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Congolese president visits Africa University

Africa University students cheer the arrival of Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, on the campus of the United Methodist-related
school in Mutare, Zimbabwe. UMNS photos by Andra Stevens. 

By Sharai Nondo*
Nov. 5, 2009 | MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS)

Praise singing and tumultuous applause from Congolese students greeted the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo during a visit to Africa University.

In return, Joseph Kabila paid tribute to the United Methodist-related institution for its confidence and belief in the future of his country.

Kabila praised Africa University
during his talk.

“I am thankful for the high interest this academic institution is demonstrating towards my country,” Kabila said. “If anything, it shows your faith in the future of the DRC, which was on the brink of total collapse a few years ago but is hailed today for being on a promising road to recovery.”

Kabila made an official visit to the university’s main campus Nov. 3, giving the keynote speech at the school’s annual seminar commemorating the life and work of former United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskj÷ld.

The Congolese leader, who also is head of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community, is the first sitting head of state to visit the Africa University campus since 1994, when President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe officially opened the university.

With 1,165 students from 28 African countries, the university serves a pan-African campus community. The chancellor is Bishop David Yemba of the Central Congo Area, and the 132 Congolese students represent the largest group of international students at the campus.

Joseph Kabila ascended to the presidency of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2001 at age 29 after the assassination of his father. Supporters say he is striving to bring peace and democracy to the war-torn nation, but the government continues to be accused of severe human rights abuses, including the use of child soldiers.

Reuters reported Nov. 2 that the United Nations said it would cut back support for Congo’s armed forces amid allegations of the killing, rape and mutilation of hundreds of civilians. The victims were mostly women, children and the elderly, according to Human Rights Watch.

Warm welcome

The Congolese leader was hailed during his visit to Africa University.

On his arrival at the campus, Kabila was greeted with tumultuous applause and praise singing from the Congolese students who chanted, “5 chantiers, balula balula, Kabila atongi Mboka”—“Kabila, build up our nation in the five areas, you are the only person who can do that. We trust you, you are our leader.”

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In his speech on “The state of the Congolese nation following the negotiations,” Kabila said his country was on the road to economic growth and recovery, but needed human and capital resources to fulfill its development agenda.

“We will need an efficient state, a vibrant private sector and well-educated, physically fit and work-dedicated human resources,” said Kabila as he challenged the students who had gathered for his historic address.

Kabila said the Congolese government has instituted a five-pillar program to bring about national development through institutional reforms in the security sector, the judiciary, public service, business and infrastructural development. The five visible benchmarks against which his government will assess the success of its strategy are roads, schools, hospitals, water and electricity, housing and employment.

“Failure is not an option,” said Kabila, speaking to a capacity crowd of more than 700 students, academics, diplomats, politicians and business leaders. “We need to begin to rebuild the economy and social fabric, to revive the African giant, which will undoubtedly become the economic hub and stronghold of the African continent.”

Rebuilding a country

Itela Laurente, a Congolese student in the university’s Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance, is determined to contribute to the reconstruction of his country. Now in his final year of studies, Laurente believes that his generation can bring meaningful development to the African state.

“I took a challenge from his call for national reconciliation and the rebirth of our nation,” Laurente said. “That is the only slogan for me today. My place, after I complete school, is to go back home and become meaningful to the Congolese renaissance. No one else can do it for us.”

Kabila (right) speaks as Fanuel Tagwira (left), vice chancellor of Africa University
and United Methodist Bishop David Yemba of the Central Congo Area listen.

Another Congolese student, Coco Mumvumina, was inspired by Kabila’s visit.

“He is of our generation. He became a president at 29 and in him … I see all the possibilities for the nation of Congo,” Mumvumina said. “Young as he is, Kabila brought in and consolidated an era of peace as well as a new democratic dispensation, unknown to our generation.”

In recent years, Kabila said, his nation has made political dialogue a priority, and has embraced compromise to bring about reconciliation and national reconstruction.

“However long the night is, the sun will always rise,” Kabila said.

Organized by the Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance at Africa University, the Dag Hammarskj÷ld Commemorative Seminar provides an annual forum for documenting and sharing homegrown solutions to issues of conflict transformation and peace and nation building on the African continent.

“One of our major objectives is to train a new leadership for the continent of Africa,” said Professor Fanuel Tagwira, the vice chancellor of Africa University. “Events such as these give us a fresh perspective on peace and teach us how to solve our problems through collaboration and dialogue.”

*Nondo is program officer in Africa University’s Information and Public Affairs Office.

News media contact: David Briggs, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.  

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