Surviving campus conflict

March 13, 1998

Lome, capital of Togo, was thrown into confusion over the rumour that a student union president had died when armed police invaded the university campus earlier this month, writes Tunde Fatunde from Lome.

But as the students were about to march into the city to protest over the "death" of their leader, Edoh Melessoussou, state television showed him lying in the University College Hospital, where he gave a brief interview in which he managed to say a few words.

He was soon evacuated to a specialist hospital in Abidjan, the capital of Cote d'Ivoire, on a special charter flight. Hospital sources said leg and rib fractures might lead to permanent paralysis.

There are two versions of how the student leader sustained his injuries. Josephine Bawa, a journalist who was at the scene of the incident on the university campus, said: "The police charged at the protesting students, throwing canisters of teargas. As the students took cover in their hostels, police who identified Edoh, chased him to the second floor, caught him, beat him severely on the legs and ribs and pushed him through the window. He fell onto hard ground breaking some ribs and one leg." The police quickly retorted by saying that Edoh was simply a victim of violent clashes between rival students' organisations.

The tension has subsided because the students insisted that classes cannot resume if some of their grievances are not addressed by the state and university authorities. The students demanded the immediate withdrawal of the security forces from the campus and the immediate release of all detained students.

Worried that the opposition parties might exploit the incident in forthcoming presidential elections, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, the president of Togo, ordered that the two demands be met.

But the underlying issues that led to the original four-week boycott of classes are not yet fully resolved. Togo's minister of education, Maurille Agbobli, on leave of absence from the university where he teaches business administration, announced some "relief" measures to placate the students. These include a yearly bursary of about FFr1,000 (Pounds 100) for first-year students whose baccalaureat is two years old and a monthly allowance of Pounds 20 for certain students in their second, third and final years.

According to sources close to the ministry of education, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have insisted that the government should drastically cut the university scholarship and bursary programmes as part of the conditions laid down before Togo can benefit from fresh funds.

Bank officials dislike the way some students continue to benefit from the bursary programmes after repeating the same class several times. To minimise the waste, they want bursaries streamlined.

Students have served the university notice that they could embark upon another round of demonstrations if their demands are not met before the end of the academic year. Classes have resumed with security forces present on campus.

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