DR CONGO: Inquiries into violence after fees hikes

Violence between students and police in the Democratic Republic of Congo last month resulted in two deaths and several injuries, and has led to parliamentary inquiries. The angry students were principally demonstrating over sharp increases in university charges.

Radio France Internationale reported that students marched "in a great human tide, according to witnesses, which attacked the administrative building of the University of Kinshasa". Much damage was caused, and police had to help the university rector escape, said RFI.

La Prospérité of Kinshasa said reasons for the students' anger were, primarily, that the university's management committee had increased and unilaterally fixed various charges without consulting the students. Enrolment fees had risen from 5,000 FCA (US$11) to US$25; a student card, formerly free, was now US$25; fees for a work placement report went from no charge to US$15; fees for submission of a thesis had doubled from US$75 to US$150.

Students told the paper they had tried unsuccessfully to meet the rector to negotiate the charges, and it was his refusal that had provoked their anger.

Minister for Higher Education, Professor Léonard Mashako Mamba, visited the university to inspect the damage. He announced the setting up of a commission of inquiry into the matter, and promised severe punishments for those who had caused trouble.

A final-year student told La Prospérité that as well as the exorbitant fees, students needed US$250 to live on, and this was impossible for many parents who worked in the public sector and had received no salary increases.

Le Potentiel reported that the Association of Professors of Unikin (APUKIN) had blamed the minister for "lighting the fire" which had led to the uncertainty "in which all higher education institutions are bathed".

APUKIN recalled the agitation that had shaken another university following a decision by the minister to suspend faculties and departments he had judged 'incompatible' with its vocation. Calm was only restored after the order was lifted.

In a statement reported in Le Phare APUKIN said university teachers had observed "serious irresponsibility and manifest incompetence in the management of the events".

They "deplored the lack of transparency in setting and managing academic fees and other university income at all levels"; and raised other matters such as changes made throughout the year without preliminary negotiation, and "incessant intrusion and interference by the minister of higher education in the daily management of the university".

The professors put forward a number of recommendations to deal with the situation. These included:

* Adherence to legal procedures in appointing university heads, which APUKIN claimed had been broken, and making the university a place of "democracy and independence".
* The banning on campus of "men in uniform or carrying arms of war", on the understanding that the "university must remain a place of liberty and not of coercion and oppression".
* An inquiry into the recent events, and those in January.
* A detailed report on all those who had been injured.
* Maintaining former enrolment and housing charges.

It emerged that two people had died during the violence - a university guard named in Le Potentiel as Masikini, who was shot, and a science student Jean Liyolo, who was hit by a stone on the head. There were also several injuries as well as damage to property.

On 28 April Mashako Mamba told the national assembly that the violence had been caused by "armed assailants" who had taken advantage of the demonstration and "shot real bullets at the students", reported Le Potentiel. He denied the police had fired any shots.

Following his address, members of the national assembly decided to set up two parliamentary commissions of inquiry into the incidents and events leading up to them.

* This article is drawn from local media. University World News cannot vouch for the accuracy of the original report.