Blantyre – The University of Malawi on Tuesday closed one of its colleges after protesting students blocked the convoy of visiting US "second lady" Jill Biden.
The wife of US Vice President Joe Biden is currently in Malawi, supporting various humanitarian efforts.
Chancellor College students blocked her motorcade on Tuesday morning. She was being driven from the commercial city of Blantyre to the rural district of Machinga, through Malawi’s old colonial capital Zomba.
Students burnt tyres and formed a human blockade as they clashed with police, forcing the motorcade to divert to eastern Malawi’s police headquarters in Zomba.
When the 30 heavily armed paramilitary police guarding Biden realised the protests were escalating, they advised US officials to cancel their visit to Machinga and return to Blantyre.
This prompted US officials to cancel a trip to the rural district where they were expected to visit projects funded by United States International Aid (Usaid).
Prior to this incident, Biden toured two Usaid-funded projects in Blantyre and Zomba. She is in the southern Africa nation to highlight girl’s education, women empowerment, and food security.
Biden announced that the US had donated $20m to support food-insecure communities in Malawi, through the World Food Programme (WFP).
"The announcement brings the total United States assistance to over $70m since the start of the food crisis in October," she said.
Biden said the US would continue to support Malawi. She encouraged others to help Malawi and those southern African countries affected by the recent drought.
WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, who is also visiting Malawi, said the donation would help a school feeding programme.
"Partnering food with education, we are not just feeding stomachs, we are changing minds and providing new opportunity to ensure the positive future that every child deserves, that these children in Malawi will now receive," she said.
About 6.5 million Malawians are facing food shortages in 2016, up from 2.5 million in 2015.
Biden is expected to meet with Malawi’s first lady, Gertrude Mutharika, in Lilongwe on Wednesday, before flying to Niger.
Meanwhile, University of Malawi authorities have closed Chancellor College indefinitely.
Principal Richard Tambulasi said the demonstrations were illegal and posed a security threat.
Students criticised the fee hikes as being exorbitant. The government, however, indicated it would not reverse it because the cost of running the institution had gone up.
The recent fee hike for University of Malawi mainly affected mature entry students who would be paying tuition fees ranging from $1200 to $1 942.
First-year students would pay fees between $500 and $833.
Malawi previously offered public university education almost for free as it sought to build its human resources muscle.
The country has abandoned this and introduced a cost-sharing model. It required students to contribute between 25% and 50% of the cost of their education.
The student protests in Malawi come months after their counterparts in South Africa staged nationwide protests.
SA’s Fees Must Fall campaign forced authorities to back down on their initial proposal to increase fees by 10% or more. Although the focus of the protests was the fee increase, students also called for more funding for poorer students and more social transformation.