When Felix Tshisekedi became president in the Democratic Republic of Congo's first ever peaceful transfer of power, expectations for change were high. But after a year in power, his results are mixed.
In an article posted by Africanews, Tshisekedi, who took office in January, pledged to allocate $2.6 billion to primary education, approximately 40 percent of the vast country’s annual budget.
How has he done with this promise just over a year into his tenure?
Primary and secondary school enrolment has remained a serious issue in the DRC since the nation gained its independence over five decades ago, largely because public education has not been free. Though Congolese civil law has provided for compulsory, free education, most citizens either lack access to competent schools or the funds to utilise them. Enrolment rates remain dismal, at 40% overall for primary and secondary schools. The attendance is far worse in rural areas of the east where ethnic conflict persists.
“Last year, parents were paying 104,000 Congolese francs (57 euros, $63), but with free education, attendance has doubled,” the headmaster said.
Whilst cutting the symbolic ribbon to inaugurate a new primary school in central Kinshasa on Monday, Tshisekedi admitted that he could not authoritatively claim that his pledge had been carried out across sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest nation. Even in urban areas such as Kinshasa, public schools only account for 30% of all schools.
“This will be a measure that will be truly definitive and universal in a few months,” the president later told AFP on the sidelines of talks with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
In Kinshasa, the capital city of approximately 10 million people, the AFP reported that some state schools have turned free education into a reality.
“Dear parents, learning is free,” a poster announced at the entrance to the 1 Ngaba primary school in a working-class district.
Parents interviewed by AFP had been expressing their delight in the achievement. Some have claimed to have been refunded on payments they had made.
“I paid nothing and we weren’t asked,” mother Mami Minga said, her children, aged six and 10, in tow.
However, some parents remain sceptical and have remained cautious about sending their kids to school.