General Robert Guei, head of state of Cote D'Ivoire, who seized power in a miliary coup late last year, has promised better living conditions for students at the University of Abidjan but warned them not to resort to violence to press for better conditions.
The general received a rousing welcome at the university after students insisted they would provide security for the president if he emerged from his bullet-proof car and toured the campus on foot.
It was the first time a head of state had visited the university since Felix Houphouet-Boigny appealed for student support for his struggle against the French colonialists in 1954.
Students showed General Guei hostels that were closed by ousted president Henri Konan Bedie in May 1999 after incessant clashes between students and police. He was said to be shocked by the state of disrepair and decay, including broken doors, poor sanitation, fly and cockroach infestation and untrimmed lawns.
Addressing about 20,000 students, General Guei promised that the hostels would be put in better shape within the next few weeks so students could return to the campus. "No decent human being can study in this kind of environment," he said.
State funds are short because of mismanagement by the ousted regime, but General Guei promised to look into other student problems such as scholarships, bursaries and travel between hostels and faculties.
Charles Blegoude, national president of the Ivoirian students' union, issued an assurance that students would air their grievances through the appropriate channels, but warned against high-handedness from official quarters.