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MONUSCO Discusses the Dangers of Disinformation with Students in Beni

MONUSCO organized Tuesday, June 13, an awareness day for a hundred students from the Bilingual Christian University of Congo (UCBC) in Beni, North Kivu. This awareness-raising is part of a series of activities the Mission is organizing throughout the national territory to involve a larger number of people in the fight against disinformation.

The UN Mission’s public information officer in Beni, Jean-Tobie Okala, explained in detail the forms disinformation can take, from the most subtle to the most visible.

“Ignorance is dangerous”

Chrystone Luzolo, a second-year economics student, took part in this awareness-session. She confessed that she had never heard of disinformation so clearly and to the point.

If it was the first time for Chrystone to hear this problem so much theorized and explained, she has however already experienced it during demonstrations.

In 2021, while still a student at the University of Bunia, she more than once saw her comrades organize protest marches against the management committee after rumors of an increase in academic fees. However, there was nothing. After a meeting between university officials and student representatives, everything was back to normal. The following year, she left Bunia to enroll at the Bilingual Christian University of Congo in Beni. Demonstrations against MONUSCO escalated into violence. UN Mission staff reduced their movement in the city.

One morning, as she got to the university on a motorbike passing in front of MONUSCO headquarters in Boikene, she shared with the driver the climate of tension around the UN Mission. The motorbike rider replies curtly in Swahili: "These people are the accomplices of the ADF". The young girl protested, “no, that’s not true”. The motorcycle driver then issued a warning to the student and forbade her to "defend" MONUSCO. If Chrystone felt compelled to contradict the motorbike driver, it was because she saw the UN Mission at work: "In Ituri, for three years as leader of the children’s parliament; I have seen the projects carried out by MONUSCO for the children in Ituri. I traveled to Djugu with your colleagues from Child protection on the Day of the African child”. For this young student, if Congolese are attacking MONUSCO, it is due to ignorance.

Disinformation and its consequences

Dieumerci Matu, student in Information and Communication Sciences, also accepted to share his experience. In 2016, a false alarm announced an attack by ADF rebels against the city of Beni. Under heavy rain, thousands of inhabitants left the city on foot to find refuge in Mangina, 30 km away. Several days later, families took to the local radio to announce that they have lost their children in the crush. To avoid this kind of situation, Jean-Tobie Okala, insistently told the students: “Do not share anything without checking. The consequences can be serious”.

To fight disinformation, Saidath Swaleh, a student in information and communication sciences, pleaded for sanctions: “We must punish those who deliberately spread false information”.

Legal provisions relating to disinformation were also discussed during this exchange. Mr. Médard Bikitakita, a legal defender, explained the contours of the new Digital Code enacted last March by the Head of State. He said disinformation generates several types of offenses which are currently punishable by the Congolese law. In particular, he took the example of people who spread false information about military operations on the front, who should be prosecuted for demoralizing troops.