MALI: Côte d'Ivoire students highlight difficulties

More than 350 students from Côte d'Ivoire studying in Mali are living in extreme difficulty with overcrowded living conditions and no grants or state aid. They have set up a self-help association, members of which have spoken to Ousmane Diallo of Nord-Sud Quotidien of Abidjan.

The president of the Association of Ivoirian Students in Mali, Mariko Souleymane, said the association had been formed as a place for "self-help and solidarity, to coordinate student activities and help newcomers to integrate into Mali society and its education system", because life in Mali was very expensive for many who were from families that were not well-off.

Enrolment fees were 300,000 FCFA (US$650) for foreigners, and while some students could afford them thanks to their parents, most struggled to pay as best they could. "Some have taken Malian nationality to bring the fees down to 5,000 FCFA. There are even some who pretend to be political refugees to claim aid," Souleymane said.

Unlike some countries such as Cameroon and Gabon, Côte d'Ivoire did not provide student accommodation. With a student card, students could apply for a place in three boarding facilities but these were insufficient for the Malian students. "Even so, the Mali association of students which manages the rooms, allocates them as best they can. For a room with eight beds, it's not uncommon to find 15, even 30, students crowded in, some sleeping on the balconies and others in the aisles," said Souleymane.

With no grants, it was difficult to obtain books. "Luckily, internet cafés let us carry out research and print copies that are not too expensive," said Souleymane.

Their difficulties had a bad effect on their studies, with students skipping lectures to do paid work. "I prefer to draw a veil over some female students, since it is not honorable for the country, and it is dangerous for their lives. That's our daily life, and there is no social service at the embassy," said Souleymane. "We have been abandoned!"

He said the embassy was supposed to help students in difficulty but would not receive them, and refused to let them meet the Ivoirian Prime Minister when he was on a visit to Mali. They had hoped to explain their grievances and demands concerning study grants, work placements, employment for when they returned home, housing for Ivoirian students and subsidies for the students' association, sports facilities and transport home in the holidays, explained Soulayeman.

Diallo questioned Ahipo Debo Noël Emmanuel, Côte d'Ivoire's ambassador to Mali, on the students' plight, and was told that the embassy was an institution with a budget that functioned according to budgetary rules. "I don't think the embassy is a welfare institution!" said the ambassador, who told Diallo he did not understand why everyone came to the chancery. "The embassy is living through the results of the economic situation that the country is experiencing. The embassy also has difficulties."

But he said that the embassy was "trying to make the authorities aware that there are Ivorians here who have problems."

The report in Nord-Sud Quotidien was published just over a month after a report in Le Pays of Ougadougou which described the difficulties of trainee teachers from Burkina Faso while studying in Senegal.
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