Serigne Fallou Gueye, 23, hesitates a little when he approaches passers-by at the bustling Colobane market in Dakar. He is a second year law student and would not be here selling jogging pants if the university had not closed months ago. With his merchandise under his arm, his cap covering part of his face, he explains that he prefers to act as a traveling salesman rather than “remain idle” and “ask for money” from his parents. “Seven months without classes is still catastrophic and scandalous. The State wants to sacrifice our future for strictly political reasons,” he accuses.

The Cheikh-Anta-Diop University of Dakar (UCAD), one of the largest in West Africa with more than 90,000 students, has been closed since June 2023. For security reasons, authorities say. For fear that the students will disrupt the presidential election of February 25 and the campaign, suspect Serigne Fallou Gueye and many students interviewed by AFP.

This temple of knowledge, which has trained generations of executives from the continent – ​​including several heads of state – was one of the centers of the deadly unrest which shook the country after the two-year prison sentence of opponent Ousmane Sonko in a morals case on June 1, 2023. The authorities then closed the university. Seven months later, the usually bustling and noisy alleys of the campus remain deserted and silent.

Since its inauguration in 1959, UCAD has been known to be a place of protest. Ousmane Sonko, who was given as one of the presidential favorites, is popular among students and young people. “If we resume under the same conditions, won’t we have riots under the same conditions? », justified in November, to the National Assembly, the Minister of Higher Education, Moussa Baldé. Himself a mathematics professor at UCAD, he assured that the authorities were working under the conditions of a “secure opening”. For example, he defended the principle of digitizing campus access cards to prevent intrusions.

Free connection

In the meantime, online teaching applied with Covid-19 has been reactivated. But for students, the closure of the university is a new blow to their education, while the future of young people who represent more than half of the population is a major issue and the diplomas offer no certainty. With insufficient resources, lecture theaters and overcrowded university rooms, learning is already difficult in normal times. Many students say they know comrades who, like so many compatriots, brave the ocean to try to reach Europe and some of whom have lost their lives.

Claude Lishou, director of the UCAD Higher Institute of Distance Education, cites the effort made to revive online teaching. Agreements with telecommunications operators offer free connection to students, and “even a smartphone of modest performance is enough to participate in educational activities,” he says.

The Minister of Higher Education declared in November that distance learning had been established “in consultation with all stakeholders, including students”. And although he recognized the need for improvement, he argued that “well-done distance learning [could] be more profitable than face-to-face teaching” because the courses were sustainably accessible and students could better interact with teachers only in lectures.

But for many students, distance learning excludes a portion of students who lack digital tools and is dependent on a good connection, which is not guaranteed. A third-year law student, Coumba Aw, 23, says she tried to follow online courses, but quickly gave up because the application installed on her phone often did not work. In addition, she regrets, “the courses are done without assistance from teachers and are just thrown like that on the platform”.

The university announced a partial resumption of in-person classes starting January 3 at off-campus locations.