Universities finally reopen after two closed years

Universities in Côte d’Ivoire reopened last week after two years of closure, and have been rehabilitated after the ravages of the post-electoral crisis.

However, reported Radio France Internationale, challenges remain – the capacity to cater for all students, making up the lack of equipment and facilities, and above all breaking with the violence of the past.

Côte d’Ivoire’s five universities had been restored after being vandalised and closed, said RFI, with the government releasing FCFA100 billion (US$192 million) for the two universities in Abidjan and those in Bouaké in the centre of the country, Korhogo in the north and Daloa in the centre-west.

The biggest, the University of Cocody in Abidjan, had been renamed Félix Houphouët-Boigny after the first Ivoirian president. A ceremony to start the new academic year took place there on 3 September, addressed by President Alassane Ouattara, reported Fraternité Matin.

Nearly 80,000 students and four years of students – from 2008-09 to 2011-12 – were starting their first year of studies following the disruption, with questions about how to cater for them all, said RFI.

Fees, which the government had tried to raise substantially to FCFA100,000, were reduced after protests but had been set at FCFA30,000 compared with the original FCFA6,000.

Ouattara’s government declared that for all students the new academic year would mark “a new departure, a total break with the past”, said RFI.

It quoted Higher Education Minister Ibrahima Cissé Bacongo as saying that students had previously been “manipulated, taken advantage of by the former regime of Laurent Gbagbo, and had taken to violence within the university community”.

He was referring in particular to FESCI, the powerful student union allied to Gbagbo, which was considered responsible for much violence and terror on campuses, said RFI.

The union had not been dissolved but its General Secretary Augustin Mian said there was an opportunity to turn the page, on condition that the government paid attention to students’ problems, reported RFI.

A few days before the year started, the president of the Commission of Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation, Charles Konan Banny, met student representatives to discuss their preoccupations, reported Notre Voie.

They complained that decisions were taken without their consultation or their worries being taken into account, despite their hope they could meet the minister, and even the president, for frank discussions on achieving a peaceful return to studies.

According to representative Désirée Bressi Gadou, many students had insecure lives because of the period of crisis. “While we talk of reconciliation, more than 2,000 students have been excluded from university. The drastic increase in enrolment fees has contributed to exclusion of many more,” she said.

Banny found that many of the students’ concerns were legitimate, reported Notre Voie, and he had promised to pass them on to the relevant authorities.

Banny said: “Since young Ivoirians, especially students, took part in the crisis, it is important and to be expected they should be associated with finding solutions. We must break with the dark past of the university and Ivoirian youth.

“Young people have been the key actors in this crisis, and the cream of these young people, the students, have been used to make war.”

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