Student life in Abidjan under Ouattara

Since I wrote last week’s post listing Ivorian blogs, I realised that much of the recent blogging action has been on RFI’s Mondoblog platform, which I’d more or less neglected. I’ve since discovered that that does now seem to be the location of choice for new Ivorian bloggers. One of the picks of my recent discoveries there is Au Pays des Elephants (‘In the land of the elephants’), which has an excellent new six part series on life as a student in Abidjan. It really shows the strength of blogging – giving the space and time to talented writers (who are living these realities) to express themselves on issues that are ignored or marginalized by the mainstream media.

Some of you may remember that the state universities were in a pitiable state after the 2010-11 post-election crisis, having been used as a base for Gbagbo’s Liberian militias, and being a hotpot from the militia-like student movement, the Fesci. Post-crisis, student halls were used to house the Ouattara forces, and indeed some of these irregular forces have only been booted out in the past three weeks in Abobo and Port Bouet. The Ouattara government invested a fair bit in a massive refurbishment (reportedly around 100 billion CFA francs), which changed the look of the university (as I documented here), but which has still left things far from satisfactory. It’s possible some of the money was diverted. It’s possible to conclude from reading this blog series that almost nothing has improved.

The current state of student life is well-documented by Aly Coulibaly at ‘Au pays des elephants’. His series of posts cover:

– Poor adaption of new LMD system

– The daily combat of finding a wifi connection [a first world problem perhaps]

– The ridiculous state of student transport

– Corruption in the distribution of the now tiny student grants

– You have to queue for hours to get your subsidised student meal, and even then the quality leaves much to be desired

– The landscape gardening seems to get more attention than the students

Behind the sadness of the current state of student life, what’s apparent in the blog posts is the continued existence of a nostalgia that was ever-present in the years of decline (1980s and 1990s) but which still seems today – to my surprise – to be strong. That is, that student life in the 1960s and 70s was a paradise now lost, in which students were looked-up to, well served and on a track to a future career in state employment. Sadly the realism that these days are long gone, doesn’t yet seem to have settled in.

That leads me to think that a wide-scale reflection on higher education in Ivory Coast has yet to take place. Is it realistic to expect the state to provide massively subsidized housing, transport, food and education to the tens of thousands of Ivorians who pass their BAC exams every year? Is the dream still practical that any farmers’ son can graduate from school (even if he just scrapes through) and expect the state to look after him for the next three years, so that he can join the unemployed ranks of sociology graduates and others with degrees in their pocket, and limited professional skills? Of course, the Ivorian model is heavily influenced by France which still heavily subsidizes higher education (tuition fees are around 300-400 euros a year).

Perhaps more importantly though, the blog highlights the continued corruption, incompetence, and lack of organisation in the sector, while at the same time Ivorians are constantly told on state media that they’re living in a modern paradise.

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