"DRC's Second largest City" Top 5 Page for this destination Lubumbashi by Ramonq

Lubumbashi Travel Guide: 27 reviews and 14 photos

General Impressions

Located at the tail end of the Democratic Republic of Congo is the mining city of Lubumbashi in Katanga province, southeast of the DRC. Lubumbashi is a city thar copper built. This area of Africa has some the largest copper reserves in the world, and the city has grown out the proceeds of this valuable metal. One can see when driving around the suburbs of Lubumbashi, there are very large homes behind high walls, many were built during its heyday when the town was called Elizabethville or Elisabethstad named after the wife of King Leopold of Belgium. Clearly, the city was once the crown jewel of the Belgian empire. As one sees past the dust and peeling paint, there are lots of beautiful art deco buildings around the Centre Ville of Lubumbashi. Some even evoke the Wild Wild West architecture seen in gold rush towns of America and Australia. These buildings are still being put into good use as small shops and offices, albeit in a rather ill-maintained manner. If only the footpaths and heritage buildings were spruced up and maintained properly, Lubumbashi would have been a tourism gem because of the certain character it has.

The surrounding suburbs of Lubumbashi are varied. In the well to do areas of Golf, where there is an impressive golf course, the houses are grand and well protected by high walls. The Governors House is also here, as well as the Presidential compound. There are botanical parks, lakes, zoos, but they are somewhat less patronised by the locals. Lubumbashi does have some pleasant surroundings but one needs a private vehicle to get to the outlying suburbs.

Short History of Lubumbashi

Lubumabashi was founded in 1910 by the Belgians as a transportation hub for the copper mining towns in the Katanga province. The world had just started commercialising electricity and the demand for copper was booming exponentially. Lubumbashi flourished and prospered rapidly. Many of the fine buildings that you see in Centre-Ville were built during the halcyon decade of the 1920's. Railroad was laid out to connect the city to the outside world and transport the lucrative minerals to the seaports of Africa. European immigration from Italy, Greece and Portugal has transformed Lubumbashi into an urbane place and yet there was racial segregation of sort. However, even the African population came from various linguistic and tribal groups because the colonial companies recruited African labourers from present day Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia and even Senegal. The Belgian colonisers however used cruel forced labour regiment on the local people, that a severe general strike was imposed by the workers in the 1940's. However, copper mining remained so profitable that in 1957, the province of Katanga demanded complete independence from the Belgian Congo assigning Elisabethville as its capital city. A short lived independent state of Katanga was proclaimed by Moise Tshombe in 1960. As a result civil war broke out in the early 1960's and the United Nations intervened by taking control of Elisabethville in 1961 and Katanga province returned to the fold of the Congo.

When Mobotu Sese Seko took power of the Congo in 1972, he Africanised many names. The Congo became Zaire, Katanga became Shaba and Elisabethville became Lubumbashi. Very little development in Lubumbashi occurred during his long tyrannical rule and many of its infrastructure came into disrepair. The citizens of Katanga have had enough of Mobotu and a major uprising transpired in 1997 under the leadership of Laurent-Désiré Kabila. Mobotu eventually fled and Kabila became the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although the capital is in Kinshasa, he decreed that Lubumbashi become the legislative capital of the new republic until 2003 from which it returned to Kinshasa. Lubumbashi has played a pivotal role in the history of the DRC.

Lubumbashi today

The city is undergoing a revival of sorts. Some of its abandoned buildings are being refurbished. Owing to its colonial heritage, Lubumbashi has become known as a city of cathedrals. The St Peter and Paul Catholic cathedral which was built in the 1920's, has a Florentine style about it. It is well maintained and has become a spiritual focus of most of the citizens. Lubumbashi has a very strong Catholic presence but new Christian movements are slowly taking hold of the region. Of interest is the native Kimbanguist religious sect which has a massive cathedral in the city's outskirt. There is also a striking Greek Orthodox cathedral, built during the 1950's at a time when Lubumbashi boasted a sizeable Greek community. And standing rather forlornly next to a spacious square is a huge Jewish synagogue, a stark reminder that there once was a large presence of the Jewish immigrants to Lubumbashi during the 1920's.

Today, Lubumbashi is definitely an African city. The streets are full of African sights and sounds. Women in colourful traditional attire flock the city's markets and shops. Lubumbashi is relatively prosperous, compared to the other impoverished towns in the DRC. As mining goes through a boom and bust cycle, its expatriate population also rises and falls with the economy. Presently, there is a strong presence of mercantilistic Chinese and Lebanese people. The city, although small as compared to Kinshasa, has a more outward outlook giving it a welcoming cosmopolitan flair.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Heritage Buildings
  • Cons:Dusty roads
  • In a nutshell:A city that Copper built
  • Intro Updated Oct 18, 2009
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