Four students were found dead Friday in a feeder irrigation canal of an experimental farm next to the main campus of the University of Gezira. The students drowned to death; their bodies carried no marks of injury, said the local police.
Mohamed Yunis Nayel Hamed, Adil Mohamed Ahmed Hamadi and al-Sadiq Abdalla Yagoub were identified as Darfuris and the fourth al-Nu'man Ahmed al-Gurashi as a Gezira lad. Last week, the University of Gezira witnessed clashes between Darfur students demanding their exemption from tuition fees and student supporters of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). The security authorities upon invitation by the university administration intervened and arrested tens of the protesting Darfur students, among them the four found dead on Friday. The Vice Chancellor declared on Saturday the suspension of studies in the University of Gezira till further notice "in order to secure lives and property". In their demand the Darfur students cited the Doha Document for Peace and Darfur (DDPD) signed between the government and the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) in May 2011.
Article 14 of the DDPD deals solely with the Darfuri quest for higher education, the rite of passage to political emergence and national visibility, and is worth quoting in full: "15% of admissible seats in national universities shall be allocated for students from Darfur pursuant to the requirements of competition for 5 years; The people of Darfur shall be represented in the management of national universities and higher education institutions based on the competence and scientific qualifications specified by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research; 50% of admissible seats in national universities in Darfur shall be allocated for the sons and daughters of Darfur pursuant to the admission committee requirements. Meanwhile a mechanism or committee shall be constituted to examine the conditions of those affected by war to be exempted from university fees for 5 years; All students who are the offspring of IDPs and refugees from Darfur States duly admitted by the admission committee to national universities shall be exempted from educational fees for 5 years; The admission procedures for the children of IDPs, refugees and those affected by war shall be facilitated in the various localities in the States of Darfur."
To a Darfur student asking for the waiver of fees the paragraphs of the article are clear enough, providing five years exemption to the offspring of IDPs and refugees and a committee to consider the same for all those affected by war in the region. To the cash-hungry university administrator eager to purse fees at the beginning of the academic year the same paragraphs are rich with conditions that could be employed to rubbish applications for a waiver with bureaucratic pleasure. I can imagine requests for proof of IDP status, proof of Darfur origin, identification documents, and the wildest disputes over stamps, signatures, and due verification from local, state and national authorities. Once a Darfur student fails to establish in solid stamped and signed paper that she or he is the offspring of IDPs or refugees the waiver can be immediately dropped of course, exactly like most committees and commissions born out of peace agreements.
The Vice Chancellor of the University of Gezira, Mohamed Omer Warrag, said today that the campus violence of last week could have been avoided had the relevant rules and regulation been diligently applied. Mr. Vice Chancellor, reported students of the University, flashed an iron rod in his hand when confronting the protesting Darfur students in the company of a mix of security agents, police, and student supporters of the ruling party, regulations indeed! In a statement issued on Friday the Darfur Students Association in the University of Gezira held the university administration and students' union responsible for the deaths and demanded the dismissal of the Vice Chancellor and the prosecution of the perpetrators. Immediate criminal responsibility for the deaths is unlikely to be established in a court of justice. Personally, I carry the memory of the late Mohamed Abd al-Salam Babiker, a fellow Khartoum University student and friend who died in the custody of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) in 1998 answering for a wave of student agitation in protest against an upscale of dormitory accommodation fees. Thirteen suspects were identified and a police case filed, but justice was never done. Mohamed's first folly was organisation, his second was that 'he had no back', the Sudanese expression for poor connections in the circles of power. Mohamed's father is a tailor, his means of a production a single old-fashioned Singer mechanical sewing machine under a shade in the main market of Wad Medani. He had no 'backed' relatives to brag of or ask for money, not even a local sheikh of standing, and every good reason to protest the increase in accommodation fees. One of the gentlemen accused of killing Mohamed was promoted from security thug to diplomat. The four students found dead on Friday in a Gezira ditch are probably equally back-less. The definition Darfuri in that regard served in the police statement as a perverse justification for their death. Darfuris die anyway, don't they?
The author is a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute. He publishes regular opinion articles and analyses at his blog Still Sudan.