The Action for Peace and Liberty recently released a report on the state of peace and liberty in higher institutions in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is translated below in English, but the original can be found in French, here.
University Youth and Peace and Freedom. The Case of Goma and Bukavu in the Provinces of North and South Kivu, DRC
To be free means, first and foremost, not to be prevented from doing what you want, or to say what you think without fear. Freedom is conceived as the absence of any foreign constraint. In the political sense, it is the power to enjoy one’s civil rights. The present study once again evokes the role of university youth in establishing freedom and peace in society in general, and in academia in particular. Surveys were carried out among students at the universities and institutes of higher learning in Goma and Bukavu, to find out whether freedom and peace are still a topical issue at academic sites, and whether students are still aware of the disparity in fundamental human rights as defined by the International Bill of Human Rights. This article presents a summary of the monthly report (June), which speaks at length on this subject.
Freedom, peace, university youth, academia, power, DRC, and tyranny.
“Peace is an inalienable right, like freedom of expression and the rights to life and health, which the peoples of Central Africa must be able to fully enjoy. And this is only possible within states that respect democratic principles and good governance”. Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General at the time, declared. The Congolese academic community have faced a number of social challenges. Those linked to freedom and peace are on the current list of challenges. Despite the many incidents and scourges that persist in the academic sector, no demanding concern such as the Sovereign National Conference has ever weighed in to resolve the situation. From one sector to another, social problems await solutions among academics.
The problem of peace and freedom in the community should be resolved in the schools and find expertise in the academic world, because its sacred values: freedom of thought, intellectual honesty, moral rectitude, ethical integrity, as well as a commitment to guaranteeing equitable access and responding to social issues, place it at the heart of social action. Exploring the roots of progress through the notion of individual freedom, the questions we ask ourselves is how can we continue to expect innovation from the young academic, who doesn’t know the notions of freedom, or who isn’t left free to delve into the depths of his or her thinking resources? Obviously, in the DRC, young academics seem to be unaware of the universal notions that lead to peace and freedom. But how can this be achieved when the muzzling of individual freedom and the arbitrariness of power are still the order of the day? Even if peace-building requires the restoration of freedom and respect for the laws governing society. How can we achieve this collective and universal imaginary of a world where peace and freedom reign, without involving the academic world?
Our research has three dimensions. The first involved fieldwork (surveys, interviews and observation) in the cities of Bukavu and Goma, including 7 universities/higher institutes, with a total of 169 respondents. The second dimension consisted in processing and analyzing the data collected, and the third dimension focused on delving into existing theories to make a link between our data collected in the field and existing theories on our research subject.
Freedom is like a past, a present and a future, even if it has different fates in different eras and geographies. It should be known, and be topical in various sectors of life, because it is the remedy for tyrannies, social determinants, diseases of the soul as well as the driving force behind innovation and human genius. It’s a fact that the majority of academics who are expected to guide society do not have a thorough grasp of the concept of freedom and peace. Of the 169 young academics questioned, 105 responded that they knew freedom in the conceptual and literary sense (i.e., by definition only), compared with only 64 young academics who knew the contours of freedom (collective and individual, the law and texts on the subject) and its importance in the academic world.
Asked whether students felt free and at peace in their respective universities, 66 students clearly stated that freedom, an important factor in peace, was not guaranteed in their institutions. 103 students answered superficially: we submit to the way the university works. As to whether the university functions while guaranteeing freedom? But it’s logical to understand that anyone who doesn’t know the meaning of freedom is far from knowing whether he’s living in freedom or not. He’s just living. Individual freedom is the main objective. The aspect of freedom as a constituent element of academic life gives us food for thought. The exercise of freedom is constrained by points of view, but must, in any case, be a matter for the individual and his reason, not that of others. If someone else decides for me, I become a minor. This being the case, an external power of academics decides and does things for them. Thus, by appointment, the political system imposes on eminent professors, the rectors and managing directors of institutions, instead of the choice they should make among their peers, through voting. Through hemogenic influence, which some would translate as geostrategic, students’ freedom is stifled by the imposition of representatives on various bodies: CP (head of promotion), (faculty delegate), PP (student spokesperson at institutional level, student representative at provincial level, etc.). Depriving an individual of the freedom to exercise power directly or by delegation threatens social peace and risks degenerating into social tyranny.
“From the Mobutu era to the present day, the Ministry of Education has been managed by political leaders, either from the ruling party or a political party allied to the ruling party. Appointments have long depended on this political criterion. As a result, managers of public institutions and universities, in particular, are more accountable to their political party presidents than to students or academic science. Nowadays, professors are grouped according to their political or religious leanings. This has a negative impact on the values of freedom and peace in this sector.
As a result, educators or managers have become the steamroller of freedom and peace in academic circles, forcing students to criticize their management or the power in place where they are supposed to be defending, in order to avoid anything they would believe of an uprising of students against him and his political regime, which appointed him. The consequences are cowardice on the part of many students, who are forced to trample on their rights to freedom and peace, setting themselves the sole objective of finishing their academic course in a muzzled environment where silence for all is the rule to be defended with a hammer by their academic authorities. Some see their research topics, TFC (travaux de fin de cycle), or dissertations cancelled if they touch on the interests of those in power, or if they want to talk about the management of their institution.
“In the third year of my economics degree, I was almost expelled for having proposed a research topic on the management of my institution’s expenditure. In fact, the professor who was supposed to be supervising me told me that I wanted to touch the abscess of a wound. When I proposed my subject, I was called by the Dean of the Faculty, who told me what my ambitions were with this subject and forced me to change it. From then on I was the target of those close to the management committee.”
To these two notions – freedom and peace – we can add integral development, which nurtures all human dimensions (bodily, intellectual, psycho-affective and relational). Integral development enables people to become aware of who they really are and what they aspire to. It enables them to put their aspirations into practice. In this way, it becomes possible to transform all human activities in order to live in peace. The fear is that the university of our time is not in the logic of facilitating the integral development of the young scholar. This fear leads us to another aspect of the absence of freedom as a constitutive element of everyday academic life. Thus, the institutions of the ESU are the site of all society’s dreams and contradictions. The university is the place of all dreams, because it constitutes a space that young people want to conquer in order to to acquire knowledge and training, but above all as a gateway constitutive of the “struggle for places”. The site of all society’s contradictions, the Congolese university becomes the bed on which all the “involutions” reflecting societal morbidity can be read. The crisis from which the Congolese university suffers has been the most persistent marker of this for several decades. In discursive terms, the Congolese university’s plunge into the meanders of the “functioning-dysfunctioning paradox” has led to the idea of “the unproductiveness of executives and men capable of solving societal ills”.
Higher and university education is a sector destined to play an important role in a nation’s destiny. For the future of mankind, so that young people can become global citizens, the role to be played by the university is great. This important role derives from the tasks that institutions in this sector perform in the production and reproduction of knowledge, the training of human resources and, above all, the promotion and application of texts and laws governing life in society, particularly the framework law governing teaching and the internal regulations of each institution, if at least these are not in contradiction with fundamental national and international texts.
In a climate where the notions of freedom and peace are unknown, and where the conditions in which one can reclaim one’s freedom and conquer peace are not nurtured, for young academics, freedom has become like a heavy burden. Something they’d like to get rid of. David Edwards, Deputy General Secretary of Education International, noted that “today as never before, a free teaching profession must instill in students the values of democracy and the skills of healthy skepticism, critical thinking, scientific methods, understanding of history and media and internet literacy”. However, this can only be achieved by teachers whose academic freedom is respected, guaranteed and protected by the state, through its public institutions. It’s time for young academics to learn the notions of individual freedom, with the aim of spreading this freedom throughout the entire community and playing their part as the driving force behind the DRC’s take-off towards sustainable, harmonious and integral development.
Thanks to Albert Gikundiro , Principal Chief Executive Officer of Action for Peace and Liberty (DRC) for passing along the report. You can read more about Action for Peace and Liberty (DRC) and their work on their website.