Violence against African students undermines HE plans

Tunisia continues to witness incidents of criminally or racially motivated violent attacks on Sub-Saharan African students, which threaten the safety of the foreign academic community and undermine Tunisia’s plan for becoming an attractive African hub for education and training.

Among the incidents making the news more recently was that involving Falikou Coulibaly, the president of the Association of Ivorian students in Tunisia, who was stabbed to death in the capital Tunis, on 23 December last year.

Following his murder, the Association of African Students and Trainees in Tunisia issued a statement calling for Sub-Saharan African students living in Tunisia to protest against violence and racial discrimination targeting Sub-Saharan Africans and to denounce what they say is a hate crime, according to media reports.

Racism at universities

A recent study by the Tunisian Association for the Support of Minorities has shown that over 70% of Sub-Saharan African students are victims of racism at universities or in public life, according to a video report from CGTN Africa during coverage of the association’s 2018 international symposium organised by the Free University of Tunis.

Over the past few years, there have been periodic attacks on African students in Tunisia. On Christmas Eve in 2016, three Congolese students were stabbed in Tunis.

In an important step forward in defending the rights of the 10% to 15% of Tunisians who identify as black, as well as the country’s 60,000 Sub-Saharan African immigrants, Tunisia’s parliament passed the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination Act on 9 October last year, which defines and criminalises racial discrimination, according to the US think tank, the Brookings Institute.

Beyond Tunisia

“Tunisia is no exception to North Africa’s attack on foreign students,” Samir Khalaf Abd-El-Aal, research professor at the National Research Centre in Cairo, told University World News.

“There are two recent cases in Morocco and Egypt where the motive is still unknown,” Abd-El-Aal said.

These cases include the murder of two Scandinavian university students in Morocco on 17 December last year, along with the death of Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni, who was tortured and murdered in 2016 while in Egypt doing academic research on trade unions.

“These types of violent attacks or deaths, even if they are not targeting the academic community specifically, discourage foreign students and researchers from studying and carrying out joint research projects at the region’s universities,” Abd-El-Aal said.


“It also has a harmful effect on strategies intended to internationalise the higher education system by attracting foreign branch campus,” Abd-El-Aal said.

“International students, like tourists, need a safe environment and security otherwise they will leave to other destinations,” Manar Sabry told University World News. Sabry is a higher education expert at Binghamton University, State University of New York, and Middle East and North Africa region editor for the Comparative and International Education Society newsletter.

According to news reports, plans by the University of Liverpool to open up a campus in Egypt have been scrapped in the face of opposition from the UK academic community against the backdrop of unanswered questions about the abduction and murder of Regeni.