Debora Kayembe, a refugee from the DRC to lead the University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh, a venerable institution founded in 1583 and one of the ten best universities in Europe, will have 54e rector a woman born in Kinshasa who found refuge in Scotland after being persecuted in her country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

After Winston Churchill and Gordon Brown

Never before has a person from the African continent taken the head of this establishment, which rivals the Sorbonne in international rankings. And only two women have held this prestigious position, created in 1858 and held by a renowned line including Winston Churchill or Gordon Brown.

“Respect for the values ​​of humanity and kindness is at the heart of my work, and I look forward to working with staff, students, and the entire university community to ensure that everyone is valued”, she warned before taking up her post, on 1is next march.

Arriving in Scotland in 2011, Debora Kayembe was granted asylum, when she was chased in the DRC by an armed militia that she had helped to denounce. A single mother of two, she moved to the capital where she continued her career as a lawyer and activist, working for the Scottish Refugee Council and then as a member of the prosecutor’s office of the International Criminal Court.

In 2019, her name had already entered history, when she was the first African to join the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Academy of Sciences and Letters founded in 1783.

His fight against racism

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter (“Black Lives Matter”) movement, which took off in the United States after the death of George Floyd during his police arrest on May 25, 2020, Debora Kayembe recently founded Freedom Walk (“March for Freedom”), movement promoting justice against racism, a reality she has been confronted with regularly throughout her career.

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One night, a dozen teenagers chanted in front of his house: ” Go home ! “ Last June, she was in a car accident, when someone had punctured her tires. “I had to call the police many times”, she admits. A little later, her daughter returned from school in tears, a teacher asked her to do a slave dance in front of her classmates. The lawyer did not leave the case behind. She has launched a petition for the Scottish Parliament to take it up and has won the case: the issue will be debated in the coming months.

At the time of being appointed head of the University of Edinburgh, Debora Kayembe also wanted to send a message of hope to Africa, from where she received many congratulations, including that of the Congolese president.

“If you are able to achieve good things and strive for justice by forgetting yourself and putting the cause of others first, the rewards will always be great”, she assured Financial Afrik. The rector said to herself “Determined” to defend the rights of students in the pandemic context, and to strengthen the attractiveness of the university in the world.


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