In recent weeks, government authorities in the DRC’s North Kivu province have been challenged by a youth movement. They have no leader, no readily apparent structure and no name. Nevertheless, their call for equality and opportunity is ambitious, as we see in this second article in a three-part series on youth unemployment.
By Melanie Gouby, Goma
The nameless movement, which begun in Goma, denounces the blatant inequalities that exist between the DRC's general population and the Congolese elite. They call for policies to restore social justice. And their focus is on the needs of young people.
“Our society is founded on inequality," says Micheline, one of the movement's four initiators. "Some people are born with a job or the means to study in a European university. Such people do not see anything wrong with our education system nor are they bothered by the lack of roads, sitting in their 4x4s."
Battling with banners
For their first public action, the movement chose to mark Labour Day celebrations, on 1 May. They hung up banners throughout the city, condemning the rampant joblessness as well as the government’s lack of employment policies.
In a country where more than 85 percent of the population is unemployed, young Congolese graduates essentially live off odds jobs commonly called bilaka (meaning 'making ends meet'). It is not uncommon to see a university graduate in economics selling airtime vouchers on the streets. “Under such circumstances, how can we celebrate Labour Day?” asks Micheline.
The movement's key slogans do not only denounce unemployment, but also unequal access to job opportunities. One of the Labour Day banners read: “Job offer N°000 DRC. Requirements: money, sex, influence.”
On another banner displayed in front of the North Kivus national employment office ONEMO, one could read: “No to unemployment cards. Yes to a real employment policy.” That caught the attention of ONEMO head Floribert Djema Hyango.
“You can’t expect me to believe that it is only a group of Congolese youth; there must be someone behind all this,” he says.
Djema Hyango does have a point. In a country where 'organization' is synonymous with a budget, NGO or policy, it's difficult to conceive that penniless youth have self-organized without pure economic motivations.
He also defends ONEMO. "The national employment office does not have the necessary resources, and it is difficult to have an employment policy in this climate of insecurity,” he says. “Our role is that of intermediary between the unemployed and job opportunities, but companies do not come to us. People prefer to hire their brother, cousin or friend.”
Despite being convinced that political manipulation is behind the movement, Djema Hyango admits the issues being raised are relevant. He also revealed that their Labour Day action was discussed in his meeting with the provincial minister of labour.
Being acknowledged by the authorities is, in itself, a notable achievement for the nameless movement. Its message has also been relayed by numerous local radio stations and a debate was held following their Labour Day action.
But the protesters remain humble and realistic about their impact, refusing to compare their experience to the Arab Spring uprisings.
“What we want is human dignity. And if we do not benefit immediately from our actions, we will make an impact, on the long term, for future generations,” says Juvin, another movement participant.
In a country characterized by a fend-for-yourself attitude, inherited from the reign of Mobutu Sese Seko, the movement's selflessness has clearly surprised, if not unsettled, authorities.
The movement is said to be funded by contributions from its members. They give what they can, although they say their commitment is more important than fiscal donations. Membership has been on the rise since 1 May, as more young Congolese joining every week.
Motivated by the need to vent their frustrations and to take control of their future, this generation who grew up in conflict want to see it end. They are ready to start living their lives.
“We must learn to take risks together," says Micheline. "We keep on saying that this country is not doing anything for us, but what are we doing for this bloody country?”