Protests over ministry’s meddling in institutions’ affairs

Students from two universities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have resumed academic activities after classes were halted over what they termed “unilateral decisions” taken by the higher education ministry about the running of the two higher education institutions.

The issue, however, has not been resolved and appears to revolve around greater institutional autonomy, because students’ discontent has highlighted the need for legal provisions that would allow for the election of rectors and management committees instead of their being appointed – and removed – by the ministry.

The affected universities are the l’Institut Facultaire des Sciences Agronomique de Yangambi (IFA-Yangambi) or the Institute of Agronomic Sciences of Yangambi, and l’Institut Supérieur Pédagogique de Kisangani (ISP-Kisangani) or the Higher Pedagogical Institute of Kisangani.

The protests, which started on 18 September at IFA-Yangambi and on 16 September at ISP-Kisangani, have been have been called off this week.

At IFA-Yangambi, students have protested against the alleged poor leadership of Belgian Professor Baudouin Michel, the university’s rector, and have called on the ministry to remove the institution’s administration or management committee. Michel has been rector for three years.

Students claim that the management committee’s performance has been poor, pointing to the prolonged absence of the rector and failure to perform tasks that could affect the development of the university and students’ welfare.

‘No activities at IFA-Yangambi until the departure of the current management committee’ reads an unsigned communiqué, which was displayed in different parts of the buildings of the university.

Students claimed that the ministry has appointed Michel, whose tenure has been marred by a lecturers’ strike over the past months.

This, according to the protesting students, affects learning activities, hence disrupting the academic calendar and course scheduling in general.

According to Victoire Ebeka, the students’ representative at IFA-Yangambi, the students have supported the removal of the management committee because they realised that the rector was not fit to lead the institution and he repeatedly neglected the institution’s duties.

“Nothing the rector and his committee have done has been to improve the status of the university ever since the rector was appointed three years ago,” she said.

Protesting students also blamed the committee for failure to manage teachers’ welfare, which resulted in the teachers’ strikes over the past months.

Professor Joel Osombause, acting rector of IFA-Yangambi, has called on students to cease protesting and resume their courses.

Anyone who contributes to the disruption of the proper functioning of the administration and academic activities will be dealt with by the relevant authorities, he said.

Meanwhile, at ISP-Kisangani, students have protested about the replacement of their general director, Professor Issac Bandombele, who has been in the position for only six months.

The ministry replaced Bandombele with Professor Lofomboli Boningoli as the rector of the university, leaving students disgruntled and protesting.

This news report was translated from French by Jean d'Amour Mbonyinshuti.