Digital, beyond various identity features

Several young people are leaving their villages and their parents to pursue university studies in the cities of Bukavu and Goma. Most of these young people come from areas where there are not many learning opportunities due to a lack of school and road infrastructure. The persistent insecurity reported in this area also does not encourage investment in university education.

This reflection focuses on the southern part of South Kivu province, mainly the territories of Fizi and Uvira. Indeed, this part of South Kivu province has been marked in recent months by the activism of local and foreign armed groups. Today there are dozens of armed groups in the middle and high plateaus of Uvira and Fizi. In an edition of the Spoken Word, Radio Okapi, a United Nations radio station that has been present in the DRC since 2002, discusses the security situation in this region as follows: “In 2017, the area is in turmoil again. Every community uses weapons to find solutions to the identity problem, to manage land and pastures, and to manage local resources, especially taxes on the cow market. In this impasse, each community turns to an armed group to defend its interests. Among the most notorious rebel groups are Biloze bishambuke, Mulumba, Yakutumba, Gumino, Twirwaneho etc. Groups whose meaning in local languages ​​sometimes includes messages of extremism. Some of these groups form coalitions with foreign armed groups of Burundian and Rwandan origin, such as the FNL, FOREBU, CNRD and FDLR”.

As one can imagine, in this murderous mobilization, young people are most in demand by recruiters. But some young people have managed to escape this bellicose logic. They have had the grace to leave this area for university studies. Hundreds of students are enrolled in public universities in Bukavu. Many kilometers separate them from their parents and family. Despite the distance that separates them from their country, these young people keep in touch with their parents thanks to digital technology and radio. To access academic fees, which are 100% paid by the parents, the student uses digital money (MPESA, Airtel money, etc.).

Digital technology in the service of opening up and peaceful coexistence

Alexis, is a young student from the Banyamulenge community and is almost 25 years old. He is a 3rd year student at a university in Bukavu. His village is more than 300 km from Bukavu. Despite this distance, Alexis is connected to his family thanks to the Vodacom network. In recent months, news from his village has been sad: his family has been moved to a camp secured by UN peacekeepers (Monusco). This situation arises during the first semester exams scheduled in the university. I have to pay the participation fee for the exam. How do you do that? My parents who provide this have been displaced and all the livestock has been looted by rebels. My family’s economy is based on ranching. Imagine the rest! In December 2020 my father lost 25 cows and 40 goats; he has no more resources. My father is a breeder and my mother is a farmer. As I speak to you, my family has been in a IDP camp since December 2020. In this chaos, digital technology remains essential. As a side job, Alexis has chosen to sell phone loans to meet certain needs. He gives the MTN network cards to his fellow students because, he says, calling credit for the Airtel and Vodacom networks is expensive and the connection unstable. The profit generated from this sale allows Alexis to in turn buy Vodacom credit to reach his family. This is because there is only one network in this region, namely Vodacom.

Happy coincidence!

Alexis lives in room nr. 160 and Trésor lives in nr. 161. Both are in the same class and come from the territory of Fizi. The first named is from the Banyamulenge community and the second named is from the Babembe tribe.

Trésor was born in 1977 in a refugee camp in Tanzania. He returned to Baraka in 2008 and is in his third year of studies at a public university in Bukavu. To get in touch with his parents, Trésor uses his mobile. He first buys calling credit to be able to reach his parents afterwards, and the parents in turn send him money via MPESA.

Trésor learned by telephone that among his high school friends who stayed in Baraka some are married and there are others who have joined the armed group Yakutumba. We talk to them on Facebook. I was among the few young people who continued their studies. By exchanging news via the social media tells the former friends that they regret taking the gun and encourages me in my studies. Another thing to note is that Alexis is a friend with whom I share college, as well as academic life in general. He is my neighbor at the boarding school (campus). Once I returned to Baraka for the holidays. On my cell phone was the photo of my neighbor Alexis. By chance, my father saw the photo of Alexis. Immediately my father responded by asking me who this young man was. I told him that he is my fellow student and neighbor from the Banyamulenge community. My father immediately responded by showing that he did not agree with this relationship with Alexis. My father began to evoke tales of hatred that opposed the people of Babembe and Banyamulenge for decades. Confronted with this identity discourse, I replied to my father that the world is changing and that we young people have a different outlook on life. Alexis and I are friends and brothers and are now one family.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, mobile services connect 31% of the population and provide significant social and economic benefits. Mobile penetration and increasing use of mobile services are driving digital inclusion and enabling many Congolese to benefit from information sharing for both family and social purposes. It also contributes to better productivity and can improve social cohesion and participation as well as access to education as well as public services.

By Bernardin SEBAHIRE

Media expert