The East African (Nairobi)

14 June 2010

Congo-Kinshasa: By the Rivers of Kinshasa Town

Nairobi — On disembarking for the first time at Ndjili international airport in Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo, you will notice on the way to town a crowded big street called Boulevard Lumumba.

Along the way are the vibrant and noisy districts of Masina, Kingasani and Ndjili.

They are commonly called "red districts" or "popular China" because they are overpopulated and insecure. But, in fact, they are no more risky than other districts of Kinshasa. The rate of unemployment is very high and it is mainly boys who carry out casual robberies.

Masina, Kimbaseke and Ndjili are home to people mainly originating from the provinces of Bandundu and Bas-Congo, close to the Atlantic Ocean, in western DRC.

They generally speak Kikongo, the language spoken in this former province of Léopoldville during the colonial rule, in the neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville and in the north of Angola.

After crossing River Ndjili, which gave its name to the district and the international airport, the districts of Limete, Matete and Lemba then begin.

Limete and Matete districts are mostly inhabited by people from the provinces of Equator and Oriental. These two provinces are located downstream of River Congo on its navigable section.

They are generally fishermen and speak Lingala, the most popular language in Kinshasa.

Lingala is one of the four main Congolese languages and is spoken across ethnic groups throughout the country.The other three languages are Kiswahili, mostly spoken in Eastern Congo, Kikongo in western Congo and Tshiluba in the centre of the country.

The four languages are used as working languages at the same level as French and, to some extent, English.Like certain other cities, where you live in Kinshasa is often determined by which ethnic group you come from.

However, there are class divides, with the rich opting for their own high-end suburbs while those seen as intellectuals prefer residing downtown.

The native people of Kinshasa are called Bateke and Bahumbu. They also live mainly downtown and in areas once referred to as "African city" during colonial rule.

These were African reservations akin to the Bantustans of pre-liberation South Africa.

The "Africa city" was used as the reservoir of manpower for Kinshasa's colonial Whites. It comprises the districts of Barumbu, Kinshasa and Lingwala, which all surround the section known during colonial rule as the "European town."

The Bateke and Bahumbu were employed mainly as domestic workers in the "white" city. Nowadays, many of them are preferring to sell their houses to rich people in order to settle in the outer suburbs where they can buy land and farm.

The remaining areas of the city, mostly around the centre, are more cosmopolitan and are populated by newcomers from various regions of the country. Not too long ago, Kinshasa used to be an attractive city.

First of all, it prides itself as the capital of African music. Many artistes from all over sub-Saharan Africa - among them Manu Dibango of Cameroon, Isaac Musekiwa of Zimbabwe, Youlou Mabiala, Essous Jean Serge and Mathieu Kouka of Congo-Brazzaville - first performed with Kinshasa bands before seeking fame and fortune beyond.

Other famous musicians that Kinshasa has exported over the years include Eduard Masengo, Sam Mangwana, Awilo Longomba and Kanda Bongoman.

The heart of the "music district" is the vibrant quarter called Matonge, in Kalamu district, which attracts music fans from all over Africa.

Kinshasa is also famous for its variety of beers and its special culinary tastes. Newcomers like to enjoy their first evenings in the city by visiting Matonge to enjoy raw music and a special fish dish called "liboke."

They can also enjoy "taba ya bandingari," a local "nyama choma" goat meat delicacy prepared mainly by West Africans.

Overpopulation is a serious problem in Kinshasa. With an estimated 7.5 million people, the population is almost double that of Nairobi, and nearly six times that of Kampala. Indeed, Kinshasa is one of the most populous cities of Africa.

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