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Dakar's university reopens after months of closure following Sonko protests

By Melissa Chemam with RFI
Europe  RFIMelissa Chemam
FEB 28, 2024 LISTEN
© RFI/Melissa Chemam

Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar had been closed since last June as a result of protests following the arrest of political opposition leader Ousmane Sonko. It has slowly started reopening this week.

The Academic Council of Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar (CADU) decided on Saturday that face-to-face teaching could resume as of Monday, 26 February.

Students have responded - hundreds of them turned up to take classes in person after months of online teaching.

"We're very happy to be back", a young woman studying in the literature department told RFI English, "but we don't know if we will be able to graduate yet, or even to attend exams on time."

Politicised students

The university is a known centre for political unrest.

But its closure for almost six months has had a devastating impact on students and the entire education system.

However, everyone is not back. The campus still looks empty and most of the dorms are still empty.

Bara Ndiaye, dean of the faculty of medicine says the announcement is good news, even if not all students are present.

“It  caters for 100,000 students and it has been closed for almost ten months," he told RFI.

"This certainly has many consequences on a social and educational level in particular, a lot of risks of demotivation, abandonment, dropping out from certain students,” Bara Ndiaye said.

Caution

On campus, few students wanted to speak about the reopening or the political situation.

"We're worried and think this has everything to do with the political deadlock", added another, studying Portuguese.

Off campus, Diomaye Yatt, a student and president of the science and technology association at UCAD, told RFI: "We truly appreciate this decision, because we went months without face-to-face classes. But there remain issues with the lack of accommodation and access to food on campus.

"And some timetables of classes are not even ready."

Most academics also worry that the crisis will be difficult to overcome. 

Mamadou Bodian, of the Dakar-based West African think tank WATHI, raised the issue on Friday at a roundtable with other researchers.

"Our education system has already been through a series of crises since 1981, and under the presidency of Abdoulaye Wade. But the current crisis is acute. Our universities need reforms, and more practical teaching."

He says that the closure has just added to a pile of deeper problems. 

"And now we risk training students with no future jobs," he added. 

For the journalist Ayoba Faye, working on the issues of economic struggles and emigration with the WALF media group, there is a direct link between the current political crisis and the university crisis.

"It will be difficult to find the right rhythm again for CADU," he told RFI English. Many students have now left the university, and some of them have joined the groups of young people trying to emigrate to Europe." 

He thinks the solution will only come with a new regime and a new government, so he hopes first for the presidential election to take place as soon as possible.

"Only with the best and earnest political will could we solve such a deep crisis", he concludes.

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