Just Otakana is a Congolese national who graduated from St. Petersburg Mining University. Now he is back home and working for Sapro Mayoko Iron Ore, a local company present across a variety of business sectors.
Just is leading geological exploration works and, despite all the difficulties linked with working in the rain forest, believes he is a lucky guy. He is doing what he really likes and making a nice profit too.
According to the Mining University’s graduate, “Our country is heavily dependent on revenues from mineral extraction and processing. Therefore mining and energy sectors are ones of the most priority for the country’s development.
I realized I wanted my career to be connected with one of these fields yet back when I was a school student. I first went to school when my family was living in Pointe-Noire, the country’s second-largest city. It was a heavily crowded place, but the school provided secondary education of good quality. We had biology classes where we were told about such disciplines as geology, stratigraphy, palaeontology. And I just felt I wanted to study one of these sciences in the future.”
The African boy scored high on his final school exams, and thanks to it received an offer from the local Ministry of Education. He was suggested to participate in the program granting Congolese youth access to state-funded education in foreign universities. Program participants could choose between either Russian or Algerian universities.
Just recalls, “There were two factors I took into consideration. The first one is that many of our public officers and business people went for studies to Russia. For instance, six of our currently serving ministers are graduates of Soviet universities. In my eyes, it is a quality mark of Russian higher education. And the second fact that came into play has more to do with my own family. My uncle got his education in Saint Petersburg, and that helped him to build a career he could be proud of. So when I was a first-year student of the Geology Department at our local university and received an offer, I accepted it without any hesitation. I just bought a plane ticket and went off to St. Petersburg.”
One of the most acute problems in the Congo is unemployment. Youngsters are having difficulties with finding a job, neither higher education can guarantee one will succeed in getting one.
“Then there are cultural differences. Unlike in Europe, we, in Africa, do not have such freedom when it comes to choosing a profession. Parents are the ones who decide for high school graduates – they tell their children whom they want them to be in the future. Parent’s wish is not expected to be disobeyed. And here is why young Congolese learn something they have no interest in or of no use in the labor market. I am more of the lucky ones: my family knew the outlook for the mineral sector was quite promising. They decided not to interfere with my decision,” says Just.
Upon return to his home country, the recent graduate started looking for a job. While waiting for a better offer, Just accepted a position as Professor in Oil & Gas Geology at EAD University (Ecole Africaine de Developpement). Five months later, Sapro Group offered him a vacancy of the Head of the Geology and Exploration Department at the Mayoko-Minpoudi field, which the corporation had just acquired.
In the Congo, degrees obtained abroad are valued much higher than those from local universities. This way Just had a notable advantage over other applicants back at the interview phase.
As he notes, “Students in Russia have an opportunity to work in modern laboratories; they also have access to the academic literature on mining. Here in Africa, that puts the mining engineer with a degree from a Russian university ahead of the competition. Graduates of our local universities are indeed qualified geologists too. Still, they have no field experience, never worked with field-specific software, most of them have not even seen minerals as malachite or quartz. Our Government allocates funds on the renovation of universities’ infrastructure and facilities. But unfortunately, due to corruption, universities rarely receive any of that money.
There are seven geologists in my department. My colleagues studied geology in Brazzaville, but I am the only one with a degree obtained abroad. Hence our qualifications differ fundamentally. I suppose otherwise I would not be the team leader and head of the project. So when I am asked whether it was worth leaving to study abroad, I do not even consider it a question. For me, the answer is obvious.”