At night at the Université Nangui Abrogoua in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, classrooms and auditoriums turn into makeshift dormitories. Students curl up on benches while others lie down on the floor.

A persistent shortage of student housing in Abidjan has left many without a place to sleep. The phenomenon isn't new: for years, university residences were used to house soldiers who arrived during the 2011 post-election crisis to fight forces loyal to former president Laurent Gbagbo. But many remained even after the conflict ended, and moved out only in recent years, leaving behind deteriorating buildings.

In February, the minister for higher education and scientific research, Albert Mabri Toikeusse, said that around 12,000 student beds would be available once renovation work on the facilities is completed in June.

"Students are sleeping in auditoriums”

Marc M.*, a first-year medical student at the Université Nangui Abrogoua, said students who are forced to sleep in school facilities are unable to focus on their studies.

Students have been waiting for the university residences to be renovated for a long time. Those who can’t find or afford housing in Abidjan sleep in the classrooms and auditoriums and wait until the weekend to go home to their families. We call those kids the "Kossos".

Other students like me come from the city or the surrounding area, but we can’t make the long and expensive trip between home and school every day. Traffic is so bad that the commute takes me up to two hours. That means I end up leaving at 6am to get to a 9am class. And I have to pay a bus fare or to share a taxi.

Students curl up in amphitheaters at the Université Nangui Abrogoua in May 2019 (Photo: Marc M.)

The conditions at school are pretty bad. We have trouble studying and we eat and sleep in the same halls where we have class the next day. We try to clean up so that there isn’t food lying around, but it still ends up being pretty dirty. We are not allowed to bring sleeping mats because there isn’t anywhere to store them.

We sleep on the floor or on benches. The toilets are dirty and it’s hard to find a place to wash ourselves. Sometimes we wait until night to rinse off outside the building. Other people wash themselves in the sinks, and some don’t wash at all.

We pile our things in front of the bathrooms because there is nowhere to store them. We are all training to be health workers, and people keep telling us that everything is going to get better, but I just feel like living in these conditions has had a serious impact on our education. Luckily we're all supporting one another through this.

Students turn amphitheaters and hallways into makeshift dorms in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

The general director of Abidjan's university projects, Jean Blé Guirao, said earlier this year that four university residences in the city would be ready by June.

* Name has been changed for privacy reasons.

This story was written by Maëva Poulet.