Students denounce ‘misbehaving’ academia, intellectuals

A group of university students have published a book in which they denounce the ‘misbehaviour’ of intellectuals in the Democratic Republic of Congo and call on them for their greater participation in the development of the communities around them.

The book, l’Anthropologie de l’intellectuel congolais dans le milieu universitaire, loosely translated to mean Anthropology of the Congolese intellectual in the university environment, focuses on the academic life of students in the DRC, highlights the difficulties in the Congolese education system, such as a lack of qualified lecturers and learning materials as well as poor laboratories, and denounces the behaviour of some of the intellectuals while reminding them of their duty and responsibilities towards national development.

It was written by five university students and recent graduates who are members of the League Academia, an advocacy organisation that seeks to remind the intellectuals in the country to rethink their roles in the development of the country. The book, according to the authors, was inspired by the life of a Congolese student.

The authors are from l’Université Libre des Pays des Grands Lacs (Free University of the Great Lakes Countries), Université Catholique la Sapientia de Goma (Catholic University la Sapientia Goma), l’Université de Goma (The University of Goma), l’Institut Supérieur d’Informatique et de Gestion (Higher Institute of Computer Science and Management) and l’Institut Supérieur de Commerce (The Higher Institute of Commerce).

The authors are Pascal Biruru, Eliezer Ushindi Mwendapeke, Ruphine Kanashi, Raphael Nyembo Muyumba and Gedeon Du Ciel Kalala.

“The universities and the higher learning institutions in the DRC have become battlefields [between students from different ethnic groups, between students and lecturers and between students and the authorities when action is taken against students who exercise academic freedom],” Biruru told University World News.

“The university [as an institution] should reflect on its image [as a learning institution] and its essence, it should serve as a place of cultural creation and recreation. The university’s research and teaching should be conducted in a professional way that benefits the community and leads to sustainable development,” states the book.

The authors surveyed students (from a diversity of ethnic or tribal groups) at universities in 10 cities in the country, namely, the capital city of Kinshasa, and also Lubumbashi, Kisangani, Bukavu, Goma, Kindu, Tshikapa, Kolwezi, Butembo and Boma.

A loss of focus

From the colonial period to the present day, the Congolese education system underwent several reforms. But universities, according to the book, have lost focus over the years.

The choice and selection of teachers, for instance, do not reflect any selection criteria for appointment, whereas ethnic affiliations, as well as political manipulation, are as good as the law in some higher institutions and universities in the country.

“It is sad because, after the research, we found that [many of] the intellectuals from universities and students abandoned their missions [in the higher education sector],” said Biruru.

“The intellectuals’ mission would be to provide solutions to the problems of the community. But, unfortunately, all that we see is that the intellectuals are the ones who fight in universities, are corrupt and disrespect values in our communities,” he said.

“The academics and intellectuals violate the principles and the law ... of the university. They are supposed to be the ones who draft and enforce laws,” added Biruru.

In addition to the political and organisational problems, the inequalities between men and women observed in the Congolese educational environment hamper the development of this sector, young people say in the book.

“It is very difficult for women and girls to live a dignified life. Inequalities between men and women exist in all sectors, including in education and yet gender equality is essential for development and growth and for sustainable peace,” write the authors.

They insisted that the universities and intellectuals should put gender equality at the centre of society, starting with the education sector which is supposed to be a major agent in the development process.

Congolese students

The authors said that university students are confronted with violence about ethnicity and politics in all forms, a depreciation of values, prolonged years of study and a violation of academic freedom, among other problems.

They report on how students, in the research, conveyed a deep disappointment in universities. According to Biruru, the research findings in their book revealed that no single academic year ends without recording either a student uprising, a loss of points, or a case of corruption. Other issues include abuse and sexual exploitation.

“More efforts should be invested so that the university environments improve and serve the purpose they were established for,” Biruru said.

The general idea of the book

In the DRC there are many unanswered questions about higher education and students do not understand the purpose of education upon joining the universities while society does not understand the role and the limits of academic endeavours.

“We have the impression that, the more doctors we have, the more patients die of malaria and other epidemics. The more lawyers and laws we have, the more injustice our people are faced with. The more civil engineers we have, the more deserted agricultural roads and bridges in disrepair we have.”

The 161 pager was published early in September in Goma town. It is sold in Goma libraries for $10. The authors want to use the income to publish more copies.