Calls for reopening of UCAD, closed since June after riots

Academics and students at the University Cheikh Anta Diop or UCAD, Senegal’s leading university, are demanding its reopening, after it and other universities were closed in June because of violent demonstrations over the imprisonment of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko in which nine people were killed.

While the universities of Ziguinchor in the south and of Saint Louis in the north reopened this month, UCAD has remained closed in spite of calls for it to resume teaching, reported Radio France Internationale (RFI).

“We want the reopening of UCAD more than anything!” the university’s Facebook page stated on 6 October, reported RFI. “We demand the opening of UCAD in October,” was the repeatedly posted comment.

Ndoye Ibrahima, a member of UCAD students’ association, said: “UCAD must return to reality and reopen [its] doors … We cannot follow a political calendar. Politicians have their political activities to perform; that must not prevent us, students and teachers, from being allowed to pursue our educational activities.”

Questions about ‘validity’ of academic year

According to students, it was impossible to guarantee examinations or practical work given online, and, therefore, the validation of their education was at stake – a sentiment echoed by the higher education union SAES [Syndicat Autonome de l’Enseignement Supérieur] which called for resumption of in-person teaching in all public universities, reported RFI.

Agence de Presse Sénégalaise reported that the national general secretary, David Célestin Faye, told a media conference: “The SAES demands the immediate reopening of all the universities … without which it can in no way be held responsible for threats on the validity of the academic year.”

He said the lecturers were ready to resume their teaching, and that distance education for the more than 150,000 students in the public universities could not just be improvised to deal with all the difficulties encountered by the Virtual University of Senegal since 2013.

“We are not warmongering unionists. In 38 years of existence the SAES has filed only eight strike notices,” Agence de Presse Sénégalaise reported him saying, referring to protest action the union had taken the previous week.

Faye claimed that “all the efforts agreed to by lecturers and researchers for a return to a normal academic calendar have been destroyed by the inopportune and continuing closures” of the universities “to suit the electoral calendar”.

“We ask teachers to refuse to give online courses, and to return to their classrooms. And they must resume their work, even if there are no students,” Agence de Presse Sénégalaise reported him saying.

Campus security

Maguette Sène, the director general of the Dakar COUD [Centre des Oeuvres Universitaires de Dakar], the organisation in charge of students’ living conditions, said UCAD should open in November but the administrative committee would be meeting to discuss what measures it was necessary to take, reported Le Soleil.

The paper reported him as saying: “The social campus of the University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar will soon open its doors. But, first, there are conditions we would like to discuss with the students and the teaching body, because 1 June was an unforgettable date in the university’s history.

“[There was] unprecedented violence, devastation. So it will be necessary to discuss conditions of security, access and housing to ensure social peace before opening the social campus. And, after that, in November, courses should resume on the campus.

1 June 2023 was the day Ousmane Sonko, opposition leader and rival of President Macky Sall, was sentenced to two years in prison for ‘corrupting young people’, a sentence sufficient to make him ineligible to stand in the presidential election in February 2024, reported Le Monde at the time.

Violent demonstrations took place between his supporters and the police in Dakar and Ziguinchor, where he is mayor, and spread to other towns, and nine people were killed. – Compiled by Jane Marshall.

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