11 April 2012

Mozambique: Ringleaders of Student Protest Must Leave Algeria

Maputo — The Mozambican government has not backed down from its position that the ringleaders of last month's protest by Mozambican students at the country's embassy in Algiers have forfeited their scholarships and must return to the country.

Replying to questions from deputies in the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, Martins added that all the other students at Algerian universities will be obliged to sign a solemn undertaking promising "to adopt a responsible stance and behaviour worthy of Mozambican students in higher education".

The student protest, involving about 80 of the 183 scholarship holders in Algeria, erupted on 19 March when, without prior warning, they occupied the embassy premises, in pursuit of their demand for an increase in the allowance of 150 US dollars a month which they receive from the Mozambican government.

Martins claimed that the students had intended to take the ambassador and other members of the embassy staff hostage. They failed to do so, but their demonstration closed the embassy for four days. They refused the ambassador's invitation to send a small group to speak with him, and even refused to speak on the phone with Octavio de Jesus, the director of the Education Ministry's Scholarship Institute (IBE).

Martins said 579 Mozambican students are studying on scholarships in 25 countries, on courses in areas "that are of great importance for the socio-economic development of the country". Through the bilateral agreements that Mozambique has signed with these countries, their governments provide them with complete scholarships.

"Despite the financial restrictions we face, Mozambique also gives the students an additional monthly allowance", the Minister added.

In the Algerian case, the students' tuition fees, accommodation and meals are paid for by the Algerian government, while the Mozambican authorities provide a 500 dollar installation allowance plus 150 dollars a month. In addition, Mozambique pays the air tickets to Algeria, visa fees and excess baggage costs.

Martins said the students were aware of the conditions that awaited them in Algeria, since they had been informed by the IBE, by the Algerian embassy in Maputo and by former students who had studied there.

He added that attending high education is a privilege. Only one in 240 Mozambicans is at university. And studying abroad was a rare privilege indeed - one in 40,000 Mozambicans is on a scholarship abroad.

Martins believed that nothing justified the occupation of the Algiers embassy. "This is not the behaviour expected of Mozambican students", he said. "It is an expression of contempt for the sacrifices made by the Mozambican government and people in order to ensure good quality training".

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