Natural sciences centre has survived wars, earthquakes

Time seems to stand still in the wood-panelled library, where students and researchers work in silence as a few visitors amble through the gardens and cloisters outside.

Scholarship is common to universities and colleges in many parts of the world but here, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the quest for knowledge comes at an exceptionally high price.

The Centre of Research in Natural Sciences (CRSN) in South Kivu has miraculously survived decades of war, natural disasters and chronic underfunding.

Perched on high ground at Lwiro, 45km west of the provincial capital Bukavu, the CRSN was created in 1947 in the style of a rural hacienda under Belgian colonial rule, which ended in 1960.

The institution has established itself as a pole of knowledge about Africa’s Great Lakes region, offering studies in biology, geophysics and the environment, and boasting thousands of samples from the region’s unique biodiversity.

But the centre has suffered many hardships, and struggles today. 

“First, we were victims of multiple wars … [then] we were victims of earthquakes,” said Anicet Bahidika, the head of the documentation department.

The premises have not been looted, but often the fighting reached its gates. The staff members survive on subsidence wages. The centre’s chemistry laboratories lack reagents. It has no money to buy a new vehicle — its vehicles are ancient, and all of them have been bequeathed by passing NGOs.

“Power cuts come at any time,” said Bahidika. “There is no internet here. That is a problem.” — AFP

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