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Academic Freedom Conditions in Africa 2022-2023

Updated: Dec 18, 2023


The Muhammad Omar Bashir Centre for Sudanese Studies at Ahlia University after the fire. Photo credit: NewArab


A report by Scholars at Risk (SAR) published on November 9, 2023, documents 409 attacks on academic freedom in 66 different countries over the last year. These attacks were perpetrated by various state and non-state actors, including the military, police, and organized militant groups and largely take place in the context of democratic backsliding, according to SAR Executive Director, Rob Quinn.


In Africa, countries experienced a range of attacks on academic freedom, including the destruction of higher education facilities, physical violence against scholars and students, and political and academic censorship. African countries mentioned in SAR’s report include Algeria, Burundi, Cameron, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. The civil war in Sudan has proved to be a hotbed for attacks on academic freedom, resulting in the closures, looting, and physical destruction of universities. During the first days of fighting, the Muhammad Omar Bashir Centre for Sudanese Studies, a library archive at Ahlia University, was targeted and completely burned by fire, resulting in the destruction and irreparable loss of Sudanese culture, history, and politics.


In other countries, radical paramilitary groups such as Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram have targeted schools, teachers, and students. In October 2022, Al-Shabaab coordinated an attack on Somalia’s Ministry of Education, killing at least 121. Boko Haram’s activities in northern Cameroon has led to the closure of over 60 schools, effectively cutting off citizens’ access to education. Both groups have cited their anti-Western agenda as cause for their attacks on schools, universities, scholars, and students.


In addition to the physical destruction and violence perpetrated against schools and school personnel, academic and political censorship is widely used to combat and dissuade political opposition and dissent by students and scholars. In August, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and potential DRC presidential candidate, Dr. Denis Mukwege was prevented from lecturing at the University of Kisangani by higher education officials in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. State officials in Algeria have also curtailed academic freedom, preventing Algerian scholars from publishing research and attending conferences in Morocco since July 2022.


The report also notes state violence and censorship against students and student activists, including arrests, use of tear gas, and even killing by police. In Kenya, the police killed university students at demonstrations on two separate occasions: William Mayange, a student at Maseno University, on March 20, 2023; and Brilliant Anusu, a student at Machakos University, on December 5, 2022.


Endangered Scholars Worldwide is deeply concerned by the ongoing armed conflicts in Africa and its effects on access to education and academic freedom throughout the continent. Amid the terror and violence of civil war and radical militant groups, state and non-state actors have disproportionately targeted schools, universities, students, and scholars, violating their rights to education and freedom of expression. ESW condemns the arbitrary arrests, detentions, censorship, and killings of students and scholars. ESW urges the international community to pay full attention to the ongoing violence in regions across Africa and demands that all efforts be made to resolve conflicts in the region. It is paramount that the international community hold African governments to account and require them to honor their obligations under international human law and human rights treaties to uphold access to education and freedoms of speech and association.


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