Thursday, January 6, 2011

Leopoldville 1928 - New Capital of the Colony

View of Kinshasa district 1920s - railroad right of way along future Boulevard 30 Juin
Leopoldville in 1928 was a hive of activity.  Since 1923, the entire urban agglomeration stretching from Leopoldville (Kintambo) to Kinshasa had officially been designated as Leopoldville.  The new administrative district of Kalina was under construction between the two localities, incorporating a “garden city” plan with a classical layout of radial avenues.  This required the relocation of the original aerodrome (from where the contemporary Catholic Centre Inter-Diocesaine is located) to Ndolo.

Queen Elisabeth visits the African hospital
 Leopoldville’s development was confirmed by King Albert and Queen Elizabeth’s visit in July.  The King inaugurated the new Chamber of Commerce, an equestrian monument to his uncle, King Leopold, in the heart of Kalina, as well as a monument to the veterans of World War One at the entrance to Kalina on the road to Leopoldville. The royal couple visited Texaf, the largest textile plant in the country, several schools and the hospital. The Queen’s assessment of the Kintambo hospital site along the river was that it was too narrow, and plans were made to develop the Queen Elisabeth hospital in Kalina.  The Queen also visited Sacre Coeur church in Kalina and laid the cornerstone for the Lycee, the first school in the city for European children which later became Lycee Bosangani.
At the same time, the colonial government held a competition for the design of the Governor General’s residence to be erected on Kalina Point. Belgian architect Raymond Moenaert’s “beaux arts and orientalist” design was selected, but the residence was never built due to budgetary constraints of the Depression.  Construction of the residence was eventually resurrected in 1951 with a new design competition.  Nearly completed at Independence in June 1960, the structure was put into service as the first Parliament.

The main road from Kinshasa to Leopoldville followed Avenue Van Gele from Place Leopold (where the Forescom building was built in 1946) past the BMS Church turning off onto Avenue Valcke at the entrance to Kalina. The road crossed a small bridge across the Gombe River known as Petit Pont and then followed the rail line to Leopoldville.  The rail line from Ndolo, running parallel some 50 meters to the south of Van Gele and Valke, separated the European town from the African quarters. It was relocated about a kilometer further south in 1932 to provide more space for the growing capital.  The railroad right of way became the grand Boulevard Albert in the 1950s.
Reliable electric power was being delivered to the city from a hydro-electric dam under construction at Sanga on the Inkisi River near Sona Bata.  The Texaf textile factory was the primary customer and the company built a substation near its factory at Petit Pont to supply the rest of the city through its subsidiary Colectric. 
A new port with nearly 400 meters of quays was being developed at Kinshasa.  The old port at Kintambo suffered from proximity to the rapids and lack of space to expand.  The docks and facilities of the old Marine du Haut Congo were transferred to a new company in 1928, the Chantier Naval et Industriel du Congo (CHANIC).

Hotel ABC on the Congo River
 Danish and Swiss Consulates opened in 1928.  Shell Oil began operations and a company called “Compagnie Industrielle et Transport Automobile au Congo” established the first bus service serving the port, the railroad station and the 4-story iron Hotel ABC.  The buses had 22 seats, of which 18 were reserved for Europeans. 
Sabena Airlines launched regular service between Leopoldville and Coquilhatville.  Other commercial houses included Amato Freres, Comindus, the Compagnie Coloniale Belge (PEK), Congomane, Gillespie, Huileries du Congo Belge, Interfina, NAHV, Sedec and Synkin.  Retail commerce was mostly in the hands of Portuguese merchants. 

BMS Church built 1915
 In September, Protestant Missions in the Belgian Congo celebrated the 50th anniversary Jubilee of evangelization work in the colony.  More than 175 missionaries attended the celebration in Leopoldville, organized by the Congo Protestant Council.  The (British) Baptist Missionary Society (BMS), and the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (ABFMS), which pioneered the work in January and February 1878 respectively, sponsored 67 of the 176 delegates.  The proceedings were in English and no Congolese attended the event.  Governor Alphonse Engels of Congo-Kasai Province and his suite took tea on the BMS grounds in Kinshasa district of the growing city, established as the capital of the colony five years previously, but still under construction before the colonial administration could transfer from Boma in the estuary of the Congo River.  King Albert sent a letter of congratulations.

The American Baptist mission (through its predecessor Livingstone Inland Mission), was one of the first churches to establish itself on Stanley Pool.  But after 1898, the year the railroad reached Leopoldville from Matadi, the mission decided to relocate its headquarters to Matadi, which was closer to Boma.   The primary rationale for the Kintambo station, providing logistic support to the ABFMS stations upriver in Equateur, including Ikoko, Irebu, Tondo and Tshumbiri, was assigned to the Congo Balolo Mission (CBM).  CBM operated ABFMS’ “Henry Reed” and other small steamers from the small pier below the chapel Dr. Aaron Sims built in 1891.  From 1913, Pastor Moses Kikwakwa of the Sona Bata mission field, ensured the work of the church in Kintambo, under the supervision of missionaries at Sona Bata.   Missionaries were initially ambivalent about the growing urban center.
By 1928, ABFMS decided to resume missionary activities in the city.  In May 1930, Henry Erickson arrived at Kintambo, while Peter and Ruth McDiarmid came the following August to assume the responsibilities of Field Secretary.  The accounting functions were transferred from Matadi about the same time.  The Congo Protestant Council was already present on the station overlooking Ngaliema Bay, having built its residence on the concession in 1928.  ABFMS built a two-story building opposite Sims Chapel with apartments for the Field Secretary above the secretariat offices on the ground floor.  Both buildings were likely built by local European contractors rather than a missionary builder.
On October 31, 1929, Governor Tilkens and his cabinet officially moved from Boma to Leopoldville.  The stage was set for the rapid growth and development of the city as the capital of the Belgian colony.


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