Ivory Coast's universities reopen after two years

AFP , Monday 3 Sep 2012

Reopening of Ivory Coast university after long renovation in hopes of cleansing memories of corruption and political violence

Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara on Monday reopened one of the country's universities in Abidjan, after a closure of almost one and a half years and major renovation work on the campuses.

"The universities had become a place of violence and corruption... The decision to close them was one of the most difficult to take, but it was necessary," Ouattara said at the newly baptised Felix Houphouet-Boigny University in the plush Cocody district of the economic capital, named for the west African country's founding president.

"Investing in universities is what brings the highest development rewards," he added, amid the new amphitheatres, dorms and sports facilities. The head of state symbolically presented the keys of each university to their deans, who will decide when classes begin.

"I am happy to hear that there will no longer be machetes and stones in the universities... Students need to understand that going to university is a stage in life and not a way of life," Prime Minister Jeannot Ahoussou-Kouadio said last week.

That was a warning to the powerful student union Fesci, which was long allied with the regime of ousted president Laurent Gbagbo (2000-2011), and which was considered responsible for racketeering and violence on campuses. Closing the universities was one of Ouattara's first decisions on taking power in April 2011 after a post-electoral crisis following Gbagbo's refusal to admit defeat at the polls, which claimed some 3,000 lives. 

The cost of renovating the country's five universities was officially estimated at 110 billion CFA francs (168 million euros, $211 million). Ouattara has ordered a probe into the conditions of tenders made for the work done in Abidjan and sacked the financial director in the ministry of higher education.

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