Cablegate: Senegal: A New Cycle of Violence in Universities


DE RUEHDK #0268/01 0651159
P 051159Z MAR 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: Senegal's university students have begun using
violent protests again to put pressure on President Abdoulaye Wade.
Regular confrontations between the police and university students
are reminiscent of the late '80s when the country was undergoing a
profound malaise and desperate youth turned to violence to express
dissatisfaction with the country's governance. Crowded lecture
halls, poor living conditions, understaffed and under-funded
institutions of higher learning, and a shrinking job market are
causes of anxiety for university students. If the GOS fails to
respond with innovative solutions, the higher education crisis may
create more violence and instability. END SUMMARY.

Failed Institutions

2. (SBU) Senegal's institutions of higher education suffer from
overcrowding and an obsolete approach to education that values
theory and scholarship over the practical demands of the job market.
Senegal's universities suffer from a lack of resources and everyone
- faculty, administration, and students - is pressing for more, but
with Senegal's budget already stretched, it is difficult to see from
where the money will come.

Violent Communication

3. (SBU) Students, who live eight to a very small dormitory room,
have refused to accept an increase of fees from the current ten
dollars per student to fifty dollars for undergraduates and seventy
for postgraduates. But some students have come to the conclusion
that the only way to get academic and political authorities to pay
attention to their demands is by resorting to the language of civil
disobedience and even violence. On February 8, after a 24-day
strike, students at the University of Thies stopped all traffic and
burned tires on the busy road between Thies and Dakar.

4. (SBU) Similarly, on February 18, students of the Regional
University of Bambey also held up traffic for three hours on the
road between Dakar and the holy city of Touba. They protested
against the lack of professors and threw rocks at security forces,
which led to the arrest of 14 students who were prosecuted three
days later, of which six received a suspended sentence of three
months imprisonment.

5. (SBU) Law faculty students of Cheikh Anta Diop University in
Dakar, after a three-week strike organized an "intifada," their
leader, Cheikh Samb, told the Embassy, "I launched coordinated
attacks on security forces in three different locations, knowing
that they would not be able to respond efficiently. At one point, we
outflanked them on the main campus and they had to flee, leaving
behind three anti-riot shields. I negotiated with the police: they
freed my students they had arrested and we gave them back their
shields." This student leader who is completing a master's in law
declared that he ignores rumors that he will be arrested soon. In
any case, he claimed that if he is arrested, the whole university
will riot. On February 21, students of the teacher training college
of Dakar and of the faculty of economics and conducted their own
riots, blocked traffic, and burned tires.

General Complacency

6. (SBU) Students unanimously say that academic authorities do not
listen when they draw their attention to problems. Administrators
pretend to manage but lack authority and funding and often place
greater priority on their personal agendas, including job security,
perks, and personal use of expensive government resources. Students
told the Embassy the rectors of the country's two main universities
are both active members of the ruling party and, as a result, have
little time to devote to their institutions. Professor Bouba Diop,
Ombudsman of the University of Dakar that has some sixty thousand
students, over one thousand faculty and displays the main problems
in Senegalese higher education, deplored the lack of disciplinary
power of academic authorities over their peers. In testimony to the
impotence of academic officials, the disputes between the students
and the administration end up in the in-box of President Wade.


7. (SBU) Senegal's higher education system has deteriorated
significantly and, as one student put it, "is headed to the
precipice." Senegalese authorities have so far chosen to try to add
more resources while avoiding the implementation of unpopular
measures - such as competitive entrance exams and tuition - needed
to make the system sustainable. This policy that sacrifices
accountability for the sake of stability has begun to show its
limits. The current university crisis is a symptom of a larger
societal malaise. Young people have no prospects and no trust in
their rulers. Their fear of the future and their negative perception
that the ruling political elites and academic decision-makers has
begun to produce violent reactions.

8. (SBU) In some cases the perception of hopelessness has lead them
to seek refuge in religion, practiced in an ostentatious way on
campus to defy the principle of secularism that is at the heart of
the French university system Senegal inherited. Signs of
intolerance have been noted by the ombudsman who deplored that some
students complain that there are "too many foreigners" in Dakar
University, while ethnic and religious brotherhood networks as forms
of solidarity are on the rise.

© Scoop Media

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