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Scrubbing Away Tensions in the DRC

August 17, 2011

ISTA students laugh with Congolese soldiers during the organized cleanup. (photo, Ilunga Kalala))

By Ilunga Kalala

This weekend I conducted a focus group session with students from Higher Institute of Applied Technology “Institut Supérieur de Technique Appliqué” (ISTA). Whether well deserved or not, ISTA students have a reputation for being quick to revolt when tensions boil over between them and government authority.

During our focus group, ISTA students told me that less than a decade ago the Congolese National Police suppressed a student revolt with gunfire. Bullet holes on the walls of student dorms are now painted over- a perfect analogy to the tensions that currently exist between students and the police, tensions that have likewise been painted over with rhetoric from both sides insisting the other is at fault.

Because ISTA is adjacent to the Ndolo Air Base and the Kingabwa Naval Base, violence can quickly spill over and be directed towards the Forces armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) . Relations between the FARDC and ISTA students have been stable for the past few months, thanks in large part to Lobi Mokolo Ya Sika activities.

Two weekends ago, the Ndolo Air Base organizing committee coordinated a clean-up activity with ISTA students. The area directly behind ISTA dorms had not been cleaned in months and the accumulated trash was both unsightly and unsanitary.

The event was quite the success both from the perspective of the work done and the interaction between soldiers and ISTA students.

“If activities like this one were multiplied,” said Emmanuel, “students would not longer see soldiers as different…but as normal people with whom we can always work together.”

A reoccurring theme in my focus group discussion was that there was another element of government authority that needed to be implicated in the work of Lobi Mokolo Ya Sika, namely the Congolese National Police. Students described in detail the conduct of the National Police towards students at ISTA. They recounted anecdotes about illegal searches and blatant theft.

To be fair, I only interviewed representatives from one side of the aisle.  But one need not choose sides in order to recognize the gravity of the moment.  Seldom have I encountered a situation where such a serious problem has such an apparent and appropriate solution, namely incorporating the Congolese National Police into the Lobi Mokolo Ya Sika program.


Ilunga Kalala is an international intern working with SFCG in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is currently enrolled at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. Find out what else we’re doing in DRC!

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