BUJUMBURA - Police in Bujumbura on Saturday clashed with students of the University of Burundi, the only public university in an operation aimed at flushing out students from their campus houses of residence.
The students went on rampage after Education minister, Dr Saidi Kibeya, had ordered the university closure and gave the students a 24-hour deadline to vacate the premises. Hundreds of policemen were deployed at the campus premises overnight.
“I can say that the operation was a success,” Police Spokesman, Pierre Channel Ntarabaganyi, said, adding that three policemen and two students were injured in the fracas. He dismissed earlier reports which claimed that one policeman was killed.
Gunshots were heard early in the morning and teargas canisters fired at the students. Ntarabaganyi said his men had to react “because one student shot with a pistol and another threw a hand grenade”. It is not clear whether the weapons were recovered from the rioting students.
The students were ordered to pack their belongings and go after they ignored orders to stop the so-called hazing ritual for new students. Senior students “exaggerated” the practice when they took two university officials hostage at the faculty science. The officials were trying to prevent them from abusing their new colleagues.
Hazing at the university is a traditional ‘welcoming’ ceremony which includes forcing new students to shave their heads and rolling them in the mud if they disobey.
The students held two officials for ten hours before security officials intervened. The teachers’ association subsequently issued a statement saying they would not resume teaching “until order and discipline are restored at the university”.
The students’ association, known as ASSER (Association des etudiants Rumuri) was banned, and over 20 students dismissed, among them the association’s chairman, Eric Nkenguburundi.
All students will have to apply for readmission and also vow to abide by the internal rules and regulations of the university.
The dismissed students, who are considered by the Education minister as ‘ring leaders’ of the riot, will not even be allowed to register in private universities which also fall under his ministry. Bernard Baransaka, a social sciences student, told The New Times that the decision to close down the university was ‘untimely’.
‘It would have been better to discuss how the hazing practice could be improved, and where to do it,” he said, adding that the measure to close the university “could have severe consequences”.
Nkenguburundi defended the practice on a local radio station saying that the hazing practice teaches new students “the culture of mutual respect at the University”.
Both students however declined to comment on the incident at the faculty of Science which ignited the situation, only saying that a concerted dialogue would have helped diffuse the crisis.
The University Rector, Gaston Hakiza, said nearly 3, 500 residential students of an estimated 8, 600 will be affected by the decision.
Thousands of students could be seen waiting anxiously for transport on the highway near their residential homes with policemen in close attention.