Lecturers down tools again over transport subsidy debacle

Protests at universities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo involving both staff and students have been disrupting higher learning.

Lecturers and academic staff have resumed protests, which first started earlier in 2022, over the alleged failure of the government to resolve their complaints about problems with subsidised transport. Academics say the government has failed to honour its pledge to help them to join the government’s transport subsidy systems.

In the meantime, students from the University of Kisangani took to the streets on 26 September to protest about ‘persistent power outages’ at the university.

Turmoil over transport

Lecturers from the Université de Kinshasa (University of Kinshasa) first protested over the transport system in July 2022 and, at the time, halted teaching and learning. They also called for the resignation of the Minister of Higher and University Education, Muhindo Nzangi Butondo, who was accused of failing to address several concerns brought to his attention earlier.

One of the matters that irked the striking staffers was the minister’s “unilateral involvement” in the subsidy system set up to help academic staff to purchase vehicles aimed at facilitating the transport of lecturers and academic staff.

The government had availed the facility to allow lecturers and academic staff to buy vehicles, but the process was delayed after the minister allegedly got involved in the purchasing and distribution processes.

The minister, staff claimed, “blocked the execution of the contract for the sale of vehicles between lecturers and dealers”, something, they said, that violated contractual clauses and political ethics.

Following the protests, the government, through the council of ministers intervened and promised to cover the subsidy fee in three instalments, but only one has been covered so far.

Following a decision by the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Network of Associations of Professors of Universities and Higher Institutes of Congo (RAPUICO) to take action, the protests started on 22 September.

The protesters, who lost hope ahead of the deadline to have all three instalments cleared on 28 September, said they would continue with the strike until the issue is solved, stressing that the problems they raised have been trivialised.

“We held a meeting to assess the progress of the implementation of the agreement … [but are] dissatisfied and seriously concerned about unacceptable conditions, despite the services rendered to the nation,” reads a statement released by RAPUICO, adding that academic activities have been put on hold across the country.

Students worried about the academic year

Students have called on both the government and the university lecturers to find a solution to the problem so that they can resume their courses, expressing their concerns over the completion of the academic year.

Samuel Kazimiri Byiringiro, the spokesperson of students from universities in the South Kivu province, stated that teachers could have waited for students to complete their courses. The 2021-22 academic year is scheduled to end in December 2022.

“We believe that the government will take appropriate measures to attend to the lecturers’ requests because, as students, we are the losers of the chaos. We call on the Congolese government to take things seriously and find solutions as a matter of urgency.

“We also ask our fellow students to remain calm while waiting for the solution to this situation,” he added.

In the meantime, the presidents of the students’ associations in the country have decided to organise a sit-in at the prime minister’s office in a bid to push for academic activities to continue.

Meanwhile, as professors strike, students from the University of Kisangani have been blocking the road to the university and have been burning objects, about power outages for the second time in September. They said that the blackouts affect the courses and other activities and called on the university to address the issue.