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Protests Prompt Malawi to Close University Over Security Concerns

  • Lameck Masina

Authorities in Malawi have announced the indefinite closure of the Chancellor College of the University of Malawi, following violent protests by students over an increase in fees.

Authorities say the demonstrations that started Monday pose a security threat, but some education commentators are protesting the closure, saying it will heavily impact of the education of the students.

The closure was announced 20 minutes after protesters blocked the motorcade carrying Jill Biden in Zomba, forcing her delegation to cancel a trip to Machinga district on Tuesday.

The wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was expected to visit the USAID-funded Empowering Girls Through Education and Health project, which aims to improve education for girls in elementary and secondary schools.

Malawi's first lady, Gertrude Mutharika, apologized for the student violence that prevented Biden from proceeding with her visit. Mutharika issued the apology to Biden on Wednesday, when the two met in the capital, Lilongwe.

Illegal, dangerous

Chancellor College Principal Richard Tambulasi says the demonstrations not only posed a security threat, but were illegal.

"They [protesters] were supposed to get permission from the DC's [District Commissioner] office,” Tambulasi said. “The DC did not give [permission]. They decided to go ahead [without] being given permission. Apart from that, we have had security threats on compass."

The students have been protesting a recent increase of more than 100 percent in annual tuition fees. University authorities say the students are blocking roads and smashing property on and around the college.

Sixteen students have been arrested and charged with "conduct likely to cause breach of peace," police say.

Criticism of closure

Despite the uprisings, the move to close the college has sparked criticism.

"We know that if it is going to take more time to reopen the college, that might also create other problems, especially to ensure that the programs are finished on time,” said Benedicto Kondowe, executive director of the NGO Civil Society Education Coalition that supports quality education in Malawi.

Government authorities should have "sat down peacefully with students" to reach a compromise on the issue they are protesting, he said.

Malawi University officials say they will meet "soon" to discuss when to reopen the college.