TANZANIA: Protests at universities, students expelled

Protests at Tanzania's institutions of higher learning appear to be far from over. There have been demonstrations at three universities in the past two weeks over issues ranging from lack of practical training to the disbanding of a student group and non-payment of allowances.

Students protested at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (Muhas) during a graduation ceremony, and at the University of Dar es Salaam 43 students have been expelled for inciting violence. At the University of Dodoma, the future of many students is uncertain.

The Dodoma students from the college of informatics have been accused of inciting other students to boycott classes and stage a demonstration against management, demanding practical training.

Back in June Minister for Education and Vocational Training Dr Shukuru Kawambwa had told parliament that the government had allocated funds for University of Dodoma students to attend practical training before the end of the 2010-11 academic year. Six months later, the students are still languishing at home.

At Muhas, a graduation ceremony was disrupted after police clashed with students who were demanding the restoration of their organisation, which the government dissolved following misunderstandings between students and the university's management in recent months.

Student anger at the situation has been blamed for escalating violence at the university that has threatened academic progress.

Pandemonium erupted after some 150 students stormed the graduation event, chanted anti-management slogans and confronted the university council chair, Deogratius Ntukamazina, demanding an assurance that their organisation would be restored.

Teargas was fired in the presence of the chancellor, retired Tanzanian President Ali Hassan Mwinyi, whom students had demanded to meet. He refused to sign a student document, and security forces intervened and used teargas to disperse the students.

The students fled to a nearby hostel where they started throwing stones from rooms, causing panic among the graduation guests. Police later quelled the disturbances and the celebrations continued peacefully.

However, the university later announced that it had indefinitely suspended 66 students for being "core figures in the protests".

At the University of Dar es Salaam, a security force presence was once again evident last week as students demonstrated over the disbursement of loans.

After two days of trouble, Vice-chancellor Rwekaza Mukandala announced the expulsion of 43 students involved, following a council meeting last Tuesday. He said rowdy students had among other things beaten and injured fellow students who were attending classes.

Mkandala said the institution was working with the Loans Board and the Tanzanian universities commission to deny the expelled students access to loans and admission to other universities. He also revealed that meal and accommodation allowances, which the group had been demanding, had been disbursed since 13 December.

He added that the protests had also resulted in a strike by bus owners who provide student transport, and that cafeteria operators who feared for their security and property had closed their businesses.

Students later told University World News that they would launch dialogue with the university administration in an effort to have their colleagues reinstated. Leaders of the Dar es Salaam University Students' Organisation said they believed the university would reverse the expulsions.

"We believe in dialogue and we are very sure that the management will listen to us and agree to let our colleague continue with their studies," said one, adding that the student demands were valid and that expelling them would not solve student problems.

If the 43 students were not reinstated, he warned, there would be more protests.