Student Activism in SA – The #MustFall Movements

In the wake of the largest student uprising in post-apartheid South Africa in 2015/16, starting with #RhodesMustFall at the University of Cape Town, a number of ‘derivative’ movements on other university campuses, and eventually issuing in the nation-wide #FeesMustFall movement (and related movements like #EndOutsourcing), a South African research team has been constituted which aims to document and analysis the ‘new SA student movement’. The project is coordinated at the University of the Free State and includes researchers such as Leigh-Ann Naidoo, Shose Kessi, Taabo Mugume, Nkululeko Makhubu, Kyla Jones, Omar Badsha, Lis Lange, Carl Collison and Thierry Luescher, amongst others. The research team aims to conduct its research in collaborative and open fashion, including in its processes interactions with former and current activists and other participants.

Journal of Student Affairs in Africa (JSAA) is fully accredited in South Africa

From 2017, the Journal of Student Affairs in Africa (JSAA)  is accredited by the South African national Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) as subsidy-earning scholarly journal. This means that authors based in SA higher education institutions, who publish refereed articles in the journal, i.e. research-based articles and reflective practitioner accounts, will be able to submit their articles for DHET-funding of recognised research outputs to their universities.

According to Dr Birgit Schreiber, member of the Editorial Executive of JSAA, the implications of this official recognition of JSAA as a scholarly journal are huge in the South African and African context: “It contributes towards making Student Affairs professionalised and academic discipline. It also contributes significantly towards strengthening Student Affairs and Higher Education as a role player in impacting Social Justice in South Africa and Africa.”

For the authors – many of whom are student affairs practitioners – it is a huge recognition that their research into student affairs and services, the student experience, and their interventions, as well as reflective practitioner accounts in this respect, are an important form of “scholarship of practice” in the way it was discussed in the launch issue of JSAA in 2013 by Carpenter and Haber-Curran (see article here). published the issue Vol. 3(1) Student Power in African Higher Education in JSAA.

UNESCO Student Affairs International Reference Book – Africa Section: Open call for contributions

UNESCO in collaboration with the International Association of Student Affairs and Services (IASAS) is preparing a 3rd edition of the seminal book Student Affairs and Services in Higher Education: Global Foundations, Issues and Best Practices (2009).

For this purpose, 1000 words country reports from across the African continent will be included, featuring:

1. Background information on the country’s higher education system and evolution of student affairs/services

2. Typical organizational structure of student affairs/services within an institution

3. Typical services and programmes offered

4. Qualifications/training of staff in student affairs divisions

5. Issues and challenges for student affairs/services in the country

6. Websites of student affairs/services professional associations/organizations

7. Websites with links to student affairs/services publications and research

The editor-in-chief of the book is Roger B. Ludeman, President Emeritus of the International Association of Student Affairs and Services (IASAS); Website:

Responsible associate editor for the African country reports is Dr Thierry Luescher (University of the Free State, South Africa; Journal manager of the Journal of Student Affairs in Africa ( This is an open call; please contact Dr Luescher for enquiries, proposals and manuscript submissions of African country reports at Email:

The call starts February 2017 and ends May 2017; manuscripts are due by end of May 2017.

Student Politics in Africa book reviewed in the journal ‘International Higher Education’

The book Student Politics in Africa: Respresentation and Activism (2016) published by members of Osphera.Net has been listed and reviewed in the latest issue of International Higher Education (No. 87, Fall 2016, p. 29), published by the Centre for International Higher Education (CIE) of Boston College, USA. The reviewer writes:

Student political activism is an increasingly salient issue for higher education worldwide. This book focuses on Africa— with chapters devoted to student representation in governance of universities as well as more traditional forms of activism. Cases from a range of countries in Anglophone and Francophone Africa are provided. Although
this book relates to Africa, it is relevant for an international audience. See: 


Prof. Ransford E.V. Gyampo

Congratulations to research member and main author of Chapter 11: Politicisation of the National Union of Ghana Students and its effects on student representation (Ransford EV Gyampo, Emmanuel Debrah and Evans Aggrey-Darkoh) in the 2016 book “Student Politics in Africa: Representation and Activism”. He has been promoted to Associate Professor at the University of Ghana.


It is now Dr Bekele Workie

Congratulations to Bekele Workie Ayele who has recently been successfully examined and admitted to PhD by the University of Addis Ababa. Bekele is is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, University of Gondar, Ethiopia. He wrote his dissertation on Curriculum Design and Development at Addis Ababa University. His dissertation is on “Internationalization of Postgraduate Curriculum at Addis Ababa University: From Design and Development to Practice.” He has published in local and international scholarly journals, chapters in books and books. In the book Student Politics in Africa: Representation and Activism, Bekele is the author of chapter 7: “Student participation in the governance of Ethiopian higher education institutions: the case of Addis Ababa University” (published 2016).

University World News features Student Politics in Africa Book

2016 Student Politics in Africa bookUniversity World News Issue 414 of 22 May 2016 writes:

The new book Student Politics in Africa: Representation and activism highlights trends including a penetration by national politics into student representation and the co-option of student leaders through ‘incentives’. Also, marketisation has led to a dearth of ideology in student politics and new dynamics in institutional governance.

The purpose of the project was to map out and compare across Africa recent changes in the higher education landscape and different models of how students as a collective body are organised on both institutional and national levels; how their interests are aggregated, articulated and intermediated into institutional and national policy processes; and the role of political parties and other social groups in student representation.

The book brings together 18 scholars working on questions of higher education development, governance and student politics in Africa. Most are early career African academics who are using the project to network with peers and hone analytical writing and publishing skills.

The project

Following an open call for proposals in December 2013, we received more than 23 abstracts and eventually draft chapters which we thoroughly reviewed and individually engaged the authors on.

In August 2014, the authors and editors met for a three-day symposium and workshop in Cape Town, South Africa, presenting our respective work, reviewing each other’s contributions, and discussing key cross-cutting issues emanating from them to present in this book and its companion publication, the special issue of the Journal of Student Affairs in Africa entitled “Student Power in Africa” (Vol 3, Issue 1, 2015).

Originally, the core research questions we asked the authors were:

  • How has the expansion of higher education in Africa – the massification of public institutions, admission of private students and in some institutions the creation of ‘parallel’ student bodies, as well as the mushrooming of private institutions across the continent – affected student representation in different countries on systemic and institutional level?
  • How do campus-based and national student representative organisations relate to political parties and-or social groups and cleavages in society – for instance regional, religious, ethnic? How do they uphold organisational autonomy and legitimacy to represent the student voice? Who are their members? Where do they get their financial and other resources? What resources do they have? How do they fare in managing resources to the benefit of students?

We addressed these questions by means of theoretical work, overview chapters on historical developments in student politics in Africa, as well as single-university case studies (as in chapters on student participation in the University of Buea in Cameroon and the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia) and comparative studies (such as between Makerere University and the Uganda Christian University in Uganda). In addition, there are several in-depth studies on national student organisations like the National Union of Ghana Students.

Producing new knowledge

The chapters thus represent a combination of collective coordination and discussion and the individual work of authors; they have been developed from original empirical and theoretical studies, engaging with the core questions individually and collaboratively.

Our work has been informed by other projects, including CODESRIA – Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa – investigations into higher education governance, studies by HERANA – Higher Education Research and Advocacy Network in Africa – on higher education and democracy, and by the Centre for Higher Education Trust on student leadership, student engagement and citizenship competences in Africa.

We have also been inspired by the special issues on student representation of the European Journal of Higher Education on student representation in Europe (2012) and Studies in Higher Education on student representation in a global perspective (2014).

The project is first and foremost an opportunity to produce new knowledge on the politics of students in Africa.

It is a means to empirically investigate student representation and to further develop key concepts, analytical approaches and theoretical frameworks for studying student representation in Africa and beyond, taking into consideration the different characteristics of higher education systems, institutions and traditions of student representation.

It is not only meant to ‘document’ student representation in African higher education governance at this conjuncture but also to contribute to the growing body of literature focusing on students’ political agency, on institutionalised forms of student political behaviour, and on key questions confronting higher education in Africa against a context of democratic consolidation and higher education massification.

It is quite clear that a common conceptual or theoretical core eludes the topic of student representation. Also, literature surveys show that student representation in higher education governance is largely ignored in African higher education studies. There are national systems and institutions about which much more is known than others, and some student bodies have been studied much more than others. This book goes some way in addressing these gaps.

Broad trends

There are several broad trends discernible from the book’s 12 chapters.

For instance, while student politics and representation in the earlier years was hinged on ideology, the marketisation of African higher education in the last two decades has apparently led to a ‘dearth of ideology’ in student politics.

The two periods of student politics in Africa described in the book show similar histories but different transformations, especially after the experience of structural adjustment in the late 1980s and 1990s. Thus, while there appears to be a ‘grand narrative’ of African student political history, the story gets more interesting and diverse in the debates beyond the 1990s.

Nonetheless, several chapters bring contemporary developments and shifts in institutional governance to the fore that suggest elements of a common present and future.

There are several case studies that show how the marketisation of higher education in Africa, and especially the admission of private (fee-paying) students has brought new dynamics into institutional governance which permeate, with stealth, student participation in governance.

Many chapters showcase the penetration of national politics and growing influence of dominant political parties in student representation. They will continue shaping student politics in Africa in the coming years.

Thus, on the one hand we find a partisan politicisation of student politics on the leadership and organisational level; on the other hand, we observe a ‘de-politicisation’ of the student body in general, led perhaps by the growing influence of private students, involving a certain lack of political engagement or even political apathy.

Finally, identity politics still plays an important role: issues such as ethnicity and religion come out clearly as having impacts, in most cases negative, on student leadership and governance. How different student representative organisations will respond to these developments is likely to further hone typologies of student representative organisations.

Another topic frequently mentioned in the case studies are so-called institutional ‘incentives’ to student leaders – often with the intent to co-opt them rather than to make them more effective representatives of student interest. We therefore paid attention to the organisation of student representation and limitations on autonomy of student representative associations.

The book shows that formal provisions for student representation are not always granted by law, but need to be negotiated and therefore result in very different practices across countries and institutions.

Some questions

This is linked to the question of whether student representatives are perceived as legitimate intermediators of the student interest and honest brokers in negotiating the future of African higher education.

What are we to make of widespread perceptions of corruption? Are they based in actual observed corrupt practices or do they precisely arise from the paternalistic, authoritarian relations that curb student leaders’ influence, rendering student leaders ineffective and unresponsive to students’ concerns?

Several chapters talk to the dynamic interaction between student protest and student representation – on institutional and national levels. To what extent is the former a symptom of the ineffectiveness of the latter? One chapter provides a suggestive heuristic framework of different student actions, and another shows that there are different ‘modes’ of interest representation at play – are they equally effective?

There are other influences on student representation that have not been sufficiently covered.

Among these developments, the most significant is likely the long-term impact of the ICT revolution on politics and higher education in Africa in general, and on student political organising in particular.

Smartphones, tablets and laptops have become ubiquitous in student life on African campuses; even where wi-fi is patchy and mobile data bundles costly, they are both a status symbol and an essential tool for accessing information and networking with classmates and friends.

What will happen to African student politics – indeed youth politics – once student organising has caught up with opportunities for political conscientising and mobilising offered by social networks?

A brief overview of #RhodesMustFall protests at the University of Cape Town gives an early indication; the subsequent nationwide protests under the banner of #FeesMustFall have shown that student mobilising in cyberspace – and thus the emergence of internet student movements – have become a reality in Africa. Will the overall outcomes be for the better?

We hope that this book will make an important contribution to our understanding of higher education governance, student politics and student representation in Africa.

* This article is extracted and shortened from the introduction of the book Student Politics in Africa: Representation and activism, edited by Thierry M Luescher, Manja Klemenčič and James Otieno Jowi. The book was published this month as part of the African Higher Education Dynamics Series Vol. 2. African Minds: Cape Town. The book is available here – for free in pdf form.

Presidential third term crisis in Burundi and student political activism: What I learned!

By Dr Gérard Birantamije, Senior Lecturer at Université du Lac Tanganyika

Burundian presidential third term crisis

The ongoing Burundian political crisis can be understood when scrutinizing the recent political past. In fact after 2010 elections, from the way the elections were conducted arose progressively an opinion that emphasized the need of a presidential term limit. Opposition parties announced many irregularities in the electoral process. But the main problem was that the international community said the elections were illegitimate. Since that period may things have been said and even academics and different analysts involved were somewhat doubting whether the current President was legally authorised to bid for a third term or not. Conclusions were contrasting, if not contradictory.  But one can say that Nkurunziza himself was not convinced whether he would run for the third term. He tried to change the Constitution in December 2013 but missed just one vote. Unfortunately, the current constitution is clear. In article 96, it says that “the president is elected on universal suffrage” and no “one can run for more than two terms”. His failing to change it would have given him a warning but against all odds he was presented by his party CNDD-FDD as candidate for 2015 presidential election on April 25, 2015. At the same time, the political and citizens’ mobilization became intense. Defenders of the third term argued that the 2005-2010 mandate “does not count” since Nkurunziza was not elected by universal suffrage in 2005. Therefore, the 2015-2020 mandate would be his second and not third term. Two weeks after the Constitutional Court gave its verdict, President Nkurunziza would compete in the 2015 electoral process even though analysts were saying the decision was with no added value. But it was a big challenge for both the Burundian and international community. Even some analysts have pointed to a scenario in Burundi of a probable electoral crisis. So, from 26 April 2015, two kinds of protestors emerged: some actively supporting the president’s candidacy and others firmly against it. Among these protestors, youth, especially students from Burundian universities, played a great role in this mobilization.

Political student activism in the presidential third term demonstrations

The two political movements around the third term were organized in the “Arusha movement” composed of political parties engaged against the third term of the President Nkurunziza and other political movements by independent actors like Audifax Ndabitoreye from Imbono Charisma, and the “Halt to the third term movement” that comprised almost 300 civil society organisations among them the Forum de Renforcement de la société civile (FORSC), Association pour la Promotion des Droits de l’Homme et des Prisonniers (APRODH) and Observatoire de l’Action Gouvernementale (OAG). On the other hand, there was the CNDD FDD and its youth Ligue Imbonerakure. At that point, the student movement was not coordinated. Students participated as normal citizens involved in that movement, but not officially as student organizations. Their respective universities did not call them to protest or to support the ruling party.

But progressively, at the University of Burundi, verbal confrontation was observed from the beginning of the protests. And two groups were opposed. On the one side were students opposed to the third term, and on the other those moving with the ruling party and engaged to help the president to campaign. However, according to many observers, the third group was the most important. At the UB, and in most of private universities, no one called students for protests, but from 26 April, any academic activity (courses, examinations, conferences) was organized. Some students were arrested, others shot and killed either at home or in the street where they were protesting. At the UB, the Ministry of Higher Education sent all the students off campus in May, but students from Mutanga, the central and main UB campus, went out and camped at the American Embassy in Bujumbura, asking for US protection and/or refuge. At that time, the US was firmly opposed to the third term of NKurunziza, and this was also a message of support of the US decision for having taken a position against the violation of the Arusha agreement and the Burundian constitution.

The students’ camp outside the American Embassy can be considered another way of protesting against the President’s decision to bid for a third term. Furthermore, all politicians opposed to the government went to pay a visit to these students. Their camp increasingly became another area of protest. Political entrepreneurs and even actors seen as neutral to the political conflict were paying visit and bringing meals, water and fruit to the students, many diplomats were interested in that movement. The student camp became another symbol of resistance beside different quarters of Bujumbura that were mobilised many weeks in protest.

Finally, while camping near the US Embassy, they continued to protest. They were divided into two groups. One group was to stay at that area so that no one realized they went somewhere. Another was supporting other protestors in different areas of Bujumbura. It was a strategy that was observed until the camp was removed just after the coup attempt in May 2015.

Social Medias and Student Political activism  

While we cannot say that social media were introduced to the protests by the student movement, we can confirm that they played a great role in promoting it both between youth and politicians. In fact before the 26 April movement, social media such as Instagram, Twitter and mostly WhatsApp were not popular in Burundi. Only Facebook was known. When the government tried to limit the access to both classic public media (Radio and TV) and to social medias by inviting the telecommunications regulatory body to cut off access to social media, a Burundian student in Computer Sciences  & ICT in an Indian university showed to all of Burundi internet users how they could dodge the measure taken by the government on their mobile phone. By giving a new Virtual Private Network (VPN) code, this student became a social network hero, as everyone was able to get information about the ongoing electoral crisis. Unfortunately, when he came back home to Burundi in July for his holidays, the student was arrested at the airport and imprisoned without trial by the government. Political activism was observed within the youth and at a certain time Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook were considered to be the main source of information on the Burundi crisis. Many people even feared that the social media were announcing the apocalypse as so much hatred information were exchanged between youth, especially students. Finally two hashtags on Twitter by students came to represent the two opposed positions about the electoral crisis: #sindumuja (I am not a slave of Pierre Nkurunziza) and #silent majority (these supposed to support the president Nkurunziza). These two hashtags were serving in the virtual space for confrontation between students involved in this 2015 electoral crisis. And it was the first time that the internet was invested as tool of resistance for the two challengers. It is as thought young scholars were divided into two opposite camp. This can be observed when one is reading the youth blog “Waza” and Yaga Burundi. There are entrenched positions on the third term and the electoral crisis.

To conclude on the aspect of the role of social media in the Burundian crisis, after private media were destroyed in May 14, social media became the main source of information in Burundi. It is the main tool to inform and alert national and international opinion on what is happening in Burundi even though they lack ethics and journalism deontology. For example, on a blog called “Enfants du pays”, a youth blogger wrote a ‘killed youth biography’ and this could help in case justice would make investigations on those assassinations. In another application called ‘Burundi direct’ which is more visited, the texts posted are somewhat terrifying people, but unfortunately we are not able to stop that.

In conclusion, I can say I learned so much with electoral crisis. Young scholars are able to change so many things in Burundi both in politics and mentality behavior. The Burundian people have long been portrayed as docile population who fear authority and especially that they hide what they think of the authority. Youth and students in general showed they can go beyond what is considered to be true. I was not expecting to see Burundian people protesting for almost two months. I was not thinking Burundians could be accustomed so quickly to the absence of public media, but I was ignoring that we have to learn more from youth and young scholars especially.

International Higher Education – Call

In response to the publication of the Journal of Student Affairs in Africa special issue “Student Power in African Higher Education” Vol. 3(1) and the forthcoming book “Student Politics in Africa: Representation and Activism”, Prof Philip Altbach, Emeritus Director: Center for International Higher Education, Boston College has inquired if the research network could write brief articles (about 1000 words) on student politics in Africa for publication in “International Higher Education”.

Prof Philip Altbach is the editor of the journal, International Higher Education. The journal focuses on various themes and one of them is “Student Issues”. Reflecting on our 2015 JSAA publication issue and the book, I think this will be a suitable theme to guide our articles.

I propose that we aim for the June 2016 Issue and that would require a response to this email (with abstracts of 150 words and indication of authors) if you are interested in writing a piece for the publication. Articles can also be co-authored and cover more than one country, institution, or organization.

If you have questions, please contact taabomugume[at] Please respond to this email by 27 February 2016 with your abstract.

For more information on the journal see;