Call for all African universities to tighten security

The Association of African Universities, or AAU, has “strongly urged” higher education institutions across the continent to strengthen security on campuses to ensure the safety of students and staff and the protection of property. The call came in the wake of numerous atrocities committed by religious fundamentalists against educational institutions.

The statement by the Ghana-based AAU was particularly in response to the attack by Islamist al-Shabaab extremists on Garissa University College, Kenya, in which 148 people were killed, and “the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, north-eastern Nigeria, by Boko Haram insurgents exactly a year ago”.

Further, on 14 April the al-Qaeda linked militant group al-Shabaab attacked the Ministry of Education, Culture and Higher Education in Mogadishu, Somalia, killing more than a dozen people.

“Education is key to development in every society,” said the AAU, which represents hundreds of universities across Africa.

“It is therefore very heartbreaking to see students, who are the future leaders of Africa, lose their lives or become maimed through such unorthodox and barbaric means whilst searching for knowledge. This cannot be allowed to go on uncurbed.”

The AAU called on the international community, African Union, other regional bodies in Africa and religious groups to join forces in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

“The Association is again calling on all universities to increase collaboration with the various security forces in their countries to ensure that campuses are well protected and very safe spaces for academic work,” it said.

Expert views

Higher education experts said attacks on higher education in Africa should be seen within the context of broader security issues.

Kenyan scientist Calestous Juma, director of the science, technology and globalisation project at Harvard University, told University World News: “Security is now a concern for all types of institutions and large gatherings of people.”

“Universities are also exposed to ideologically-inspired attacks because they shape the future,” said Juma, who is also co-chair of the African Union's High Level Panel on Science, Technology and Innovation.

“The overall issue is that security has now become a central aspect of governance.”

Juma Shabani, former director of development, coordination and monitoring of UNESCO programmes with a special focus on Africa, told University World News: “The terrorist attacks against higher education institutions in Africa cannot be generalised.”

The killings at Garissa University College should be analysed in the broader context of attacks by al-Shabaab against countries – including Kenya, Uganda and Burundi – that provided troops to the African Union peace support operations in Somalia, whose mandate included “to reduce the threat posed by al-Shabaab and other armed opposition groups”.

Al-Shabaab attacks in East Africa did not only focus on higher education institutions but also included killing 67 people during a siege at Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall in 2013, and bombing a sports bar in Uganda’s capital Kampala during the 2010 World Cup, killing at least 74 football fans.

“It is necessary to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the intelligence services in connection with activities of terrorist groups and to strengthen the capacity of police and army forces to ensure speedy and effective interventions in case of terrorist attacks on higher education institutions and other sites attracting large numbers of people,” Shabani concluded.