Things are tough in Côte D’Ivoire on the west coast of Africa at the best of times. The country survives on the export of agricultural products and 70% of the population is involved in this industry in some or other way. While the country remains politically stable, there is always future hope. When it does not however, as is currently the case, Ivorian tempers flare and everything suffers terribly at Ivory Coast universities too.
This time, the future of Ivory Coast higher education is miserable to say the least. A mass exodus from Abidjan of lecturers, administrative staff and students has seen all the capital city's tertiary institutions close, and with this, all hope for the 2011 academic year is gone. Ivorian students have either retreated home themselves or joined the fighting as is the manner of fiery youth, while foreign students queue at embassies pleading to anyone who will listen to be evacuated.
The year started badly enough for Ivory Coast universities as the ruling party turned campuses into campaign centers. Many students supported the opposition presidential candidate although intimidation kept a lid on open protest. Meanwhile other students in favor of the political status quo turned lectures into chaos as rival militia groups arrived. Students in favor of democracy were driven away, and campuses literally became battlegrounds.
A student of the University of Yamoussoukro has spoken evocatively of a balance of terror after the rector shut up shop when lectures were abandoned. The University of Abidjan has become a government military camp while rebel militia have taken over several other tertiary institutions across the country. Right now, a stalemate rules as the world sits idly looking on. This is the end for now of tertiary education in Ivory Coast – quo vadis the future. Who knows?
When lecturers and students finally return some day, as they must do if there is to be any Ivorian hope, what will they find? Will buildings be standing empty waiting for them, and student files still be neatly stored away? Will there be ceilings in the lecture rooms and whiteboards on the walls? I think not. I fear that Ivorians will have to start again all over. And which road, I wonder, will Côte D’Ivoire education policy take then?