17 October 2011

Cote d'Ivoire: Universities Close, Students Try to Survive

Abidjan — Soon after Ouattara's ascension to power in the Ivory Coast, university buildings were vacated so that renovation work could commence. In the meantime, students have found a new life for themselves far from the university; a life that could divert them from their initial ambitions.

Theatre of violent conflicts

Just a few months ago, during the 'battle of Abidjan' between pro-Ouattara and pro-Gbagbo forces, the FESCI (the Student Federation of Ivory Coast), which ruled over the residences, vowed to defend Laurent Gbagbo by "all means necessary". As a result, the university campuses and residences became theatres of violent conflict.

An estimated 100,000 students from Abidjan's three universities (Cocody, Abobo-Adjamé and Bouaké) have since taken a forced vacation. Today, with the return of peace in Abidjan, the walls of amphitheatres and other university buildings still bear the marks of the fighting. The buildings are being restored but the timeframe for the completion of the work remains unknown. Meanwhile, a great portion of students find themselves on the street, some engaging in informal activities to earn an income.

Making ends meet

Gado Akadié, a doctorate candidate in Applied Chemistry at the University of Cocody, in the Ivorian capital, has been a full-time mobile call booth manager since the closure of faculties and residences. "I have always dreamed of becoming an executive officer in a company that manufactured chemical products. Unfortunately I am now working in a sector where I don't get to apply any of my academic knowledge. It's a pity," says Gado.

Just like Gado, Stéphane Tanoh was a postgraduate student. He was doing a masters in Philosophy and used to live in the university residence of Abobo 2. In order to meet his basic needs, Stéphane had no choice but to work in a laundrette. "While I was living in the university residence, the bursary I used to receive was enough to cater for my needs without me having to do odd jobs on the side. Now there is no more bursary, so while I was looking for my dream job, I had to do something to make ends meet. I couldn't sit there and wait for help the might never come".

Lecturers and students in the same situation

"Compared to the students, our situation may be seen as enviable since we are still receiving our wages. However, this political and academic crisis is also affecting us, because the universities are closed for everyone. We cannot access the libraries and research centres. That's unfortunate", explains Dr Mathieu Kouadio, a lecturer at the University of Cocody.

Dr Kouadio adds: "One who is not learning, is forgetting! The prolonged closure of university faculties and residences will definitely have an impact on the students' academic performance, as most of them could resort to odd jobs in order to survive. They may no longer want to resume their studies, when the universities reopen".

When is the reopening?

"The priority at the moment is not the reopening of campuses and residences. The university grounds need to be cleaned and an atmosphere conducive to studying should be created for both the students and their lecturers." This was the response of Cissé Bacongo, Minister of Higher Education, on national television when he was asked about the reopening date.

The Minister remained elusive, thus adding to the worries of the students and their parents. That's the view of Donatien N'srouan, a parent who had three children enrolled at the University of Cocody, in Abidjan. "The Minister should not try to avoid the question; he should clarify the matter for us. As the days go by, not knowing when our children will go back to school only adds to our stress".

Meanwhile, students are looking for ways and means to get by. Their difficult situation has led many of them to put their books away, possibly for good, in some cases.

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