Givology Staff's Blog

The Democratic Republic of Congo and Negotiations for Education

By Jasmin Velez

There are various definitions of a failed state, however, for this editorial I will focus on one presented by Robert I. Rotberg: “A failed state is a polity that is no longer able or willing to perform the fundamental jobs of a nation state in the modern world.” He notes that as a state begins to fail, education and health systems are often privatized, which can result in various questionable methods to keep the system running; or the facilities are eventually neglected and begin to fall apart. In addition, public employees of the state, such as teachers and physicians, are paid less, late, or not at all; and materials needed to keep the systems afloat become increasingly difficult to find. Using the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as a case study, I will present the ways in which people negotiate with their failed states to maintain these sectors as semi-functioning.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has ranked in the top ten of the fragile states index (previously the failed states index) in the recent 2017 report, and has done so for many years prior. In addition, for a number of decades, finance for the education sector in DRC has dropped significantly; between 1982 and 2006, funding dropped from 150 USD per pupil to 10 USD per pupil. Furthermore, the state’s payroll for educators decreased by 25 percent during this time, and teacher’s salaries were cut by half. Yet while the state’s budget for education is decreased, the state’s governance has not, which according to Herdt and Titeca still plays an important role for the education sector, “albeit with ‘empty pockets.’”
The DRC’s Ministry of Education noted that in 2008 10 million pupils were enrolled in primary schools, and 90 percent of those schools were state run. Furthermore, the education sector between the mid-1980’s and 2008 has grown a reported increase of 4 percent each year, and adult literacy exceeded the sub-Saharan African averages. The question that then pops up is how are literacy rates so high, and enrollment rates increasing if the state is not providing the sector with the funds to do so? The answer, according to a research study completed by De Herdt and Titeca, is actually the parents.
In the 1980s and 1990s school fees were developed at a time when DRC’s economy was struggling due to: the collapse of copper exports, international aid breaking up, hyperinflation, and plundering led by their army. Between 1989 and 1994 the DRC’s budget dropped from over 1 billion USDs to 200 million USD, and a teacher’s strike following suit after the state could not pay their salaries. The strike lasted for two years, often referred to as the années blanches (white years), and in order to address the problem parents and the Catholic Church proposed to pay for the teacher’s salaries with a “‘teacher bonus fee.’”
The proposed plan thus became an institutionalized one, despite the fact that it was meant to be a temporary solution. In 2004 these bonuses were declared illegal by the government, and they agreed to pay teacher’s salaries, however, the fees were often renamed by some provinces, and teachers noted that the government failed to uphold their promises and could not pay them. In addition to teacher’s fees, parents are estimated to be paying one quarter of school feels which go directly to the school administration. What this means is that the extra money is pocketed as “supplementary salary” by the school’s administration, all the while despite the school being majority privatized, it still maintains a public title.
De Herdt and Titeca argue that this practice weakens the state’s regulatory framework, in addition, while the system may be “working” it may still be functioning under a lesser quality that it could otherwise provide. On the other hand, however, this system also allowed for the gap between the poverty line to shorten for teachers, and for the number of teachers to double in a state where public sector jobs are increasingly difficult to obtain. Teacher’s fees thus serve as a negotiation between people and the failing state.
According to USAID 3.5 million school aged children are not attending schools, and the 44 percent of children who are attending, began their education later than 6 years of age. If we consider the current systematic issues of the DRC’s education sector, and the pressure placed upon parents to fund education, we must also consider how parents obtain the money to pay theses fees, and the unequal access to education this creates. The want for education is not lacking, however, as a failing state, DRC is an example of the many ways in which people negotiate with their environments in order to gain access to a basic fundamental right. There is no easy solution to such a complex problem, however, there is no denying that access to quality education benefits all members of a society.

If you would like to contribute to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Givology currently collaborates with the Synergy of Congolese Women's Associations (SAFECO). The goal of the organization is to provide education-based resources for vulnerable children in a marginalized village in the DRC. More information regarding the current project and the organization can be found here: [url=] [/url]

Cites Referenced:
"The Fund for Peace." Fragile States Index. Accessed June 22, 2017.

Herdt, Tom, and Kristof Titeca. "Governance with Empty Pockets: The Education Sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo." Development and Change 47, no. 3 (2016): 472-494.

Rotberg, Robert I., ed. When states fail: causes and consequences. Princeton University Press, 2010.

"Education | Democratic Republic of the Congo." U.S. Agency for International Development. April 19, 2017. Accessed June 20, 2017.

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