Students protest against illegal buildings on campus

Demonstrations by students at the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar – against illegal buildings on campus – have turned violent, with tyres set alight and stones thrown at police who responded with teargas. Meanwhile, there are problems of long-term maladministration of student accommodation, half of which is occupied by non-students.

On Friday 8 April hundreds of students blocked the streets of the Ambohipo and Ambolokandrina areas of the capital Antananarivo, in protest against illegal construction at the Ankatso campus, reported L’Express.

The publication quoted them as saying: “Private properties have invaded the university grounds. We have nowhere to put our feet because of their construction. This building must stop in the interest of the students.”

The protests

The demonstrators blocked traffic and burned wood and tyres, reported L’Express. The protest became more violent when the police arrived, with students throwing stones and the police responding with teargas to disperse them.

Although the stone-throwing continued and the police chased the protesters, no arrests were made because “it was too dark to identify them”, according to the police commander.

The protests resumed the following day, with more violent confrontations between demonstrating students and the police, wrote L’Express. Teargas penetrated local housing estates, causing breathing problems among residents.

Striking students denied that they were responsible for blocking the roads and blamed unconnected hooligans for throwing stones, and for breaking windows of cars and a bank.

No-one was arrested, but L’Express reported the university president, Professor Panja Ramanoelina, as saying the ‘university franchise’ – the law that prevented police entering university campuses – had temporarily been lifted for inspections to be made of the illegal building work that was carried out mostly at night.

A higher education ministry official assured students that complaints against the illegal builders had already been lodged in court.

“A partial lifting of the university franchise made it possible for the police to enter the campus to identify and pursue the troublemakers,” Midi Madagasikara quoted him as saying.

The demonstrators said they would continue their strike if the ministry did not find solutions soon.

Decade-long student housing crisis

Meanwhile, a dispute over maladministration of student housing at the University of Antananarivo has lasted more than 10 years, reported Radio France Internationale or RFI.

The reasons for the conflict between the organisation in charge of managing the accommodation and students included illegal occupation of student rooms by non-students, widespread non-payment of rents, and allocation of accommodation outside official channels, said RFI. Out of a total 6,000 places, 3,000 were occupied illegally.

RFI gave an example of Jemima, her husband and daughter, none of them students, who had lived in a dilapidated student bedsit measuring eight square metres for four years.

“I know I’m illegal here, but it’s very practical for us because we’re not very well-off. The rent isn’t expensive – we pay the Croua [the regional centre in charge of the university’s services] 700 ariary [US$0.22] a month; water and electricity are free.”

Such families were too poor to live elsewhere in the capital, but there were more than 1,000 ‘real’ students who were homeless, said RFI.

Croua’s planning officer Noro Ramiaranjakaharimanana regretted the situation. “We must move out those who are not students.

“Last November we couldn’t finalise the census of illegal occupants because the students were angry with us. So in the second semester of this year we shall organise a workshop so we can find solutions to bring order to the management of student housing.”

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