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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Leopoldville 1962 - "Le Twist a Leo" by Manu Dibango


Manu Dibango, legendary Cameroonian saxophonist, known for his fusion of rumba, jazz, funk and traditional music, died in Paris on March 24, 2020 of Covid-19.  Before he rose to fame on the African and international music scene in the late 1960s, he tried his hand in Kinshasa with Joseph Kabasele’s (Grand Kalle) African Jazz and then managing a nightclub with his own band.
Dibango's first hit was Soul Makossa in 1972
Born in Douala in 1933, his father arranged for him to go to France for secondary school in 1949.  He graduated in 1956, but did not pass the university entrance exam.  At that point, his father stopped sending him money, so he turned to his avocation for music, moving to Belgium where he ended up at a Brussels club called “Les Anges Noire”.  On the eve of Congo’s independence in 1960 he met Kabasele (composer of Independence Cha Cha) who persuaded him to return to Léopoldville with African Jazz in 1961.
By his own account, Dibango was enthralled with the Congolese capital:

“I dreamed of an Africa that looked like this.  She welcomed me – wealthy, flashy… The air was sensually moist. Money, sex, sorcery, and physical strength combined in this capital, which was creating its own language and building its own history.  At dusk, when candles and gas lamps were lit in the Cité– the black side of town – the crowds would surge, warm and talkative.  In the ngandas, the many open-air bars, women and men sat in front of the cases of beer that surrounded the stage. The great Kabasele and his African Jazz called forth the crowd’s madness – undulating bodies, hot glances, soft eyes, fast talk, and the hips of beautiful dancers held in their skin-tight wrappers.  Pale beers were gulped down between two plates of fish served with plantain or manioc – la dolce vita.” (Dibango, 1994:41)
Blvd. Albert in the late 1950s (author coll.)
He played with African Jazz in the Cité, but also picked up gigs in the former European district of Kalina with a Belgian band, “Juan les Pins”, led by a musician he’d known in Brussels. With Kabasele’s authorization, he played with “Juan les Pins” at the Auberge Petit Pont in September 1961 (Courier d’Afrique, Sep. 30-Oct. 1, 1961:2).  These were fascinating times, as the cold war played out on the streets of Léopoldville, Congolese politicians intrigued with and against each other, Europeans who fled in 1960 were returning (restarting economic outlets) and United Nations personnel with money to spend frequenting the bars and restaurants.
The Petit Pont Restaurant in the late '60s (author coll.)
Friction began to develop between Kabasele and the band, however.  Band members asked questions about his Belgian wife, Coco, and why he didn’t keep mistresses in the Cité.  The young Cameroonian had feet in both cultures and Kabasele picked up on this and suggested Dibango take over his night club on Ave. DeGaulle, the “Afro Negro”.  Ave DeGaulle was located in Kalina, but was a major shopping destination for Congolese, as well. This was a perfect solution for the couple – Coco ran the bar, ordered the food and paid the musicians, while he led the band.  Europeans and UN personnel looking for something different became regular patrons.  The ambiance of the Afro Negro and Léopoldville’s nightlife in this period was captured by Congolese Angolan photographer, Jean Depara (July 12, 2014).
Outside the Afro Negro Club (author coll.)
The Afro Negro Club in 1969 (Revue Noire)
The Afro Negro Club in 1969 (Revue Noire)
Afro Negro - at the bar (author coll.)
When Chubby Checker popularized the Twist on the Dick Clark Show in August, 1960, it wasn’t long before it reached Léopoldville.  Music aficionados were curious, but no records were available on the local market.  In 1962, Dibango composed one of his first recordings, “Twist a Leo” on the African Jazz label.
Link to YouTube
Twist A Leo

Ayé Ayé Ayé Ayé
Ayé Ayé Ayé Ayé
Oui mon corps balance
Dans un temps de twist

Ayé Ayé Ayé Ayé
Ayé Ayé Ayé Ayé
Oh, le Twist fait rage à Léopoldville
De Limete à Kalina
De la Cité á Parc Hembise
On danse le Twist, eh henh, à Léopoldville
De Lipopo à Kalina
De la Cité à la Pergola
On danse le Twist à Léopoldville

Ayé Ayé Ayé Ayé
Ayé Ayé Ayé Ayé
J’ai perdu la tête
En dansant le Twist

De Limete à Kalina, Vie !
De la Cité au Royal
On danse le Twist
On ne se plaignent pas, ça va bien
Oh Oui

Ayé Ayé Ayé Ayé
Ayé Ayé Ayé Ayé

Oui on a perdu la tête, j’ai perdu la tête

(Lyrics transcribed by Mwana Mboka)

The relationship with Kabasele remained problematic.  Dibango met aspiring banker, Dokolo Sanu (who would found the Bank of Kinshasa in 1969) who suggested he start a new club.  Dibango and Coco opened the “Tam Tam”.  By his account, the new venue was a success; down to earth but very popular.  However, in 1962, his parents persuaded him to move back to Cameroon, where he opened another “Tam Tam”.  The new venture in Cameroon closed as civil war engulfed the country and Dibango moved to Europe and super-stardom.

Sources :

Courier d’Afrique, Léopoldville (multiple issues)

Dibango, Manu, 1994. Three Kilos of Coffee : An Autobiography, University of Chicago Press.

Kwaku Akyeampong Michael, Henry Louis Gates and Steven J. Niven, 2012. Dictionary of African Biography, Oxford University Press.










Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Leopoldville 1923 – Place de la Poste

On July 21, 1923, the elite of Kinshasa, African and European, gathered to inaugurate a bust of King Albert 1er at the Place de la Poste. Only 3 weeks earlier, a Royal Decree established Leopoldville-Kinshasa as the new capital of the colony, transferring that honor from the port city of Boma (Jan. 17, 2012). Since the colonial government’s decision in 1910 to transfer the port from its location above the rapids at Leopoldville to Kinshasa, seven kilometers upstream, the latter center had been developing rapidly as a commercial alternative to Leopoldville’s administrative role (Mar. 13, 2011). The spatial requirements of this burgeoning city necessitated a more ordered land use plan, which was prepared in 1917 by newly arrived architect, Gaston Boghemans. The plan incorporated existing streets, rail lines and land use with grand diagonal boulevards intersecting to create prominent public places. The map also included the Congolese “cité”, which was growing to the south as rapidly as the European township.
Before the ceremony (The Albert bust under wraps between the two warehouses upper right) (Author coll.) 
Bogheman's map of Kinshasa 1917 (Cocatrix)
The new statue of the King faced the Place de la Poste at the end of Avenue Militaire, created in 1892 when Lt. Richard blew up a grove of baobabs to create an army camp (Apr. 12, 2016). The bust depicted the King in his uniform and helmet as commander of Belgian forces at the Yser River during World War I.  The sculptor is unidentified, but the bust resembles several erected in Belgium at this time.
The Albert bust after unveiling. Bogheman's Post Office upper left (author coll.)
The Albert bust on Ave. Militaire (author coll.)
A bust of King Albert in Chimay, Belgium (wikimedia)
To the north across Ave Militaire was the new Post Office, also designed by Boghemans (Aug. 5, 2011), which gave the Place its name.  Built in neo-classical Beaux Arts style, it set new standards of construction in brick with concrete moldings that were nonetheless adapted to the local climate and existing construction expertise. Continuing in clockwise fashion around the Place was the Sedec commercial building, a brick V-shaped structure formed by intersection of Avenues Rubens and Beernaert. Sedec (Société d’Entreprises Commerciales au Congo) was the retail arm of the Lever Brothers palm oil company (Oct. 8, 2017).
The Post Office with Sedec building on right (author coll.)
Place de la Post in the 1930s. Sedec building in center (author coll.)
On the opposite side of Ave Beernaert was the two-story fabricated metal building of the Congo Trading Company of Antwerp, a firm that dated back to the Congo Free State administration. In December 1914 after five years collecting bird specimens in the interior, James Chapin, a young ornithologist with the American Museum of Natural History, returned to Kinshasa and took a room there (Mar. 13, 2011). At the time the Albert monument was inaugurated, Congo Trading had gone out of business and the property acquired as the Kinshasa headquarters of the Katanga-based Foncière Immobilière Colonial (Fonico).  In the mid-1930s the building housed the Amicale Francaise, the social center of the French community in Leopoldville.
The Congo Trading building. Note pousse-pousse at the curb by the stairs (author coll.)
The Congo Trading building, looking down Ave des Manguiers (author coll.)
Between Ave des Manguiers (the continuation of Ave. Militaire) and Ave de la Douane was a single-story arcaded building which became the Righini Bar.  Paolo Righini also owned the Garage Mayo across the street. Righini provided taxis and rental cars and offered direct phone lines from the Hotel Cosmopolite in Leopoldville, the Wathelet Guest House in Ndolo and the Hotel Metropole in Kalina to ensure prompt response for those requesting his services. At the outset of World War II, Righini was among several Italians interned and his bar taken over by Arthur Hardy (June 28, 2011).
The Righini bar and Garage Mayo in the 1930s (author coll.)
Anchoring the southwest corner of Ave Beernaert and Militaire was the two-story commercial building and adjacent warehouses of the “L’Africaine Banque d’Etudes et d’Entreprises Coloniales”. Established in 1898 during the rubber boom, the firm was declining in the 1920s and closed its Congo operations.  The property was acquired by the African and Eastern Trade Corporation, another firm in the Lever Brothers empire, created in 1919 from a merger of some branches of Lever’s West African firms.  In Congo, the company took over the venerable Hatton and Cookson of Liverpool. The building was originally exposed brick, like the Sedec building across the Place, but later plastered and painted white.
A view south on Ave Beernaert. African and Eastern building on right (author coll.)
Bogheman’s original plan anticipated a major plaza at the west end of Ave. Militaire, on an axis with Place Leopold, the beginning of the road to Leopoldville, whereas the Place de la Poste was not even detailed.  In July 1924, an obelisk monument to aviators killed in a crash landing at Leopoldville 1921 was inaugurated and Aves Militaire and Manguiers were renamed Avenue des Aviateurs (Feb. 24, 2012). With its divided roadway and  angled parking at the center, the avenue remained a premier commercial location into the Independence period.
The Albert monument with Monument des Aviateurs on right (author coll.) 
What happened to the Albert bust?  Unlike the colonial statuary taken down throughout the country in 1971 (July 5, 2011), this one had been removed by the late colonial period. In June 1939, a monumental complex honoring the late King was erected in front of the Gare at the beginning of a Boulevard that would lead to Leopoldville along the old railway line (Jan. 23, 2011). Was the bust relocated to another provincial location at that time?   There were at least four identical or similar ones in Elisabethville (Lubumbashi) and Jadotville (Likasi) in Katanga, another in Matadi and one in Stanleyville (Kisangani).
This bust of Albert in the city park in Elisabethville dates from 1925 (author coll.)
In Stanleyville, the bust was located in the heart of the commercial district (author coll.)
In Matadi the Albert bust was located in the square next to the Hotel Metropole (r.) (author coll.)
Inaugurating the Albert monument in Jadotville in the 1940s.  Was the Leopoldville bust relocated there? (author coll.)
In the 1950s the Post Office became the Musée de la Vie Indigene after the main Post Office moved to a new building Boulevard Albert in 1954 (Feb. 20, 2011). In the late 1960s, it was demolished to make way for the Bank Belge d’Afrique’s seven-story headquarters building. The Belgian owners withdrew in 1988 and it became the Banque Congolaise, which folded in January 2011 following allegations of money laundering.  In a startling repurposing, the building became the not-so-secret headquarters of the security service, the Agence National de Renseignements (ANR). The ANR closed half of Ave des Aviateurs and part of Ave de la Nation in a further truncating of the Avenue started up the street in the 2000s by the US Embassy and Monusco.
The old Post Office as the Musee de la Vie Indigene in 1961 (H.Foreman, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee digital coll.)
Place de la Poste in the 1950s (author coll.)
The ANR building in 2016 (l.), AMI building (center). (author coll.)
The Sedec building was acquired by a South Asian importer called Union Africaine de Commerce (UAC), established in 1975 selling high end furniture and appliances. The Sedec building was likely acquired in the mid-1980s when Unilever was divesting its Zairian holdings.  The name UAC harked back to the United Africa Company, part of the Unilever empire of which Sedec was a part.

The Fonico building was demolished sometime in the late 1930s and in the late 1940s the corner location was chosen for the new headquarters of the Agence Maritime International, the colonial shipping agency. 
UAC building center left, AMI building right.  Ave Equateur was under reconstruction when photo taken (author coll.)
The Righini Bar, later the Hardy Bar, then the Café Rubbens, and which was the best source of ice cream in the 1950s, reopened as the Belgian Cultural Center, the Centre Wallonie de Bruxelles, in the 2005.
The Centre Wallonie de Bruxelles. (author coll.)
The Garage Mayo was demolished in the years leading up to Independence.  In the 1960s, a 4-story building was erected which became one of the agencies of the parastatal insurance company, SONAS.
The SONAS building. (author coll.)
The African and Eastern building was acquired by Lebanese owners of City Market, about the same time UAC acquired the Sedec property. The classical lines of the original building are covered in panels to suggest cohesion of several buildings patched together.
City Market facing Ave Equateur (author coll.)
Sources:

Cocatrix Anne-Laure, 2013. Atlas Archives, Boulevard du 30 juin Kinshasa: https://issuu.com/anne-laurecocatrix/docs/annexes_atlas

University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Digital Photo Archive (collections.lib.uwm.edu)










Thursday, February 27, 2020

Leopoldville 1958 – Le Plein Vent restaurant

Colonial Leopoldville was a creation by and for Europeans.  Notwithstanding the presence of numerous Congolese settlements on the Congo River at the time of Stanley’s arrival in 1881 (May 22, 2017), the choice and development of this particular location was made entirely in consideration of its utility as a late Industrial Revolution transportation nexus, linking a rail line from the coast to steamboats servicing the fan of rivers stretching into the interior of the vast colony. While the focus of this blog is the built environment of Kinshasa – then and now – it is not the intention to dwell on the accomplishments of Europeans. However, few people since Stanley (except perhaps Mobutu Sese Seko) have had as much influence on the urban development of the city as Joseph Rhodius.
Leopoldville station 1882 (Author coll.)
Joseph Dieudonné Rhodius arrived in Congo in 1912 on a six-month contract to identify limestone deposits for a cement factory.  This task quickly completed, he signed on with the Matadi-Leopoldville railway (Compagnie du Chemin de fer du Congo) which sent him to Leopoldville to complete construction of the Hotel ABC (Mar. 27, 2011).   In July 1914, he became the Director of Synkin (June 18, 2012), before starting his own business empire. As President of the Kinshasa’s Stanley Pool Chamber of Commerce and member of the Comité Urbain for several years, he was able to influence urban development on a number of levels.  Beginning with what became the largest industrial employer in the city (TEXAF and the Utexléo textile plant), this led to the construction of two dams on the Inkisi River (at Sanga and Zongo) to supply his factory and the city, a piped water distribution service, palm oil plantations and cattle ranches in Ngaliema Commune and finally real estate development, including the Rhodeby subdivision in Ngaliema which was subsumed into Mobutu’s Camp Tshatshi after Independence. Within the prism of paternalism, he was also concerned about the Congolese, advocating for adequate rations for plantation workers, developing education (St. Joseph school at Ste. Anne parish was named in recognition of his patronage), recreation facilities (Stades Astrid, Ermens and Baudouin), the Scout movement and health facilities (Kintambo Hospital which was originally built by the Utexléo Foundation). 
The TEXAF textile complex in the 1920s. Congo River at upper left (wikinshasa.org)
Leaving Synkin in April 1922, he created Rhodius Freres, an import-export firm.  To capitalize the new firm, he contributed property held in Brazzaville and a lot at Aves Villas and Jardins (now Aves. Kalemie & Kolwezi) in Leopoldville, while his brothers sold property at the intersection of Aves. Cite (now Tabu Ley) Marais and Plateau.   The new company built its main office near the port on Ave Ministre Rubbens (now Nation), in the heart of Kinshasa’s commercial district. During the Minister of the Colonies’ visit that year, Rhodius gave a speech as President of the Chamber of Commerce, urging decent treatment for workers in order to obtain maximum productivity from them. In November 1925 he obtained a 2000-hectare agricultural concession from the Colony in the Binza hills west of Leopoldville in (Ngaliema Commune), which became the Domaine de Rhodeby, a contraction of his and his wife’s names.
Rhodius Freres store on Ave. Rubbens (Life magazine, 1920s)
The TEXAF textile mill was created in 1925 with capital from the Lagache interests in Antwerp.  The site, a 45-hectare concession between Kalina and Leopoldville Ouest, was leased from the Colony (July 3, 2011).  By 1927, Rhodius had become the manager (Administrateur Délégué) in Leopoldville, and the Texaf balance sheet included Fr.4.75 million in assets from his investments in Rhodeby and a subsidiary, Rhokasai.
The first buildings under construction at TEXAF June 1927 (texaf.be)
The growing factory required a regular supply of water.  In October 1929, TEXAF and the Colony, along with minor partner Compagnie de l’Ozone in Belgium, created a municipal water distribution company, the Société de Distribution d’eau de Léopoldville (when Rhodius was Director of Synkin in 1920, that company created the first piped water supply for the city with a pumping station on the Congo River at Ndolo).  The new project called for tapping the Lukunga River in Binza to produce 1000 m3/hr of filtered water. A 12-kilometer pipeline carried the water to Leopoldville.  Several villages had to be relocated to preserve the watershed.  Rhodeby was assured to receive piped water at the same rates as the rest of the city. The following year, the capital was raised to 35 million francs. In September the Colony sold 4 hectares of land on the Binza road to the company to build an Ozone water treatment plant (giving the name “Ozone” to that neighborhood).  When Prince Leopold III and Princess Astrid visited in January 1933, Rhodeby and the water works was one of the stops on their tour of the city.
Water tower from the earlier Synkin system (Author coll.)
In March 1933, the colonial government created the Régie des Distributions d’eau de la Colonie (Regideso) to amalgamate existing water systems in Boma, Matadi, Coquilhatville and Stanleyville under a quasi-public utility. Notably Leopoldville was not included in this scheme. By this time, however, the guaranteed production rates enjoyed by the Leopoldville concessionaire were too onerous for the Depression-era Colonial budget and in September the following year company was dissolved and taken over by Regideso. The Colony bought out Texaf’s 48% holding in the water company and merged it into Regideso.  At the same time, commitments of another Texaf subsidiary, Société Hydro-électrique de Sanga, to provide electrical power to the Colony at cost were rescinded.
The water treatment plant at Ozone in the mid 1950s (Author coll.)
The Société Hydro-électrique de Sanga, was created because the machines in the expanding textile plant were powered by electricity. Since diesel generation was very costly, in June 1930, TEXAF began building the Sanga hydro-electric dam on the Inkisi River some 70 kilometers southwest of the capital.  In addition to providing power for the TEXAF factory, Sanga also concluded an agreement to deliver electricity to Colectric, the colonial utility that operated a diesel-electric generating plant serving the city.   In July 1932 the 5,550 KWH, Sanga facility came on line when Governor Tilkens flipped the switch to send power to the capital.  Colectric placed its diesel plant, located on the Leopoldville road (opposite the current Russian Embassy on Ave Justice), in back-up reserve in case of unanticipated cuts from the dam site.  While no longer directly involved in municipal water or electricity provision, Rhodius’ companies had created the basis for the new colonial capital’s urban utilities. 
Installation of the turbines at Sanga - January 1932 (Author coll.)
The Sanga complex after expansion in 1952 (Author coll.)
In March 1934, the company reorganized. TEXAF assets were transferred to create a holding company, the Société Immobilière, Agricole et Forestière du Congo (IMAFOR). IMAFOR was intended to undertake real estate investments and issue mortgage loans, engage in construction and sale of construction materials, rental and property management, and notably, development and operation of public utilities, including water and electricity. TEXAF contributed all its land holdings to the new firm, except for 11.5 hectares in Leopoldville.  This included the 2000 hectares in Binza acquired by TEXAF in 1925 and another 689 hectares obtained in Binza in July 1933.  The Credit Anversois, the original investor in TEXAF, maintained its 50% share in the new company.  At the same time, another company, Usines Textiles de Léopoldville (Utexléo), was created to operate the textile mill.  The capital was comprised of the physical plant, machines and stock as well as the 11.5 hectares withheld from IMAFOR’s property inventory. All previous commitments made to the Sanga hydro-electric dam were assumed by the new company. In 1936, IMAFOR was granted a five-year concession on 300 hectares at Kinsuka on the river below Rhodeby.
Fish ponds at Rhodeby near the rapids at Kinsuka (Author coll.) 
By this time, Rhodius Freres had vacated the property on Ave Ministre Rubbens, which was now converted to the Cinema Central. The “l’Eveil de l’AEF”, a weekly published in Brazzaville, reported on a boxing match in April 1935 held in the “Grande Salle” behind the Cinema, in space provided by Rhodius Freres.  Tickets were Fr.10 for Europeans and Fr.2 for Congolese.  In March 1938, Texaf provided space for the recently created Musée de la Vie Indigene, which included a sales office where art from around the country could be sold (Feb.20, 2011).
The original Rhodius Freres store converted to cinema (Author coll.)
The first locale of the Musee de la Vie Indigene in TEXAF property - 1938 (Raymaekers, 2017)
Utexleo produced 1.3 million meters of textiles for the domestic market in 1939, up from 6000 meters a decade earlier.  This phenomenal expansion was due in part to tariffs which discouraged importing Japanese goods. At the beginning of the war, against the advice of the Texaf board in Brussels, Rhodius travelled to the US to obtain new equipment. The existing plant was expanded to include 3 hectares of new buildings. By the end of 1943, with new machines acquired from the US, production reached 3 million meters, an accomplishment further facilitated by forced cotton production in many regions of the country (implemented by Cotonco and its subsidiaries, on which Rhodius served as Administrator).
Advertisement for Utexleo (Author coll.)
In September 1943 as well, Rhodius created USI, the Utexleo, Sanga and Imafor Association for the Improvement of the African workforce. Concerned about the extreme demands of the war effort on productivity, the big companies were engaged in “hearts and minds” initiatives toward their African workers, creating social funds, especially after bloody worker strikes at mining sites in Elisabethville and Manono in 1941.  However, when European employees of Utexleo struck in October 1945, the Africans staff did not join the action and at the Sanga hydro dam, Congolese ensured the facility continued to operate throughout the strike. 
Setting the bobbins at Utexleo in the 1950s (Author coll.)
Sanga power station control room - 1950s (Author coll.)
The first project of USI was a three-year professional school, including dormitory facilities for external students, which opened in 1945.  Tuition was free for all students who were accepted in the program.  Another project Rhodius was involved in to benefit the Congolese in Leopoldville was the Parc des Sports General Ermens, which was inaugurated on Easter day 1946.  Initiated by Father Raphael de la Kethulle (Tata Raphael) in 1941, Rhodius chaired the committee that shepherded the project to fruition throughout the resource-limited war years.  Construction of the 8-hectare complex was launched in 1943 under Public Works architect Marcel Hentenryck (who also designed the Public Market in that year and later the adjacent Stade Baudouin, now Stade Tata Raphael (Feb. 6, 2011).  The Art Deco complex included a large swimming pool, 5 football pitches, 9 tennis courts and other facilities.
The entrance to Parc des Sports General Ermens upon completion (U.Wisconsin Milwaukee digital archives)
The pool at Parc des Sports Gen. Ermens (U.Wisconsin Milwaukee digital archives)
Two years later, Governor General Jungers laid the foundation stone for Stade Baudouin.  Rhodius was there to assist as President of the Comité de Patronage of the Parc des Sports.
Earlier that year, Utexleo created a native welfare society, Fonds de Bien-être Indigene Utexleo, independent of USI.  In March 1951, the Foundation began construction a 150-bed hospital for Utexleo employees in nearby Kintambo. Designed by the architect, Ilensky, the new facility opened in 1953 (Apr. 30, 2011).
Rhodius and Governor General Jungers lay the foundation stone for Stade Baudouin - July 1948 (Author coll.)
The completed stadium mid 1950s (Author coll.)
Meanwhile, new factories were being added at the Utexleo site on Ave.Ermens, including Socotex in 1946 (blankets), Tissaco in 1948 (sacks), Bonneterie Africaine in 1952 (socks), and Blanchisserie de la Gombe in 1953 (industrial laundry).  At Kinsuka, along the river in Domaine Rhodeby, two industrial firms were created in which Imafor had substantial interests.  Bricongo in 1950 (bricks) and Carricongo in 1951 (construction stone), important inputs to the burgeoning construction sector in the capital.
Women ironing fabric at the Blanchisserie de la Gombe (Author coll.)
The Bricongo (now Brikin) manager's house at Kinsuka in 2005 (Author coll.)
In 1950, IMAFOR began planning to develop 60 hectares of its agricultural land in Rhodeby as a residential subdivision.  The company paid increased taxes on the property to allow this change in use.  By 1955, the new development, “Cent Maisons”, though still more commonly known as “Rhodeby”, was nearing completion and the lots connected to electric and water service.  In 1957, Mwana Mboka started kindergarten at the newly opened Athenée de l’Ozone.  The route covered by TCL buses (Oct. 23, 2011) started at Leo Deux (Kintambo Magasins) at the bottom of Mont Leopold (Mont Ngaliema) and meandered up the hill through Cent Maisons before reaching the school.
The kindergarten at Athenee de l'Ozone in 1958 (Author coll.)
In November 1955, Imafor announced plans to embark on its next project, a commercial-residential complex to be called “Residence Astrid” on its property at Ave. Astrid and Ave Rubbens. The company nearly doubled its capital to 63 million francs for this project which was designed by Rhodius’ architect, Ilensky. The Comité Urbain approved a building permit in May 1956 for a building with apartments, offices and shops valued at 47 million francs. The following year, however, the company noted economic conditions prevailing in Leopoldville did not favor the sale of residential lots in Rhodeby and IMAFOR was instead focused on completing “Residence Astrid”, scheduled for the second half of 1958. By then, the company had taken possession of the first wing facing Ave. Ministre Rubbens and had rented about half of the 12 apartments. The second, larger wing facing Ave. Reine Astrid, containing shops, two floors of office space and 24 apartments was still under construction. Imafor remained optimistic, despite the unfavorable economic climate.
The original Rhodius store on Ave Rubbens (r.) was demolished to make way for the new building (Author coll.)
When the building was finally completed, it became a prestigious address.  Germany moved its Embassy there after Independence, as did Switzerland.  Italy maintained a commercial attaché office and Fiat had its Congo headquarters there, too.  USAID opened an office and the US Embassy rented a number of apartments for its staff. 

On the commercial side, a Swiss entrepreneur opened a fondue restaurant called Le Plein Vent on the top floor of the building in December 1957.  Offering only classical cheese fondue initially, the venue provided a panoramic view of the river and Brazzaville through its open windows.  It quickly became a fixture of Leopoldville’s night scene.

Another Rhodius property which may have been demolished for the new building. I have not been able to locate where this might have been (Author coll.)
After Mobutu’s first coup in September 1960 in which he “neutralized” both President Kasavubu and Prime Minister Lumumba, the young Colonel moved into a villa in Rhodeby (the loyalty of the troops at the main army camp at Camp Leopold/Kokolo were considered unreliable). Many of the former European residents had left the country after Independence and not returned. Dr. Bill Close, who came to Leopoldville in June 1960 with a Moral Rearmament team and eventually became Mobutu’s personal physician, described the residence as having belonged to a bank. Mobutu drew reliable army units from the Para commando battalion in Thysville around him and Rhodeby began to take on the aspect of a military camp.  When Lumumba was arrested near Port Francqui, in December 1960, he was first brought to Mobutu’s residence and locked up for the night in Security chief Victor Nendaka’s garage.


In May 1961, secessionist Katanga President Moise Tshombe and his Foreign Minister Evariste Kimba were held there after being detained for trying to leave a round table conference in Coquilhatville (Mbandaka).  The following January, Antoine Gizenga was transferred to “Camp Rhodeby” after the UN brought him from Stanleyville (Kisangani) to resume his participation as Vice-Prime Minister of the Assembly. 
Mobutu's residence in Rhodeby - 1970 (Elisofon archives)
Mobutu's residence in Rhodeby in 1965 (YouTube).
It was destroyed when L.D. Kabila's forces captured Kinshasa in May 1997 
IMAFOR created “Imbaleo” in 1961 to manage the Rhodeby concession, but the “winds of change” were not in the company’s favor. In 1964 Mobutu notified Imbaleo of his intention to expropriate the Rhodeby concession to create a military base which became Camp Tshatshi. No compensation was ever offered by the government. In 1994 Imbakin took the government to court and won a 2.5 billion Belgian Franc indemnity two years later.  No payments were ever received however, and in 2001, Imbakin ceded its claims to Texaf. In March 2005 Texaf and Congo Textile Printers (another struggling texile mill on the river downstream from Rhodeby taken over by the Chinese company CHA) merged to form Congotex, but the venture only lasted four years (July 3, 2011). With the closure of the textile plant in Kinshasa, Texaf chose to focus on real estate development.
The main gate at Utexafrica in 2016 (Author coll.)
In the 1980s the Swiss owner of Le Plein Vent decided to sell and the Janmohammed family, which also owned Patisserie Chantilly and Cosy Grill, bought the restaurant.  About the same time, the Zairian government sold the former Vice Governor’s residence on La Raquette to the Swiss government (near what is now the Hotel Fleuve Congo, Aug. 20, 2011) for use as its Embassy.  With the departure of the diplomatic tenant, the building services at the Residence des Flamboyants (as renamed under Authenticité), which included premises of the Tax Office, began to decline and the owners of the fondue restaurant felt they were being burdened with all the maintenance costs.  Certainly, a nighttime visit to the Plein Vent was a memorable experience. The parking area on Ave. Lumpungu was dark and a little dodgy.  The elevator up to the restaurant was dimly lit and shook as though it might plunge down the shaft at any moment. But the doors opened directly into the restaurant, which was bright and immaculate, the service attentive. Because it now opened at night, the views of the river were limited and a renovation in 2006 enclosed the breezy open windows.
Residence Flamboyants in 2018. Le Plein Vent on the top floor (Author coll.)
The interior of Le Plein Vent (Author coll.)
In 2018, the owners of Le Plein Vent decided the challenges of operating the fondue restaurant in the Flamboyant Building were a drag on the business.  They relocated the restaurant to the premises of the former Cosy Grill next to their Chantilly patisserie on Ave. Lukusa. 
An advert for the restaurant shortly before it closed (voila.cd)
Sources:
  • Bulletin Officiel du Congo Belge, Ministry of the Colonies, Bruxelles. (multiple years)
  • Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, Smithsonian Institution (www.africa.si.edu)
  • Japan External Trade Organization, Institute of Developing Economies, “Texaf”. (www.ide.go.jp)
  • Raymaekers, Jan, 2017. “The Musée de la vie indigene in Leopoldville”,  Academie Royale des Sciences d’Outre-Mer.
  • Texaf web site (www.texaf.be/en/about-us/history.html)
  • University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, Digital Photo Archive (www.collections.lib.uwm.edu)
  • Wikinshasa, Atlas de l’architecture et du paysage urbains (wikinshasa.org)
  • YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGUkWC0JBU8)