© henri_hovi, Flickr
With a relaxed, palpably French atmosphere, the Congolese capital is a low-key counterpoint to frenetic Kinshasa.
Comparisons with Brazzaville’s larger neighbour are inevitable – across the river is the massive metropolis of Kinshasa, where activity can be intense and the evenings bustling; the capital of Congo is the exact opposite. At times quiet and quaint, it is often a sleepy and better-organised city. Its centre is walkable, and numerous cultural sights are within a short distance of each other. The citizens of Brazzaville have an easier task with their well-planned capital, and many travellers find it to be a welcome escape from whatever may be transpiring across the river.
Yet Brazzaville itself is just emerging from its own troubles: pay attention to what lies beyond some rusted fences of corrugated aluminium and you will see destroyed towers, abandoned office blocks, torn-up roads, and other telltale signs of a civil war that is only barely in the past. While what occurs in Kinshasa may at times seem monumental and right in plain view of everyone, Brazzaville’s problems seem forgotten and buried in the background – even by its own citizens. The city seems to have an urge to move on, and while Congo’s own political problems are still very much unresolved, the capital has in many ways restored the laidback atmosphere that its reputation was founded upon.
The city has seen plenty of attention paid to formal cultural institutions, having been the epicentre of France’s investments in central Africa for nearly a century. It rarely has the same level of traffic and noise as Kinshasa; crime barely exists, and a multi-culturalism is present in the city that Kinshasa has yet to master – European, Arab, Asian and African residents all go about their daily business beside one another, without armed guards and walls of razorwire between them. Families from around the world have migrated to Brazzaville, set up businesses and live in the city. It is a simpler place than Kinshasa, and better integrated in every manner.