ZAMBIA: University rocked by protests

The University of Zambia was rocked by violent protests last week over the government's failure to pay student allowances. Riot police were called in as students' barricaded roads and stoned vehicles, and had to seal the institution to restore order. The country's oldest university has been disrupted by unrest every year for the past decade.

The students were demanding meal allowances of around US$100 per month that are now overdue. They also barred lecturers from leaving the institution.

In an interview with University World News, University of Zambia student union leader Duncan Nyirongo said they had called off the protests following government promises to pay up. "They have said they are going to release the money soon and we are waiting," he said.

But students threatened they would go back to the streets if the pledge is not honoured, in this poor Southern African nation that relies heavily on copper mining and donor funds.

Zambian universities face students protests and arrests nearly year - sometimes with fatal consequences.

In 2008 two University of Zambia students were shot and wounded by police during protests. The police later admitted they were using live ammunition at all student protests, sparking outrage among human rights activists and the late Zambian President, Levi Mwanawasa.

Last year nine students at another state-run institution of higher learning, Cobberbelt Universtity, were expelled following a violent protest.

The strikes have also resulted in massive destruction of property, especially vehicles that have been stoned while passing near campuses during protests.