CÔTE D'IVOIRE: President closes universities for 2012

A decision by President Alassane Ouattara to close Côte d'Ivoire's two universities until at least September 2012 has caused consternation in the higher education community and provoked condemnation by human rights organisations, according to press reports.

Critics point out that because of serious disruption before, during and after the disputed 2010 presidential election, young people are being penalised with the loss of two or even three years' tertiary education.

Officially the government closed the universities of Cocody and Abobo-Adjamé, both situated in the commercial capital, Abidjan, for renovation and to reorganise the higher education system to meet international standards.

But there are claims that the closures were made for political and electoral reasons, and that academics opposed to Ouattara are being victimised.

LIDHO, the Ivorian League of Human Rights, called on the government to reverse its move, condemning a "hasty" decision, which did not take account of the number of wasted years that had already hit the country, reported NotreAfrik.

LIDHO said the prolonged closure did not consider the consequences of "three lost years for the majority of students, with four generations of bacheliers [school-leavers who have passed the baccalauréat examination entitling them to a university education] at the start of the 2012 academic year".

Ivoire Business reported Légré René Hokou, president of LIDHO, as saying that in 2003, when Côte d'Ivoire was divided into two zones, "the state had considered it vital to continue to guarantee the children of this country their right to education. So the University of Bouaké was relocated to Abidjan.

"The present decision to close the public universities could cause unnecessary frustrations that could provoke social unrest," said Hokou, who called for immediate reopening of the Cocody faculty of medicine.

Meanwhile, Notre Voie of Abidjan reported that Professor Lou Bamba, general secretary of the National Ivorian Commission for UNESCO, gave an "ambiguous" reaction to the closure of the universities. Bamba neither condemned nor approved the action, said the paper.

In his statement Bamba said UNESCO had no comment to make. "It is not in our mission to make comments. It is up to each state to guarantee education. UNESCO does not condemn, but supports the government.

"The fundamental mission of this institution is to promote peace in the hearts of humans and education is the best way to strengthen this ideal. If all the unhappy circumstances contradict this ideal, UNESCO considers this a handicap."

Bamba's words, said Notre Voie, gave the impression of "rubbing up the regime the right way". Since the closure of the universities, it said, "no international organisation concerned with education, such as UNESCO and UNICEF, has made any statement to condemn the intellectual genocide underway in Côte d'Ivoire".

In an article published in the Nouveau Courrier of Abidjan, reprinted in a longer version by Cameroon Voice, Philippe Brou and F Toti claimed that the decision to close the universities was not for renovation and reform, but for electoral, political and "academic" reasons.

The government was condemning cohorts of students by keeping universities shut for two academic years, a decision taken with no consultation at all. "Everything is happening as if it were a question of promoting a political project based on ignorance," wrote Brou and Toti.

The decision announced by Ouattara had evidently taken place in the absence of any consensus and without any true negotiations with teachers or students, they said. His orders, which had not been ratified by parliament, were all illegal.

Among questions posed by Brou and Toti were: Why was it necessary to close universities to implement reforms? Could transitional arrangements not be made, through national consultation, to carry out urgent renovation of some departments, forge partnerships with the private sector and use ICT?

How could the teaching force not be consulted, when departments such as the faculty of medicine were closely linked to public hospitals? Were doctoral students in the same conditions as undergraduates, so they should be treated the same? Under what conditions would universities be able to receive at least three years of students combined in their first year?

"But the university is not a priority for the present regime, which all evidence shows is punishing students for voting by an overwhelming majority for the disgraced enemy, Laurent Gbagbo," they wrote.

Former President Gbagbo, who refused to accept the presidential victory of Ouattara in November 2010 and plunged the country into chaos, is currently in The Netherlands, standing trial at the international criminal court in The Hague on human rights charges.

Brou and Toti said that while the present government attached university violence solely to FESCI, strong-arm supporters of Gbagbo, the establishment of multi-partisanship and the politicisation of students, mostly on the left "like their teachers", had driven the 'thugs' of ex-president Houphuet-Boigny to support so-called loubards - hoodlums - on campus.

It was against these loubards, who were backed by Ouattara's right-hand man, that FESCI had formed their own force of bullies.

The true reasons for closing the universities were political and electoral, claimed Brou and Toti. According to some political observers Ouattara wanted to punish universities, which he considered 'hostile' to him.

Also, he wanted to remove their influence during the upcoming general and municipal elections, as the vote of the 'university contingent' was always a deciding factor. The general election took place last weekend.

Another reason for the closures was "academic", claimed Brou and Toti. University teachers had been sorely tried during the crisis, and many were imprisoned - notably Gbagbo's former prime minister and president of Cocody University, Professor Gilbert-Marie Aké N'Gbo. Others were in exile, or experiencing harassment.

Related links
CÔTE D'IVOIRE: Campuses closed by conflicts, sanctions
COTE D'IVOIRE: Student militia prop up Gbagbo regime

* This article is drawn from local media. University World News cannot vouch for the accuracy of the original reports.