Students protest over bus service promised nine months ago

Students in North Kivu and Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been protesting about the long wait for a public bus service promised by the government in January to ease transport to and from their respective universities.

In January 2022, President Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo announced a donation of 100 buses to put an end to students’ transport concerns. The first phase could benefit more than 50,000 students, according to officials.

Dubbed ‘Trans-Academia’, the buses are expected to cut existing transport costs by half. Some students say that they pay as much as US$1.50 a day, which they say is high.

In addition, the buses were expected to shorten the waiting period for public transport. Some students say they wait for hours to get onto buses, while others complain that they miss classes whenever they fail to catch buses on time.

However, almost nine months down the road, the promise of an affordable transport system has not been realised. As a result, they started protests, calling for the authorities to do everything possible to implement the plan.

Nine months, and counting …

Protests started in the country’s eastern province of Goma on 14 October when students from different universities and higher learning institutions took to the street and staged a sit-in in the provincial headquarters of North Kivu province.

There, they met authorities and told them about their hardship with regard to transport, including the delayed activation of the Trans-Academia buses and the high cost they incur to reach their respective campuses.

They were received by authorities including Brigadier General Dany Nyangba, in charge of public administration, security and public order in the province. According to an official, they (officials at provincial level) were going to take up the matter at a higher level.

The students’ worries were worsened by the recent government’s crackdown on vehicles which don’t have updated documents, and more buses were affected during these operations.

“The president decided to donate Trans-Academia buses, more than nine months ago. It is time we protested over the delay to implement the decision. We appeal for immediate action to have this promise realised,” Winfried Akilimali, a representative of students in the northern province, read from a document prepared by the protesters.

“In the meantime, we call for special treatment of students who use public transport to help them access universities on time without trekking longer distances,” he added.

The challenge of public transport

Job Kaserka, a student from the University of Goma, a public university, told University World News that the delayed provision of students’ buses coupled with the changes in public transport in the city pose a big challenge for students.

“We wish a decision could be taken to have the Trans-Academia buses activated and operational, [because], as students, we are losing a lot. For instance, I could not submit my classwork after I was delayed [in] reaching my campus due to waiting long hours to get the bus. The lecturer had already collected copies of other students’ [work, when I arrived],” he said.

For Nyangba, the issue of protesting students needs a response.

“The issue of transport for students is known. We are going to submit it to the top government officials and try to find a solution together in the shortest possible period,” he told the protesters, also calling for calm as they wait for a solution.

This was not the first student protest over delayed transport. In May, students appealed to the government to implement the January decision.

In addition to the students’ protest, university lecturers have been in several protests over delays to implement the decision to acquire vehicles on a subsidised fee. They said that, despite the government’s will, officials from the ministry of education were meddling in it, purposely delaying the process.

According to Muhindo Nzangi Butondo, the minister of higher education, the dedicated bus service will start soon after the government has finished with a countrywide digital registration of all students.

“The digitalisation of students will also allow us to know the exact number of Congolese students and allow the easy implementation of Trans-Academia,” he said earlier.