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 An April of Death: African students fight World Bank policies

In the World Bank’s opinion, there are “too many” African students and their numbers should be cut.

African students fighting education cutbacks and economic restructuring due to the structural adjustment programs (SAPs) of the World Bank and IMF over the past twenty years are described as ‘hoodlums’, just like their counterparts in the global North. Hundreds of African students have paid the ultimate price of resistance. But this testimony speaks not just of death, but of hope, as a new generation of young people carry the message of the African student dead to the Washington doorstep of the World Bank and IMF.


The ten days between April 9 - 18, 2001 were bloody ones for African students and youth. They epitomised the literal war African states (which are committed to the structural adjustment ideology of the World Bank and IMF) are waging against African youths who see no future for themselves or their countries in the path these states are following.

On Monday, April 9 a Zimbabwean science student, Batanayi Madzidzi, 20, died from injuries suffered during clashes with the police on Sunday. The clashes arose from a demonstration organised to protest the late payments of their stipends. This was one of many demonstrations in the last decade the students of the University of Harare have organised focusing on the rising costs of food, accommodation and studying due to the government’s structural adjustment policies. The immediate trigger of the students’ anger was the apparent suicide on Friday, April 6 of a first-year woman student who was found dead in a female students’ hostel with a note be side her body that referred to a relationship gone sour. Apparently many women students in the context of the economic crisis are financing their education through making liaisons with wealthy men. The results are not, however, always under their control.

On Wednesday, April 11, students of the Addis Ababa University were demonstrating against the police presence on campus and demanding elementary academic freedom rights like freedom of assembly and expression on campus. Apparently two plain-clothes policemen were spotted by the students in their midst; this triggered an attack by riot police bent on rescuing their colleague. The police riot ended in the injury of fifty students that night. In the following days, student demonstrations and strikes were echoed by rioting in the city by youths who state officials called “hoodlums and lumpen.” Shops were looted, government buildings burned and cars were trashed. The state unleashed a deadly response, killing 38 people and wounding 252 others. The deaths were due largely to gunshot wounds caused by policemen’s fire. Thousands of students were arrested and sent to a concentration camp in the village of Sendafa, 38 km (17 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa. Students returned to campus in early May, but continued to demand the release of all their fellows. They eventually left the university campus en masse on June 12, concluding that the government was not seriously negotiating with them.

On Wednesday April 18, while the deadly confrontation in Ethiopia between students and police was beginning to quiet, Algerian police killed a student, Germah Massinissa, in the Kabylia region during a demonstration anticipating the huge annual gathering celebrating “Berber Spring” on April 20. The killing of the student was followed by demonstrations of protest throughout Kabylia and by sympathetic demonstrations in Algiers and other parts of Algeria where students chanted, “We are all Berbers!” These demonstrations were met with determined violence by state forces. As of the moment, at least fifty people have been killed in a long series of demonstrations demanding the right to practice Berber culture. But they are continuing, and they threaten the government’s hold on power..86 We present these moments of Zimbabwean, Ethiopian and Algerian state violence as an indication of African states’ confirmation of the World Bank’s judgment on the students of Africa: there are too many of them and they should be expendable. At the same time, the political leaders of Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Algeria through their decision to respond to demonstrating youth with massive mortal force have lost hold of the future while these students, far from defending their ivory tower detachment, are expressing the aspirations of the mass of African youth in the streets.

The main change in this April of Death, however, has not been in the brutality of the African state ( for there have already been hundreds of African students killed in anti-SAP demos), but in the attitude of the World Bankers. They used to think that the African students’ struggle could not touch them as they were safely ensconced on H Street in Washington. They were happy to have their “front men” in Africa get their hands dirty dealing with the opposition to their programs. But the anti-globalisation movement, which had as one of its sources the persistent anti-structural adjustment student movement in Africa, has finally leaped from the streets of Harare, Addis and Algiers into Washington DC in April and Prague in September last year. The World Bankers now know that they cannot expect to carry on their planning and comfortable get-together in tranquillity. They have been hounded, finally, by a truly international youth movement which has carried the African student dead to their door.

- editors of the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa newsletter