Sunday, January 9, 2011

Kinshasa 2005 - TASOK Reunion City Tour

During the June 2005 TASOK reunion, alumni went on a: 


Background -- The area of Pool Malebo above the rapids of the Congo River was settled with numerous villages when the explorer Henry Morton Stanley arrived here on his trans-continental journey in 1877. When Europeans came here, the first settlement was established between Mt. Ngaliema and Kintambo, and was called Leopoldville. Later, Kinshasa was established as a post in the area of downtown (now called Gombe).  In 1922, the entire urban area was consolidated as "Leopoldville" and as the town grew in importance, the capital of the Belgian Congo was transferred here from Boma in 1923. The area of Kintambo-Ngaliema became known as "Leo Deux" or "Leo Ouest". In 1966, Leopoldville was renamed Kinshasa.
The numbers on the map correspond to the locations described below.

1. Old Leopoldville (Commune de Ngaliema) - The original settlement called Leopoldville was established August 1880 by Stanley, who negotiated with Chief Ntamo (hence Kintambo) for the land. At the time, there were four villages on the Pool; Ntamo, Nshasha, Lemba and Kimbangu (Masina), each with a population of about 5,000.  In April 1882, Stanley first used the name "Leopoldville" in a letter in honor of his patron, Leopold II, King of the Belgians.

2. Commune de Ngaliema - Ngaliema was another of the chiefs Stanley negotiated with. Today, the Commune offices are housed in the turn of the century European hospital, initially established by the Red Cross in 1897. Note the street across from the Commune is called the "Route de Caravans". This was the path of the caravan road from Matadi -- the only way to get to Kinshasa before the railroad was completed in 1898 -- was on foot. Inside the presidential gardens enclosure on the hill was once a pioneer cemetery. The summit of the hill (Mt. Ngaliema) once held Stanley monument (erected 1956).

3. Paroisse St. Leopold - The Catholic order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Scheut) established Paroisse Leopold in 1889. St. Leopold church was erected in 1902 and the present cathedral was built in 1951. The compound now houses Jean XXIII Seminary, established in 1967. The first Catholic missionaries in the area were Jesuits, who settled at Kimbangu (Masina) on the Ndjili River in June 1893, but relocated within a month to Kimwenza (near the Chutes de la Lukaya -­ Little Falls) due to unhealthy, swampy conditions.

4. CHANIC -- The Chantier Naval et Industriel du Congo (Chanic) was established in 1928 on the site of the original port of Leopoldville to build ships and barges for the Congo river transport company OTRACO (now ONATRA). In 1937, the company launched the first barge entirely built in Congo. Chanic later expanded into other industrial activities, including elevators (Schindler), construction equipment (Caterpillar) and radios (Motorola).

5. CBCO -- Protestant missionaries of the Livingstone Inland Mission (LIM -- inspired by the example of the missionary explorer, David Livingstone) established a station on the bluff above Ngaliema Bay in 1883. Stanley negotiated with the local chief for the land. The following year, LIM transferred its work to the American Baptist Missionary Union (later ABFMS) and in 1891 Dr. Aaron Sims built a chapel on the river, which is the oldest permanent building still standing in Kinshasa. Below the chapel, the mission docked small river steamers, including the "Henry Reed", at the time the only means of mechanized transport into the interior.  Two years later, Dr. Sims built "Sims House", which in 1961, housed all 12 grades of the new American School. During 1962-65 new classroom wings were built, before the school moved to its present location in 1966.

6. Old Kintambo Village site -- The baobabs at Ave. de l'Avenir & Fleuve attest to the site of an original village. Other mature baobab trees around town are likely sites of early settlements.

7. Road to Kinshasa – The bridge across the Basoko River was rebuilt by the United Nations in 1963 following major floods in Kinshasa the previous year. It was named for the late UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold, but the plaque has since disappeared.

8. Majid Rasul Mosque -- Built 1986-87. Most Congolese Muslims originate in eastern Congo, and Kinshasa's Islamic community was historically made up of West African, Middle Eastern and South Asian expatriates. This mosque serves the Lebanese community.

9. UtexAfrica -- In 1925, the Texaf company began work in Kinshasa and in 1928, opened the first textile mill in the colony. In 1934 it became known as UtexLeo, becoming the UtexAfrica group in 1985. The company also built the first hydro-electric dam at Sanga, near Kisantu to provide power for the mill (which explains the location of SNEL nearby). 

10. Rond Point Kalina -- December 23, 1882 an Austrian officer in the employ of the Congo Free State, E. Kalina, attempted to travel by canoe from Leopoldville to Kinshasa with Chief Ngobila. At Ngombe Point, where the Palais de la Nation stands (the old Parliament), the canoe overturned in the swift current created by the point and Kalina drowned. Commune de la Gombe was called Kalina until 1971.  Coming from Leo Ouest, this rond point was the entrance to Kalina.

11. Chez Nicola – In 1962, Nicolas Bianco took over the "Auberge du Petit Pont" restaurant, which in the 1940s and 1950s featured a popular outdoor cinema whose masonry screen can still be seen from Ave. de l'Ouganda.

Avenue Valcke curving left at Petit Pont (Blvd. Albert on r.)

12. Avenue de la Justice. The "Petit Pont" area at the end of the Boulevard du 30e Juin takes its name from the little bridge which crosses the Gombe River at that point. Before Boulevard Albert 1er (Blvd. 30e Juin) was built in the 1950s, the main road from Kinshasa to Leopoldville followed VanGele (Lukusa) and Valcke (Justice).

13. Clinique Ngaliema -- As Kinshasa began to supplant old Leopoldville as the center of town, a hospital for Europeans, "Reine Elisabeth" was built at Kalina in 1933. Next to it is the Clinique Kinoise, completed just prior to Independence in 1960 to serve the European community and was initially operated by the Danish Red Cross as part of the UN assistance program to Congo. A hospital for Congolese was started in 1912 (near the current zoo) and expanded in 1923. After President Mobutu came to power, he upgraded the hospital and named it after his mother, Mama Yemo. It is now known as Kinshasa General Hospital.

14. Grand Hotel de Kinshasa -- Originally built as the Intercontinental Hotel by Pan American Airways in 1968, the Grand reverted to the Congolese Government after 30 years in 1998. In the last days of the Mobutu era, the hotel became the last bastion of the regime as people congregated there prior to crossing the river to Brazzaville.  Behind the hotel on the left is the Clinique Kinoise and in the trees on the right is a wing of the former Clinique Elisabeth.

15. Central Government District -- The capital of the Congo was transferred from Boma to Kinshasa in July 1923, but the transfer was not completed until 1929 as insufficient infrastructure existed for the administrative services. It was at this time that government offices were transferred from old Leopoldville. A modern quarter was laid out, but a decision on the residence for the Governor General, to be built on Pointe de la Gombe, was not reached until just prior to Independence in 1960. The building became the first Parliament and now houses the President's offices. The late President Kabila's mausoleum and statue stands in front where a statue to Leopold II was erected in 1928.

16. Sacre Coeur -- In the 1920s, the Soeurs de Sacre Coeur arrived in Kinshasa and opened a school for European children which later became Lycee Sacre Coeur and in 1974 renamed Lycée Bosangani.

17. College Boboto -- In October 1937, Jesuit missionaries started a primary school for European boys. In 1940, College Albert opened in a permanent building on Ave. Valcke. After College Albert opened, Lycée Sacre Coeur offered classes exclusively for girls. College Albert was renamed Boboto in 1974. The cultural center (now includes a retail art gallery) was built in 1942 and during Belgium's occupation World War II housed the Belgian worldwide radio broadcasting center.

Union Mission Hostel now the Centre d'Acceuil Protestant

18. BMS Mission-- In 1887, the British Baptist Mission Society (BMS) moved from Mount Leopold to Kinshasa, establishing themselves on English Point, the highest point of ground in the area. On the grounds of the original mission station are two pre-fabricated oak and iron houses, imported from England. The church on Ave. Lukusa (ex-Van Gele), now known as the International Protestant Church of Kinshasa, was built in 1915. Another structure on compound is the Centre d'Acceuil Protestant, built as the missionary guest house, Union Mission Hostel (UMH) in July 1920. A more contemporary structure, Centre d'Editions et Diffusion (CEDI) was erected in 1946 as the Librarie Evangelique du Congo (LECO).

19. Marsavco -- Sharing the land around Pointe Anglaise are the installations of the Lever Brothers Company, known by its French acronym "Marsavco". Established in 1911, in a few years Lever Bros. operated a bustling factory which eventually expanded into an industrial complex processing palm oil from its upriver plantations into cooking oil, margarine and soap products.

20. Forescom Building -- Kinshasa's first skyscraper was erected in 1946 in art deco style by the Societe Forestriere et Commercial (Forescom).  Initially, it was called "Le Building".  The names of R.Fostier (architect), R.Hins (engineer) and H.Trenteseaux (builder) can be found on brass plates on the black marble baseboards along Ave. du Port.  Henri Trenteseaux also built the Royale office building on the Boulevard, which became the UN headquarters after Independence.

21. Ave. des Aviateurs -- This street in an original part of early Kinshasa is named for flyers who made the first flight from Belgium in 1921. However, the street was originally created in 1892 by Lt. Richard of the Force Publique, who dynamited existing baobab trees, and which led to a military camp near the current port. It was then called Ave. du Camp Militaire.  The obelisque and statue at Ave. du Port and Aviateurs was taken down in the 1970s.

22. Place de la Poste -- This circle is named for the Post Office built in Beaux Arts style in 1916 when this was the center of town. In the 1930s, the building became the Musée de la Vie Indigene. In 1971 Union Zaïroise de Banques demolished it and several other period structures to erect a 7 story office building. Diagonally across the circle was the venerable Bar Hardy, which in the 1950s was the only place in Leopoldville to serve ice cream. The building now houses the Belgian Cultural Center (Centre Wallonie).

23. United States and Portuguese Embassies -- The U.S. Embassy was built in 1957 as the U.S. Consulate and inaugurated in January 1958 by Governor General Petillon. The Portuguese Embassy next door was probably built about the same time, as the land on which the two were built had served for many years as playing fields for Ste. Anne Church and school. After Father Raphael de la Kethule arrived in 1919, he organized soccer matches among Congolese teams. "Queen Astrid" stadium (now Tata Raphael) was built in 1936 in the cité near Ndolo airport.

24. SEDEC -- This art deco inspired building was originally Sedec Motors, the commercial arm of Lever Brothers in Congo. Later Sedec Motors moved to Ave. Van Gele (now the US Embassy garage) and in the 1950s the building became one of the first self-service grocery stores. In the 1990s, it was known as Select but closed in 2003.  In May 2005 it was reopened by Hasson Freres Group (est. 1936) with the art-deco motif maintained and enhanced.

25. Paroisse Ste. Anne -- In 1903, a mud and thatch house for Congolese catechists serving in Kinshasa was built, followed by a chapel of durable materials in 1908. Five years later, construction of a new Cathedral was begun and completed in 1917. In June 1960, the official community celebrated a mass to commemorate Independence attended by Kasavubu, Lumumba and most of the new Congolese leadership.

26. Flying Boats -- During World War Two, flying boats operated by Pan American and BOAC (British Airways) landed regularly near the Brazzaville ferry landing on the Congo River to assure connection between the Congo and the two primary Allied powers. Ndolo airport was built (expanded) in July 1942 by a U.S. Army construction battalion to serve land-based planes connecting the U.S to Egypt and the Far East.

27. Albert 1 Monument -- The monument to King Albert 1 of Belgium, who succeeded his uncle Leopold II, was erected June 30, 1939 at the head of the boulevard which bore his name. The Blvd. was renamed "30e Juin" on June 30, 1963 to commemorate the country's independence. The space for the broad avenue was available because the rail line from Ndolo station to Kintambo originally used the right of way. In 1971, as part of President Mobutu's "authenticity" campaign, the colonial era statues were taken down and stored at the Public Works garage in Kinshasa.  In January 2005, the equestrian statue of Leopold II was briefly mounted on the pedestal of the Albert monument by the Minister of Culture, but was removed the following day.  Albert, Stanley and Leopold's statues are now on display at the National Museum at the base of Mont Ngaliema.

28. Gare de l'Est (Ndolo) -- Engineer Nicolas Cito drove the first locomotive into Leopoldville in March 1898. The ten-year effort to build a railroad from Matadi to Kinshasa took the lives of 132 Europeans and over 1800 Congolese, Africans and Asians. The original locomotive is on display inside the gare. A frieze on the street commemorating the 50th anniversary of the railroad in 1948 was removed in 1971. The Latin phrase, "Aperire Terram Centibus" refers to the opening of the country by the railroad.

·         Katembo (
·         Kinshasa Kananga Kisangani (
·         Kolonga Molei, “Kinshasa : ce village d’hier , Kinshasa, 1979.
·         Lumenganeso Kiobe, A. “Kinshasa, Genese et sites Historiques, Kinshasa, 1995


  1. Thank you for those pictures and comments.
    A former inhabitant of Kinshasa from 1971 to 1991.
    History is a nice "passe-temps".
    Regards from France

  2. Likewise, I enjoyed the photos, especially UMH, which I managed for a year (1968/69).

  3. Bonjour Mwana Mboka, pourriez-vous me contacter pour échange d'informations concernant la « Pointe de Kalina » et la « Pointe Anglaise » svp à l'adresse suivante - Merci d'avance. Un ancien de Léo. @+

  4. Thank you for this informative history of Kinshasa, in particular,and Congo generally. The accompanying picures are simply wonderful. Keep the story flowing.
    KN Baker
    Uganda .