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Call for all African universities to tighten security

 

 

 

The Association of African Universities, also known as AAU, has “strongly urged” higher education institutions across the continent to strengthen security on campuses to ensure the safety of students and staff and the protection of property. The call came in the wake of numerous atrocities/ violent attacks committed against educational institutions.



The statement by the Ghana-based AAU was particularly in response to the attack on Garissa University College, Kenya. In the incident, 148 people were killed. Also, the cause of call was in response to the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria, a year ago.” On 14 April, a militant group attacked the Ministry of Education, Culture and Higher Education in Mogadishu, Somalia, killing more than a dozen people.

“Education is key to development in every society,” said the AAU, which represents hundreds of universities across Africa. “It is therefore very heartbreaking to see students, who are the future leaders of Africa, lose their lives or become maimed through such unorthodox and barbaric means whilst searching for knowledge. This cannot be allowed to go on uncurbed.”

The AAU called on the international community, African Union, other regional bodies in Africa and religious groups to join forces in bringing the perpetrators to justice. “The Association is again calling on all universities to increase collaboration with security forces in their countries to ensure that campuses are well protected and are very safe for academic work.”

The attacks across Africa should be analysed in the broader context as incidents that can happen anywhere in Africa and these incidents can spark other attackers in other countries to follow suit. Kenyan scientist Calestous Juma, said, “Security is now a concern for all types of institutions and large gatherings of people.”

“Universities are also exposed to ideologically-inspired attacks because they shape the future. The overall issue is that security has now become a central aspect of governance,” said Juma. “The terrorist attacks against higher education institutions in Africa cannot be generalised.”

Rising concern over higher education institute attacks

 

Violent attacks on higher education students, staff and institutions around the world are occurring with “alarming frequency”, according to a new report, which documents 485 killings in 18 countries in the past four and a half years.

States and other actors who depend on controlling information and what people think are going to “great lengths to restrict or even silence higher education communities and their members”, according to the report, Free to Think, published by the Scholars at Risk Academic Freedom Monitoring Project.

“These attacks not only threaten the safety and well-being of scholars, students, administrators and staff,” according to Robert Quinn, the Scholars at Risk, Network’s executive director. An outspoken and progressive religious scholar has been receiving death threats since 2012. A local seminary issued a ‘fatwa’ declaring him “worthy of murder” following a speech he gave in the United States.

Mass killings

In other cases, institutions have been targeted for mass killings. For instance, in the Garissa University College singled out Christian students only. Nigeria has been particularly badly hit by such attacks. In September 2014, suicide bombers entered a full lecture hall on the campus of the Federal College of Education, Kano and blew themselves up. There were similar attacks at other Nigerian institutions such as Kano State School of Hygiene, June 2014, Kano State Polytechnic University, July 2014. In all incidents people were killed or injured.

“Disappearances” have also been reported. These include detentions, abductions or other deprivations of liberty by a refusal to acknowledge or to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned, the report says. Some scholars and students also routinely face threats of violence designed to punish, block or otherwise alter the content of their research, teaching or studies.

Many incidents go unreported

Many incidents go unreported as victims and witnesses of violent acts may be unable or afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation, according to the report says. The report looks at attacks that include threats or deliberate use of violent or coercive force against higher education institutions and their members, including leadership, administrators, academic and other staff and students.

According to the report, the incidents share common negative outcomes. They not only undermine the security of those institutions and personnel who are directly targeted but also those who are “intimidated or silenced by attacks on others”.

They impose restrictions on access to higher education by targeted and vulnerable individuals and groups. They undermine research, teaching and public discourse, eroding academic quality and hindering social, political, economic and cultural development. They also disrupt increasingly important flows of higher education staff, students and research between countries, depriving every one of the fullest benefits of cross-border intellectual exchange and research.

“Perhaps most importantly, they impede the ability of the sector to function as a place where people representing the widest range of society can go to ask questions about complex and contentious issues and learn to resolve those questions guided by reason, evidence and persuasion, without fear of repercussions,” the report says.

The report says recognising the similarities in types of attack and their negative outcome as part of a single, global problem of attacks on higher education is a “critical first step to devising solutions.”

“The next step is a robust and immediate response at the international and state levels, from within the higher education sector itself, from civil society and from the public at large,” the report says.

Robert Quinn said: “If we don’t want conflict and chaos to spread further, states and civil society need to pay attention to the early warnings of attacks on scholars and universities in fragile and volatile places.”

The report calls on states to abstain from attacks on higher education and to ensure that higher education communities are protected under law and are free from improper external interference, insecurity or intimidation.


 

 

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