In an attempt last fall to silence student dissent, the government of Benin, a country of about 11 million people in West Africa, prohibited student associations from operating on the campuses of its four national universities, reported Atlas Network partner The decision was condemned by Amnesty International, and student groups recently held a press conference on March 4 to publicize their concerns, notes Hicham El Moussaoui, founder and associate editor of — a meeting that was ultimately dispersed by the military.

“The prohibition affects life on campus in the sense that it is virtually impossible for students to express themselves about the conditions of study, housing, restoration, or delay in the payment of scholarships grants,” Moussaoui explains. “So, they are repressed by military means or by the temporary exclusions and prohibitions to set foot on the campus pronounced by the rectorate. Some students currently accumulate up to six months of arrears of grants, without being able to claim.”

Lacking resources to continue their studies, and facing multi-year expulsion, student group leaders from University of Abomey Calavi first tried to organize a press conference in February at a hotel at a town near their university, but the gathering was shut down by anti-riot officers.

“Despite the failed attempt, the students succeeded thanks to the trade union federations in Benin, to make themselves heard on March 4,” Moussaoui explains. “The heads of students denounced the management of the rector of Abomey-Calavi, which seeks to close the doors of university to the children of the poor. They also denounced the harassment and police violence, and the suspension of their association … The students also denounced a deleterious climate at the University of Abomey-Calavi. Through a statement, the presidents of the National Union of Students of Benin (Unb) and the National Union of Schools and Students of Benin (Unseb) have alerted the national and international public opinion on the worrying situation.”

The university has denied responsibility for asking the police to disperse the student group, and although the students have received attention for their cause, the situation remains unresolved for now.

“Beyond the deviations that are observed in their daily life, student associations are laboratories of ideas and places of democratic learning,” points out reporter Kassim Hassani. By forbidding the reform of these movements and the exercise of trade union activity in the university space, the government strikes at the very heart of Benin’s democratic political system, set up at the cost of heavy sacrifices by the Beninese people.”

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