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Zaire Table of Contents



Students of the universities and other institutes of higher education have been politically active and influential since independence. At first, their political clout derived from their elite status (university training virtually guaranteed access to the elite). In subsequent years, with the expansion of university education, the number of students increased rapidly, outstripping employment opportunities.

Until 1968 there was a student union at each of the country's three universities and a national union, representing the three campuses as well as students overseas. By far the most influential organizations were the General Union of Congolese Students (Union Générale des Étudiants Congolais--UGEC) and the General Association of Lovanium Students (Association Générale des Étudiants de Lovanium--AGEL). The UGEC, whose leadership advocated "scientific socialism," was ambivalent regarding Mobutu. It originally supported him out of dislike for Moïse Tshombe and because of Mobutu's symbolically important gestures, such as the nationalization of the Upper Katanga Mining Union (Union Minière du Haut Katanga--UMHK) and the naming of Patrice Lumumba as "National Hero." Some UGEC leaders in fact joined the presidential staff. However, many student activists viewed the outcome of the UMHK conflict as a surrender, in that Mobutu ultimately was forced to reimburse many of the original owners, and found the Mobutu government too closely tied to the United States.

In 1968 UGEC was banned from Congolese universities by government order, and the youth wing of the MPR became the only officially recognized student organization. However, the student JMPR sections were allowed a degree of freedom not available in all party structures, in that they elected their officers. These elections generally pitted candidates of ethno-regional coalitions against each other, a key question being which blocks would align themselves with the favored students of Équateur, Mobutu's home region.

Over the years, student discontent continued to be expressed in manifestos, strikes, and demonstrations. There was a serious outbreak on June 4, 1969, which led to a clash between Lovanium students and security forces in which about thirty students were killed; it was commemorated in 1971 and 1977 by protest marches.

As the Second Republic drew to an end, students again were in the forefront of opposition to the regime. In February 1989, thousands of students took to the streets of Kinshasa, in reaction to the imposition of IMF-sponsored austerity measures including elimination of student bus services and 80 percent hikes in tuition fees. The government attempted, unsuccessfully, to blame the unrest on the illegal opposition party, UDPS.

On April 6, 1990, university and high school students demonstrated on Kinshasa's Avenue de la Victoire and set several vehicles on fire. Far from calming the students, Mobutu's April 24 speech stirred them up even further. On May 7, a group of university students stopped a bus carrying several members of parliament, abused them, and cut the hair of some of them. Further demonstrations occurred in Kinshasa the following day, especially on campus. On May 9, the government announced a series of measures to deal with the wave of student unrest: expulsion of all students guilty of vandalism, introduction of legal sanctions against the same students, and organization of elections at all institutions of higher learning to choose student representatives.

Two days later, students at the University of Lubumbashi took violent action against alleged government spies in their midst. In response, security forces surrounded the campus and killed a large number of students (up to 100 according to some reports) after separating and sparing those from Équateur. This incident and the refusal of the government to allow an inquiry into it resulted in the cutoff of most international aid to Zaire.

Data as of December 1993