Violent protests against holiday campus closures

About 50 students were due to appear in court last Tuesday following violent confrontations that erupted with police in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, as students protested against the closure of university accommodation and other services during the holidays.

Vehicles belonging to the authorities were seized or set alight by students on the night of 1 August, the day the Centre National des Oeuvres Universitaires, or CENOU – the organisation in charge of managing student services – had fixed for closing campuses at the end of the university year.

Sidwaya Quotidien reported that the security police, the CRS, arrived and ordered students at the Patte d’Oie student residences to evacuate within 15 minutes.

As students were collecting their possessions, the CRS released tear gas, and then some students set fire to a car. Fighting broke out between police and students in the area. Some students took refuge in a mosque.

Sidwaya journalists made their way to another student residence, Kossodo, where they reported that 13 vehicles and 12 motorbikes were torched, and 24 vehicles vandalised.

Hyacinthe Sanou, journalist from L’Observateur Paalga, witnessed the confrontation between students and the CRS.

She described how the police cleared away the students’ improvised barricades of stones, planks, tables and chairs, and fired tear gas into kiosks, houses, shops and mosques in the vicinity of the university as students stampeded.

“The air was unbreathable, everyone was suffocating within minutes.” Cars were set on fire, “the smoke from which mixed with that of the tear gas. The [university] enclosure is just a vast cemetery of vehicles,” wrote Sanou.

“Before closing down student residences, or at least before closing the university restaurants, there should be an official notice addressed to the students,” student representative Ousseini Ouedraogo told Radio France International.

“Then the students could make arrangements to leave the residences before the given date. But in this case we only knew the day before the restaurant’s closure.”

Official response

But according to André Batiana, director of CENOU, the residences and restaurants would remain open a few more days, reported RFI.

The day following the riots Batiana told Sidwaya Quotidien that it was normal practice to close down services during the holidays. He had met students that morning and told them they should return vehicles belonging to the public authorities.

The state had promised to examine the students’ proposals, but their refusal to return publicly owned vehicles, making it impossible for certain duties to be carried out, was “unacceptable”.

He explained that two or three weeks previously there had been some disruption on campuses caused by uncertainty over whether the university year would have to be extended [and so facilities remained open], as it had been in the previous two years.

This year academic authorities had ruled there was no need to extend, and universities throughout the country would revert to the normal situation of closing from 1 August until 1 October.

CENOU had discretion to allow some students in difficult circumstances to remain on campus. That was a matter for negotiation, and no students had approached the centre or other university authorities.

Instead, they had taken to the streets to seize public vehicles belonging to foreign partners or other institutions, said Batiana. The CRS had intervened to try to recover them.


Political opposition parties condemned the use of force against the students, reported Fasozine of Ouagadougou. Their statement said: “Once again the government has decided to act against the interests of the people by forcibly expelling, in the middle of winter, our children from the university residences of Ouagadougou.

“Police and gendarmes used batons and tear gas and hounded the students who were taken by surprise by a casual order to clear their rooms within 48 hours, and some even within the next 15 minutes, with no valid reason.”

The reaction of students, many of whose families lived in the provinces or abroad, was to detain some university staff, seize vehicles and demand negotiations to delay the date they would have to leave and allow others who were preparing for entrance exams for public service to do so in peace, said the opposition statement.

It called for the release of arrested students, return of confiscated belongings and the opening of negotiations to resolve peacefully the students’ problems, which were genuine.

Several days after the confrontations Fasozine reported that more than 7,000 students had been evicted from campuses.

It said that a ‘chain of solidarity’ for the homeless students had been formed, with opposition politicians and social associations launching an appeal for donations. Student union ANEB had set up a system to bring together students with those offering help.

About 50 students from abroad, mostly women, were housed and fed by the principal opposition party Union pour le progress et le changement, reported L’Observateur Paalga.

The government’s social action ministry was carrying out a census of those in need, intending to offer accommodation to those in difficulty. But, reported Fasozine, the day after the announcement no students had registered with the ministry. The paper said that according to witnesses students had been threatening to disrupt the operation.

At a press conference ANEB congratulated the student demonstrators for their courage, but the union made it clear it had not called for the action, reported Le Pays. It described the social action ministry’s move as “ironic” as it was “the same government that evicted the students then offered them solidarity”.

ANEB called for the release of detained students and the reopening of student accommodation and restaurants.

Fasozine reported that about 50 students were due to appear in court last week, defended by about 10 volunteer lawyers.

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