Stalemate after sacking of Mahajanga vice-chancellor

Madagascar’s government has conceded to student demands and sacked the president of the University of Mahajanga, in the northeast of the country, seven months after police clashes with demonstrating students during which a student died.

The dismissal of Antoine Rabesa Zafera by the council of ministers was announced this month, a decision supported by students and approved by the union representing lecturers and researchers, SECES, which was consulted by the government according to Midi-Madagasikara.

But the sacking was opposed by the university’s governing council, which argued that it was a grave infringement of university autonomy for the government to sack a university president who had been elected by members of the university community, reported Midi-Madagasikara.

Under the law a university president could be dismissed only for ‘serious misconduct’, which the council did not consider Zafera had committed.

The conference of presidents, which represents all heads of the nation’s public universities, backed the university council.

However, with reference to the text of the relevant legal order, Midi-Madagasikara said ‘serious misconduct’ could refer to “the inability of Rabesa to restore order [when] faced with a situation in which a man had died and serious damage had been caused to property, public or otherwise”.

The events that led to Zafera’s dismissal occurred in January, reported the French newspaper Le Figaro at the time.

Since October 2013 students had been criticising delays in room allocations and non-payment of state grants, and 14 students had been excluded from the university for protesting.

The exclusions had incited the January demonstrations, to which the police had responded with teargas. But this failed to disperse the students, who threw stones at the police, who in turn retaliated by firing real bullets.

The confrontation resulted in 11 students being injured, three seriously, shot in the abdomen, shoulders and legs; 12 police officers injured, one seriously, as well as fire and other damage to university property, reported Madagascar Tribune of Antananarivo.

A government delegation – including the ministers of higher education and research and of communications – went to Mahajanga to visit the students in hospital, one of whom later died, reported Madagascar Tribune. The paper said some sources claimed three students had died.

Le Figaro reported that the ministers, anxious to resolve the crisis, agreed to the principal demands of the striking students and suspended Zafera, and released students who had been imprisoned following the confrontation with police.

The confirmation this month of Zafera’s dismissal by the council of ministers was reported in Midi-Madagasikara, following President Hery Rajaonarimampianina’s return from abroad.

But the situation had not been resolved, said Midi-Madagasikara. Students, appeased by the decision to sack the president, were making further demands including postponement of their exams, while the university council was opposing the decision.

With an indefinite suspension of courses and after several months of turmoil, clashes and injuries, said the paper, it was probable that the university year would be wasted.

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