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The Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) is a country in central Africa with an approximate population between 62 and 77 million people. The country’s 2.3 million square kilometre landscape, roughly 6.6 times the size of Germany, consists largely of vast regions covered in rainforest and through it runs the Congo river, which is the second largest river in the world measured by volume of water discharged.
The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo is represented in the media as an area of conflict, which unites many contradictions; fertile soil, a mild climate and an ethnically diverse but also traumatic violent history with militia and hunger and poverty. Around 130km north of the capital city Goma, on a plateau lies the small city of Mweso, which is being called the Switzerland of Africa due to its picturesque landscape and astounding natural beauty.
In the course of European colonisation in Africa, the region became dependent on other nations and was exploited as private property of Belgian King Lepold II. Due to international protests against the numerous violations of human rights, the Belgian government took over administration in 1908. Despite this, it failed to improve the living conditions in the area. The exploitation of supplies of agricultural products and crude materials by the Belgian government and licensed businesses continued unchanged over the following century.
The first years of independence were unstable and were coined as the Congo Crisis. In 1965 General Joseph Mobutu gained power through a military coup. He renamed the country “Authenticité” in Zaire, due to his political ideology and he constructed a brutal and corrupt dictatorship, which was also supported by Western powers.
The genocide in Rwanda in 1994 caused unrest in the entire Great Lakes region, the results of which still have an impact today. During the time of the first Congo war, Mobutu was overthrown and was replaced by Laurent Kabila as president of the new Democratic Republic of Congo. After his murder, his son Joseph took over office in 2001 and was re-elected in the 2006 and 2011 elections.
Estimations of the dead in 2009 between the three Congo wars were between 4 and 5.4 Million people. In the mineral rich areas of the eastern border of the country, which have weak administration, rebel groups gained momentum and the fighting and unrest is continuing today. At the end of 2013 the central government managed to pushback and disarm the militia group M-23 with the help of the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO. However the political solutions to the conflict are not able to withstand opposition. The long-term effects of the decade long battles still can’t be seen in the environment and the civilian population.
Besides the nine state universities, there are many different sponsored colleges. Because a degree is very expensive in comparison to average income, the access to tertiary education is only available to a small percentage of the population. Even a school education is sometimes not the norm. High fees prevent many children from attending school and girls especially, from families with low-income experience disadvantage (Worldbank, WRD Gender Equality and Development 2012, p. 74). Around 40% of the population between 5 and 15 are affected by child labour.
Many tertiary students have to cope with the double burden of continuing their studies alongside worrying about their means of subsistence so much so that up to 50% drop out of university. Changes in the tertiary sector have allowed for better organisation to improve structures for socially or economically disadvantaged students and offer young war affected people in the disrupted east provinces promising future prospects.
Even after the so-called Congo wars, many rebel groups and local militia were continuing to cause considerable unrest around Mweso. During the conflict between the M23 movement and the Congolese national army FARDC the pilferage became so bad that many inhabitants had to flee to the surrounding regions. Soon after the Institut Superieure d’Études Agronomiques (ISEA), which had been temporarily closed was able to be reopened. After renewed unrest in late Sumer last year, which left Mweso cut off from Goma, FARDC succeeded in demilitarising M23 Militia, with the help of UN peace keeping mission MONUSCO. Even though there are combats still arising in the Mweso and Masisi area, it is possible that the safety situation could significantly settle down.
The agronomic training of the population is of central importance for an untroubled and economically stable reconstruction of the agricultural sector. Viateur Mujogo, founding chairman and coordinator exécutif of CADEP says that “small farmers are the backbone of North Kivu. As agents of change, they form the most effective correction of the malnutrition and marginalization of the region.”
And this is where our scholarship comes in. By promoting a three-year study at ISEA we enable young people in and around Mweso access to an agronomic university education, so they can be the pioneers of the agricultural development for their area.