"I'm here!" Kinshasa by Ramonq

Kinshasa Travel Guide: 20 reviews and 18 photos

Kinshasa!

Home to about 9.5 million people, the warm and verdant capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is where the political pulse of this vast country beats. The DRC is an expansive country whose land area is almost as big as Germany, France, Spain and Italy combined, and populated by various ethnic groups who speak in different languages and dialects.

The capital, Kinshasa, located in the far south-western reaches of the country, is the third largest city in Africa , where majority of its citizens speak Lingala. French is the official language used by the government, and therefore, most of the street signs and billboards in Kinshasa are in French. Yet the DRC was never a French colony, but a Belgian one, where the French-speaking Wallons asserted their authority over the colony, leaving their Flemish cousins outside this African realm.

Under the Belgians, Kinshasa was designed with wide tree-lined boulevards and plazas flanked by white-washed civic buildings and residential mansions. Decades later, when the country underwent post-colonial challenges, these colonial infrastructures have fallen into utmost disrepair leaving much to be desired. But traces of Kin-la-belle (Kinshasa the beautiful) could still be observed along the nicer suburbs of Gombe and Ma Campagne where huge shady trees provide shelter to well-to-do homes and embassies that dot the area. The main road, Boulevarde 30 Juin, which runs parallel to the Congo River, is wide and spacious and is considered as Kinshasa's business centre. On this road, there are high rise buildings that house the nation's banks and government offices. This area of Kinshasa is busy, yet not as chaotic as one would imagine. Some areas of Kinshasa are actually quite pleasant and safe.

One can still find vestiges of the European invaders, but Kinshasa now is a thoroughly Africanised city. Presently, most of the foreigners you see in Kinshasa are United Nation soldiers and N.G.O expat officials. The streets of Kinshasa is abuzz with African rhythms and colours. The roads are clogged with assorted vehicles in various state or disrepair. Fancy SUVs roar past rickety old firetrucks that have been transformed into cramped public taxis. There are well-dressed women in colourful headresses waiting for public transport and pitiful child beggars in threadbare clothes harassing expats. Lots of disabled ambulants on wheelchairs and opportunistic uniformed cops at street corners. During rush hours, there's chaos on the muddy side-streets replete with weary pedestrians and marooned cars. Most of the footpaths are not paved and dusty, but surprisingly, Congolese men still have very shiny shoes! Kinshasa is a big city with big city problems. There's crime such as robbery and briberies, which are common in many African cities.

Despite the chaos in many parts of the city, there are a few oasis of tranquility that offer respite from the heat and confusion. Kinshasa has a few exclusive clubs called "cercle" where one can have coffee or beer by the pool amidst some greenery. There's a well-groomed golf course which has a clubhouse that serves excellent French cuisine. Kinshasa does have some very good restaurants, albeit very expensive and well out of reach to the ordinary Kinshasan.

Kinshasa started as a trading post by Henry Morton Stanley in 1881. He named the place, Léopoldville, in honor of the Belgian king of that time, King Léopold II. He ruled the vast territory that is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo and mal-treated it as his private property . The location was selected because it was the first navigable port along the Congo River above Livingstone Falls. It was also chosen to counteract with the the French colonial port of Brazaville which was located across the river. Léopoldville became the sole gateway for the vast hinterlands where all goods arriving from the interior would have to be carried by porters from Léopoldville to Matadi along the Atlantic coast.

From a backwater post, the town grew to a thriving city where the colonising Belgians built an exclusive enclave for themselves. Railroad between Léopoldville and Matadi was built in 1898 which ignited the rapid development of Léopoldville. So rapid was its expansion that by 1920, the city became the capital of the Belgian Congo, replacing the town of Boma. One can still see many 1920 - 1950's Hollywood style homes and buildings in the nicer suburbs of Kinshasa, which is a testament to the boom times during this era. The city had railways, a modern port and beautiful parks, which were reserved for the European enjoyment until the late 1950's. Alas the native Congolese were left out of the proceeds of the wealth, and disenchantment grew.

By 1965, Belgian Congo became independent and Mobutu Sese Seko seized power and changed the name from Leopoldville to Kinshasa, after an old African village which once stood here called Kinchassa. The city remained the capital of the new country which was renamed Zaire. With Mobutu lording over Zaire, Kinshasa became Africanised and the European facade gradually faded away. Unfortunately, under his long reign, there was not much progress done in the city and Kinshasa's infrastructure slowly creaked under the heavy weight of population growth coming from refugees from war torn hinterlands. Kinshasa became isolated from the rest of the world however the city gained a short-lived worldwide publicity when the "Rumble in the Jungle" match came to town.

Now under a new regime of a renamed country called DRC, Kinshasa has become more open to foreign influences. One can see shops run by Lebanese and Chinese immigrants, and UN soldiers can be seen around the city. There have been construction of new apartments and stores around town, which looks quite promising. But alas, years of neglect have left the city clearly wanting. Kinshasa scores low in many statistical indexes on quality of life. Extreme poverty and the effects of poor infrastructure are everywhere. One can only hope that the city planners will be able to resolve many of its issues one day.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Live music
  • Cons:Extreme Poverty
  • In a nutshell:City by the Congo River
  • Intro Updated Dec 26, 2009
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Ramonq Used To Live Here!

Ramonq

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