State-provided free education, suddenly introduced by the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has plunged the Catholic private education sector into an unprecedented strike, causing unrest in parts of the country. Since the introduction of this controversial measure, 13,000 teachers are in danger of no longer being paid.
“No school, no church.” The protesters were not calming down on September 29, 2019, even going as far as burning tires in front of the entrance to Bukavu Cathedral. Their demands? That the teachers at the free schools end their strike and resume classes unconditionally.
Since September 2, the Congolese head of state Felix Tshisekedi has decreed free primary school, which was one of the key promises of his presidential campaign.
Until now, the Catholic Church has asked parents to contribute financially to the proper functioning of the schools it runs in order to ensure a decent salary for teachers—who are not paid by the State—and to guarantee a quality education.
An Unfunded Measure
But the state-provided free education has suddenly upset this system that has proven itself—not to mention the expense to the state that this measure will cost, estimated at 2.38 billion euros. An amount that, according to the newspaper La Croix, had not even been included in the 2019 budget.
According to inter-union representatives quoted by RFI Africa [radio], some 13,000 teachers have not been paid since the start of the school year. Hence a generalized strike in the free education sector.
Some parents are beginning to doubt the executive’s ability to deliver on his promises. This is the case of Joseph Murhabazi, at the microphone of RFI: “As parents, we worry. And yet we hoped for the payment of teachers, as the president had promised. We worry, because it can continue, and in that case the teachers are not paid. We ask the state to pay the teachers.”
François-Xavier Maroyi, Archbishop of Bukavu proposed, for the sake of appeasement, a meeting between parents, teachers, and representatives of the state and the Catholic hierarchy to find ways to put an end to this absurd situation.
However, they should also look for explanations upstream. The election of President Tshisekedi, strongly contested, remains doubtful for many and for the Episcopal Conference of the Congo in particular.