Mausoleum of Laurent Désiré Kabila, Kinshasa © Antoine Moens de Hase, Flickr
Rising out of the jungle unlike any other sight in central Africa are Kinshasa’s towers, its lights, its chaos, its squalor. It is a cultural Mecca, a calling place for the dreams and fortunes of all Congolese from either country of the same name.
Rising out of the jungle unlike any other sight in central Africa are Kinshasa’s towers, its lights, its chaos, its squalor. After spending weeks or months inside the far reaches of the Congos and arriving onto the paved yet pot-holed streets of the capital, one can easily be overwhelmed – quiet evenings of darkness are overtaken by raucous clubs, cluttered evening markets, throngs of touts and beggars. Truly maddening traffic unseen anywhere else in the Congos clogs the streets – from barely operating minibuses to convoys of tinted cars, thousands of people on the move in every direction, unknown faces of unknown people lurking in the corners of abandoned buildings, all living side by side in Kinshasa.
It is a cultural Mecca, a calling place for the dreams and fortunes of all Congolese from either country of the same name. Inundated with an influx of refugees as war raged in the east, as well as exploding with an expatriate population arriving to bring stability to the nation, its numbers have swelled beyond any previous notions of size. It is said that now, Kinshasa is the world’s most populous francophone city: surpassing Paris and Montreal, and almost exceeding both of them combined. It is still a city of deep divisions between rich and poor, of garish excess and poverty living as neighbours, with the protected enclaves of a few international hotels, embassies and golf courses keeping the huddled masses at bay. It is as diverse and intimidating as any of Africa’s largest cities. It is definitely not a place to miss – and indeed, it is hard to be in the west of DR Congo without passing through.