Protests as reopening of UCAD is postponed until January

The reopening of Senegal’s leading university, Cheikh Anta Diop, or UCAD, in Dakar, which was expected in November, has been postponed until January 2024, leading to student protests, a strike call by the SAES (Syndicat Autonome de l’Enseignement Supérieur) teachers’ and researchers’ union, and an urgent call for dialogue from a leading pro-democracy, anti-corruption association.

Along with Senegal’s other public universities, UCAD closed down its campus in June, following violent demonstrations by students protesting against the two-year prison sentence for Ousmane Sonko, principal opponent of President Macky Sall in upcoming presidential elections.

Some other universities have since reopened, and UCAD had planned to resume in-person courses in November but, at the end of October, it postponed the reopening until January of the campus which accommodates many of its 85,000 students, reported Sud Quotidien.

It quoted Maguette Sène, director of COUD [Centre des Oeuvres Universitaires de Dakar], the public organisation responsible for improving student life, as saying it was necessary to carry out renovation and security work following the riots.

“The university’s administration committee closed the campus in June and now it has again decided to delay the opening to install measures better adapted to prevent such damage happening again. My team and I are working to put in place a security system for which we must inspect the accommodation again, and also access to the campus.

“The Academic Council, when closing the campus in June, proposed online courses as an alternative,” and while these had their limits, COUD was “obliged to follow the proposal and to make the campus secure”, Sud Quotidien reported him as saying.

The decision did not please students or members of the teachers’ and researchers’ union SAES, that has been demanding UCAD’s reopening of the campus and in-person teaching, reported Sud Quotidien.

Student protests

As UCAD’s Vice-Chancellor, Ahmadou Aly Mbaye, was preparing to announce the date for reopening the university in November, students called a press conference on 23 October to give their position. But the police broke up the meeting with tear gas, saying it was not authorised.

The students went to another venue, to call on school students at all levels of education in Senegal to block lessons as long as UCAD remained shut. The police received orders to prevent the event taking place. The next day, the students disrupted lessons at a nearby lycée.

SAES, meanwhile, has called on its members to strike on 6 November and 7 November in protest against UCAD’s continuing closure, instructing its members to cease all educational and administrative activities and meetings, and an immediate stop to holding online courses in all public universities, reported the Agence de Presse Sénégalaise (APS).

The union rejected the claim that the reason for the continuing closure was renovation, which it said the authorities had seized on to avoid preparing for the programmed return to in-person courses.

SAES said a national conference would be held on 11 November “to intensify the fight”.

Call for dialogue

Meanwhile, Birahim Seck, the national coordinator of the Forum Civil, which “promotes good governance, transparency and the fight against corruption in Senegal”, called for all parties concerned to enter dialogue to bring peace to the university community, reported Sud Quotidien.

“The state must take seriously the situation prevailing in the universities. Education is a right. Students have the right and duty to study in the universities. The situation must be treated very seriously. And the university authorities must not behave like donors bestowing lessons.

“It must work in perfect collaboration with the students. They must let them express themselves, give their point of view. They must listen to the teachers’ unions who are at the heart of the universities, and who have the competence to make proposals to restore peace to the university community,” Sud Quotidien reported him as saying.

He told students to “prioritise dialogue if they are asked, so a favourable solution can be found. What we observe in the universities is deplorable. Students have the right to study. Social peace must be preserved so the different participants, teachers, university managers, students, can find a solution.” – Compiled by Jane Marshall.

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