Sunday, January 13, 2013
(Scorched patch of grass at Kinshasa University where cops burned academic gowns and caps used by students for banned commencement on Saturday, January 12, 2013)
There is no other waycto look at the small donnybrook that pitted Kinshasa University students against heavily-armed cops and anti-riot police on Saturday, January 12: both academic authorities and students couldn't have stooped lower.
In contention was the commencement for the 2012 class.
I just wrote an oddity: commencement in January!
Traditionally, the academic year in the Congo used to be uniform countrywide: starting in mid-October and ending by the end of July.
Several factors have contributed to obtain the bizarre multiform calendar now referred to in the new Congolese academic speak as the sagging "elastic academic year": years of university mismanagement; non-compliance with academic calendar by politically-connected professors while some other professors--to make ends meet--would be in the faculty of several universities at once.
To be sure, the new higher education minister, Bonaventure Chelo Lotshima, has vowed to standardize the academic calendar nationwide and to get back to the old October-July system.
On top of this calendar chaos, there's the traditional rule of only organizing one commencement for students who would have passed the so-called "first session exams"--and not for those who would have later taken remedial "second-session" exams.
Another layer of complication was added by Minister Chelo, who simply ordered all commencements cancelled nationwide till the completion of the academic standardization.
A measure which is at odds with the Congolese cultural practice of celebrating graduations in the most roaring and wild ways.
Families would incur extreme expenses to celebrate graduations while the graduates themselves, clad in academic gowns and caps, would recklessly drive throughout the city sitting on the hoods or clinging to the windows of vehicles--amid honking and whistle shrills.
The minister's decision was therefore a non-starter for the 2012 graduating class.
If official commencement was banned, conventiinal wisdom among students and their families went, then why deprive us of our parties?
Fine, Kinshasa university academic officials retorted, then go somewhere else to have your wild parties!
And to back the ban, authorities called on cops who went throughout the campus ground disrupting fake commencement at faculties, tearing gowns and burning them to ashes.
It's a miracle the melee didn't escalate into full-blown confrontation and riots... By mid-afternoon, when cops left, calm had be restored on campus.
PHOTO: Alex Engwete
Posted by Alex Engwete at 12:06 PM