; and he called on ANEB to allow students to return and finish their studies for the 2008-09 year, and start the new 2009-10 year.

(San Finna)
(Le Pays, UGEB)
(Human Rights org)
(Le Pays, FESCO)
(Observateur Paalga)