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DR CONGO – Debora Kayembe: From refugee to rector of the University of Edinburgh

Debora Kayembe @Capture Facebook

Debora Kayembe, a Congolese refugee, has been appointed rector of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. This human rights lawyer will take office on 1 March 2021. She will be the 54th rector of this British institution founded in 1583, one of the ten best universities in Europe. She will be the first black person to hold this position.

Congolese refugee Debora Kayembe, 45, is the new rector of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. A consecration she did not expect. It’s something I never imagined, never looked for, it happened on a platter. I express a feeling of deep gratitude for those who nominated me as a candidate. It is a great responsibility because I am an example to the world that if you are able to achieve the good things and fight for justice by forgetting yourselves and putting the cause of others forward, the reward will always be great”, She said the day after her election.

Debora Kayembe @Capture Facebook

Indeed, this mother has been a victim of racism in Scotland, but the attacks reached their peak in June 2020. Debora Kayembe was on her way to a business meeting when her car suddenly left the road. While inspecting the vehicle, she realized that nails had been put on all four tires. The previous times I could sleep quietly. Sometimes you have to back off and let it go, but what happened to me that day is unacceptable,” she lamented. So she decided to share her misadventure on social networks. But instead of seeking confrontation, she chose to send a message of tolerance and dialogue with her attackers. “I told them, look, these things are in the past, we’re past that, if you still don’t understand, we’re going to have to talk. That was my message. Nothing else,” she said.

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But soon after, another incident disturbs his peace of mind. Her daughter came back from school in tears, a teacher had asked her to do “a slave dance” in front of her classmates. This time, the lawyer didn’t leave the case unattended. After explanations with the school, she launched a petition for the Scottish Parliament to urgently tackle racism in the education system. Parliament has agreed and the issue will be debated in the coming months. And it is precisely his message of dialogue and tolerance that has attracted the attention of the University of Edinburgh, which counts among its former students Prime Ministers, Nobel Laureates and Olympic athletes. They told me that as rector of the university, your message will go far and the whole world will listen. That’s why we’d like you to take the job,” she says. 

Debora Kayembe fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo after receiving threats from an armed group she had helped dismantle. The lawyer has never returned to her country where her life is still at risk. She claimed asylum in the UK in 2004. Since 2011, she has moved to Scotland where she has specialised in human rights issues. In 2019, her name had already made history when she was the first African to join the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Academy of Sciences and Letters founded in 1783.


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