Bukavu: digital technology, youth and public services

Once considered the capital of “Grand Kivu”, the city of Bukavu is losing its prestige every day because of the anti-values ​​that have settled in the former Constermansville or Bukavu. However, Bukavu remains a knowledge hub where a significant educational and university infrastructure is concentrated.

In fact, until 1990 Bukavu was a magnet for tourists and visitors from other provinces of the DRC and some neighboring countries of the Great Lakes region. Thirty years later, the landscape in Bukavu has changed, unfortunately for the negative. In terms of the ICT, this testimonial speaks for itself:

“Our schools are not sufficiently equipped with IT tools. For those who have managed to solve this problem, there is also the problem of electricity. Our choices are limited in this area. At Cirezi High School, we have known these difficulties for about three years now,” complains Jennifer Maliyetu, third year Administration student.

Meanwhile, the younger generation shows a great interest in information technology and digitization. Alva-Ntyo Mihigo is an engineer in telecommunications engineering and management. He is the manager of a small company specializing in digital migration. Herton Pro is the name of the company. With this unit, Alva wants to integrate digital tools in the workplace.

The young entrepreneur wants to contribute to the migration from traditional to digital in this city whose population is estimated at more than one million people and which consists of 40% young people. After studying in Burundi, Alva wants to turn Congolese digital technology into a “lever for integration, good governance, economic growth and social progress”. But the challenges are significant in the development of digital technology in the DRC. With an area of ​​more than 2.4 million km2, the Internet Providers currently cover only 40% of the territory.

Another obstacle to the deployment of digital traffic is the resistance of the executives of NGOs and business leaders who are not yet ready to cross these digital barriers. They are afraid of the transparency of the process. The challenge of energy shortage also does not facilitate digital development in Bukavu. Most cities in the DRC suffer from electricity and internet connection problems.

Other unfavorable factors for the development of digital traffic in Bukavu are at the administrative level. The fees charged by the internet providers are currently $50,000. Thus, these operators are overloaded, and it is the consumer who pays the costs.

Everything we have in digital progress in Bukavu is the result of imports. Again, we consume outside because even the internet connection is provided by foreign companies.

This diagnosis shows that the DRC and the provincial government do not have a clear policy in favor of digital entrepreneurship. On the other hand, countries like Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and Uganda already have digital incubators as well as shared labs. However, in Congo there are no incubators that focus on digital.

In the last 100-day program of the DRC government, digital traffic was not included in its budget. However, there is still hope with the appointment in April 2021 of a “digital” ministerial post.

Digital, essential with the arrival of covid-19

In the current context marked by Covid-19, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says the demand for digital skills has accelerated. This is the case in Bukavu, where the Catholic University of Bukavu (UCB) was the first institution to launch online education during the period of closure of schools and universities in Bukavu city.

Despite the situation of the coronavirus pandemic that prompted the head of state to take a series of measures, including the temporary suspension of education across the country, the Catholic University of Bukavu had set up a program that would allow students and teachers to maintain social distancing while continuing to take the courses.

In an interview with Professors Wenceslas Busane and Lucien Zihindula, respectively Vice Rector for Academic Affairs and Chair of the Distance Learning Committee, the latter talked about the motivation and the assets at the disposal of UCB for the success of this initiative.

Regarding motivation, Prof. Wenceslas said: “We decided to start online education because after much thought we had to find an alternative to continue to live well in education and research, even in the current situation. That’s why we’ve set up a platform that allows teachers and students to connect with each other”. In terms of strengths, UCB has well equipped teaching staff who are well trained in ICT and the students all have tools to connect to the internet, he said.

The UCB experience remains unique in the city of Bukavu. Indeed, there are very few academic institutions that have an internet connection. Classes are given face-to-face due to the lack of an internet connection. Universities are facing the thorny problem of the shortage of computer equipment. Most students do not own a computer and cannot afford credit to surf on the web. The Congolese state does not award scholarships to students. All academic costs are borne by the parents.