A Congolese Student about Russia: It Is Like Another Planet
What comes into our minds when we think about Africa? The hottest continent? The largest living mammals on Earth? The world's largest desert? It is what we think, but it is all a bit different from the African perspective. Rukirande Indrissa Elir, a student from the Congo, remembers a lot of less nice things: cruel wars in which children participate and fighting for the control of mineral resources. Despite the mentioned above, he wants to come back home once his studies in Russia are over. Why? What is he going to do upon return?
As Rukirande Indrissa Elir, the student at the Construction Faculty in Saint-Petersburg Mining University, explains "On the one hand, we live in the country where we can enjoy picturesque views every day. But on the other hand, the life we, Africans, live is as far from the romantic appeal as possible. I was born during the Second Congo War, which is also known as the Great African War. But, to be fair, my country has been in a state of permanent crisis for a very long time. Congo was decolonised 60 years ago, and ever since the local civil wars the state dwells in never seem to stop. Officially, the conflict is resolved, but real life in the country is chaos".
Clashes in the region are still taking place, yet the locals have already got used to them.
As the Mining University's student says, "I had been dreaming of becoming an engineer since early childhood, and when the time came to choose a future profession, I decided I wanted to be a mining engineer. Africa is rich in natural resources, but the reserves have not been fully explored. The commodity market is mostly filled by foreign companies - from China, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, South Africa; but we need engineering specialists to work there. However, less than 60% of school graduates apply for higher education. This figure may even seem large given the tense situation we are in, but it is not. In essence, it applies only to those who attended school. And in my country, over 50% of children do not go to school. They do not attend not because they do not want to study. It is a forced decision".
There is no free education in the Congo. Schools determine annual fees by themselves, which vary on average from $170 to $500. Most Congolese cannot afford to pay this much. In the list of countries by GDP per capita, the country occupies the second to last position - No. 185, with 824 $/year.
According to Indrissa, "Most of our people live in the rural areas where they have very few work options - either agriculture or mining. As for the latter, in the Congo, it is purely manual labour, hazardous and unprofitable. Moreover, there are no social guarantees and no compensations in case of injury".
For the summer holidays, the Congolese student headed home where he also paid a visit to the coltan mine located on the Masisi Territory. Judging by his words, people working at the mine have no transport; they have to wake up and leave for work before the dawn sets in, get to their workplace by foot and carry working tools on their shoulders. Local tribes define how much those who wish to mine have to pay. All work is carried out manually with the use of picks and shovels. Miners place the base ore into the buckets and bags and then take it to the river where they separate minerals from waste rock. To put it differently, the way they mine is not too different from the way they did it centuries ago.
Talking about his study choice, Indrissa explains "When I grew up I realised that the choice of profession was not only about what I wanted to do but also about how I could help local communities. The Congolese mining industry is not even in the development stage; it is still under establishment! And for me to become a mining engineer means to have an ability to influence the process".
University education in Congo is only fee-based, and its quality is mediocre at best. Although education costs are much lower, if compared to other countries, those young people who have financial opportunities prefer to study abroad. Most highly valued study destinations are France and Canada.
Answering the question on how he ended up as a student of the Mining University, Indrissa said he was told about the university by his uncle who had studied in St. Petersburg himself.
Sharing his opinions on the difference between studying in Russia and the Congo, the African student says "I often meet people who seem to be born in the other world - they have a different philosophy, cultural traditions, mentality. Here, in Saint-Petersburg, the youth are not religious, but the Congolese go to church every week. Locals often choose muted colours over vivid ones, whereas Africans, on the contrary, always choose bright colours for their clothes. As for the education system, I have noticed that in more than half of the cases, Russian universities organise oral examinations. In the Congo, we only have written exams, which is probably not the best solution - engineers must be able to state and defend their position".
Upon graduation from foreign-based universities, most Congolese students, however, return to their motherland and start building a career at home. Indrissa is no exception. He believes that studying abroad is the right choice, but one should be back to their own country for work. Indrissa mentions the following reasons: massive demand for highly-qualified specialists in his own country and the highly competitive labour market in Russia. The Congolese student says he will have more chances to succeed at home.
In conclusion, young African student added, "My dream is to establish a mining company and modernise development and enrichment processes. I hope that my country will finally shift from manual to mechanised labour. And I also hope we manage to find a way to deal with such problems as low wages and loss of lives in the mine collapses".