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The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a country in central Africa with an estimated population of 62 to 77 million people. To large extent, it is covered by tropical rainforest, and traversed by the Congo River, the second largest river on the continent. With a total of 2.3 million km², the DRC covers about 9.6 times the area of the United Kingdom.
The Congo Basin is a region with many traces of historic settlement. Alongside indigenous tribal communities, Bantu peoples from Western Africa began expanding early on into the borders of today’s DRC. In the 14th century, the pre-colonial Congo Kingdom flourished in the West of the country, before the first Portuguese arrived at the Congo delta some hundred years later. Though they did not enter the interior of the continent, Europeans established a rampant slave trade along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.
In the course of European colonization of the African continent, the region became politically subordinated, and it was systematically pillaged as private property of the Belgian king Leopold II. International protests against the numerous violations of human rights contributed to Belgium’s overtaking colonial rule of the country in 1908, a fact which however did not change people’s living conditions for the better. In the decades to come, exploitation of agricultural produces and natural resources, too, were carried on by the Belgian state as well as private concession corporations.
Taken by surprise by the dynamics of African independence movements, colonial rulers rushed out of the country in 1960—without ever having built up or supported structures for an autonomous social reconstruction and an orderly self-administration.
The first years of independence therefore were marked by political instability, the so-called Congo Crisis. In 1965 General Joseph Mobutu seized power in a military coup. In line with his ideological policy of “Authenticité” he renamed the country Zaire, and established a brutal and corrupt regime—a dictatorship which was also backed by Western powers.
The Genocide in Rwanda in 1994 triggered utter unrest in the entire region of the Great Lakes, and the population suffers from the consequences to this date. In the course of the First Congo War, Mobutu was overthrown in 1997 and replaced by Laurent Kabila as president of the new Democratic Republic of Congo. After his assassination in 2001, his son Joseph took the office, which he retained through the elections in 2006 and 2011.
According to estimates, some 4 to 5.4 million lost their lives during the three Congo Wars until 2009 alone. However, in the regions along the eastern border of the country—rich in resources, but largely unpenetrated by state administration—rebel groups with various motivations still find power bases. Fighting continues to erupt regularly. In late 2013 the central government, supported by the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO, successfully repelled and disarmed the militia M-23, but a political solution to the conflict has still not been reached. The long-term consequences of decades of fighting, both for the environment as well as for civil society, are still largely unforeseeable.
Conditions for teachers as well as students are very tough in the DRC, and the educational infrastructure often is only rudimentarily developed. Together with Niger, the country occupies the last of 186 positions in the Human Development Index 2013. It is true that the DRC, with a literacy rate of 67%, scores much better than countries like Mali (46%) and Niger (29%), but learning conditions at schools and universities in the country are quite uneven and often problematic, especially in the east of the country.
Next to nine state-run universities, the DRC has a multitude of colleges and universities of different affiliations. However, since tuition fees are very expensive in relation to average incomes, access to academic education is the privilege of a small share of the population. Even basic school education cannot be taken for granted. High tuitions prevent children from attending school, which is especially true for girls from low income families. About 40% of the population aged between 5 and 15, are affected by child labor.
At institutions of tertiary education, too, the combined burden of studying and struggling to earn one’s living, results in drop-out rates of up to 50%. Strengthening academic education facilitates the creation of sustainable social and economic structures, and provides promising perspectives particularly to war-weary people in the battle-torn eastern provinces of the country.
Kindu is the capital of the province of Maniema in the East of the DR Congo. It is a regional trade and administration center and hosts several schools and universities. The city is located on the Lualaba river, the main tributary of the river Congo and navigable by boat from Kindu downstream almost all the way to Kisangani. The majority of the population is Christian of various denominations. Kiswahili, alongside the official French, is the region’s national language.
Situated in the East of DR Congo, Kindu is the capital of the province of Maniema which emerged from the breaking up of the former Kivu province in 1988. The city and its surroundings suffered immensely from the wars between 1996 and 2003. Over the course of five years, large parts of Kindu were held by different rebel groups.
In spite of its nearly 200,000 inhabitants, large parts of the city resemble village-like neighborhoods. Only in the city center there are streets with multi-story stone buildings, a multitude of shops and businesses, and the buzzing market. In this area you’ll also find the new, modern building of the Université de Kindu.
The streets are dominated by mopeds, which is the most common form of transport. Cars are rather scarce and mainly belong to international organizations, of which many are present in Kindu. The UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO, whose main task is guarding the strategically important international airport of Kindu, is also located there.
Poverty and unemployment are major problems in Kindu, infrastructure is extremely poor. On account of the lack of infrastructure, all non-local products are very expensive. Moreover, a considerable part of the population is malnourished. Electricity and water supply are irregular in Kindu as well, and most households have access to neither.
In Kindu there are one state-run and several church-run and private universities.
The state-run Université de Kindu (Uniki) is situated right in the center of Kindu and has five faculties: Law, Economics, Agronomy, Medicine and Social Sciences. The lecturers at Uniki come partly by plane from Kinshasa or Lubumbashi to teach in Kindu. This makes tuition more expensive, but also raises the reputation of the degrees earned at Uniki. Although the university now possesses new and modern premises, IT facilities and library stockings are still in need of improvement.
Besides Uniki, there are several “Instituts Supérieurs”, which are specialized colleges with a technical or pedagogical profile. They offer a broad spectrum of courses covering most of the subjects taught at Uniki, but also complement its curriculum, e.g. through pedagogically specified study programs.
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