Thursday, July 12, 2012

Kinshasa 2012 – Plus ça change…

I had an opportunity to return to Kinshasa last week and see how things have evolved since I attended the TASOK Reunion in June 2011 (July 3, 2011).  There is a bit of “plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose” about Kinshasa, but there is definitely change.  I stayed at the Memling Hotel (Mar. 29, 2011).  The constant passage of shoe shiners clicking their boxes on the street below sounded like horse-drawn carts on cobbled streets, of which the latter can still be found in this part of Kinshasa (June 18, 2012).
Ave. Plateau, looking towards the Boulevard
First, an update on Boulevard du 30e Juin (Jan.23, 2011).  The eight-lane highway handles a huge volume of traffic as the primary east-west artery serving the downtown.  It can be congested at peak times in the day, but traffic moves smoothly for the most part.  The placement of brick-colored sidewalk tiles being laid last year is largely completed from Socimat intersection to the Gare Centrale, providing a boon to Kinshasa’s majority pedestrian population.  The square emplacements for trees placed at regular intervals along the sidewalk, however, remain empty and have become targets for tossing trash.  I hope the municipal authorities will take advantage of the upcoming rainy season to plant trees along the Boulevard to restore the stately lines of the Limba trees planted in the mid-1950s when the Boulevard was first constructed.
Boulevard du 30e Juin -- sidewalks

There are stop lights on the Boulevard.  High tech affairs which show direction permitted and time remaining before the light changes, as well as time for pedestrian crossing.  There appear to be two schools of thought on this development among Kinois.  One group, by no means minority, behaves as if these directions should be complied with.  A second faction, holdouts from a different era, still run lights or dash across the road against the light.  I heard numerous critical observations of such behavior by pedestrians as we stood waiting patiently for our light.  Even where there are no stoplights, drivers will stop for pedestrians as they venture across the zebra crossings.

Blvd. 30e Juin & Ave. Port

Does this blog have any influence in Kinshasa’s development or is it just a nostalgia buff’s preoccupation with Lipopo and Kin-la-belle?  In the series on hotels in March last year (Mar. 27, 2011), I looked at the second Hotel Stanley, which served as the French Embassy for 50 years until it relocated to UtexAfrica last year (July 3, 2011).  Since its construction in the late 1950s, the hotel presented an unadorned back-side to the Boulevard.  Now, an investor is completing an engaging 4-story “flat-iron” office building in the triangle converging on 30e Juin.
New construction on Blvd. 30e Juin & Ave. Plateau - former French Embassy in background
In March this year, I featured the dilapidated and featureless former office of the L.C. Gillespie company on Ave. Ebeya (Mar.14, 2012).  In the 1920s, Gillespie was the local representative of the Ford Motor Company.  Recently, AMC opened a Ford showroom there. Plus ca change…
The Ford dealership on Ave. Ebeya
Returning to the Boulevard, the building on the site of the former Albertum Cinema (and later Cinemax), which I found suspended last year, is now rising above the Boulevard in an engaging, semi-circular structure, said to be a hotel built by former President of the Federation des Entreprises Congolaises (the Chamber of Commerce), Kinduelo.  The structure presents a new face on the Boulevard while at the same time maintaining scale with its neighbors and the Hotel de Postes across the street.
Cinema Cinemax, ex-Albertum on the Boulevard
New building on Blvd. 30e Juin
Down the street from the Kinduelo project, in front of the Police office occupying the old Cercle de Kinshasa (Mar. 19, 2011), a sign promotes the “Hub d’Affaires du Leopoard Volant”.  Given the location, I declined to pull out my camera, but it appears to be the resurrection of the Claude Laurens’ Hotel Aviamar complex (Aug. 15, 2011).  The “Leopard Volant” refers to Lignes Aeriennes Congolaises (Air Congo) and the proposed project promises a 7-star hotel, 300 offices, 1500 parking spaces, an Olympic swimming pool, as well as residential and commercial space.  I was not able to find anything about the project on an initial search of the web, however.

Congolese music, Congo Jazz, is experiencing a return to its roots.  Contempoary musician Koffi Olomide recently organized a concert to recognize veteran musician Tabu Ley.  He now has a concert planned to interpret and commemorate the late Franco Luambo Makiadi’s music.

On this trip, I made a point of visiting the Botanical Garden a few blocks from downtown (Feb. 6, 2011).  Created in 1933, the park experienced a decline as a haven for street children and prostitutes until its rehabilitation in June 2010 as part of the 50th Independence Anniversary celebration.  I paid my Fr.2000 ex-pat entrance fee and entered an urban oasis of greenery and calm on the edges of Kinshasa’s frenetic urban scene.  The garden continues to be well-maintained and workers were watering and tending to the plants.  It also attracts impassioned believers who audibly and earnestly profess their faith among the shrubbery. I found the same phenomenon at the National Arboretum in Nairobi where I lived before moving back to Congo this year.
Botanical Garden -- rear entrance


  1. I Mwana Mboka
    do you have an email were i can send you our latest copy of lookin (Kinshasa)
    with our dossier reminiscence de kin la belle

  2. fantastic post and Thanks for sharing this info. It's very helpful.
    B&B in Jaipur

  3. Thanks for the post Mwanamboka.
    Possible to meet in KIN sometime soon?

  4. Hello Mwana Mboka!
    Your blog made my day! I've always wanted to know the history of the city I was born in and love so much; Your blog is outstanding! Thank you so much!
    Oza penza suka na kinois! Koba na musala na yo pe Nzambe apambola yo!

  5. Hello Mwana, It is great read your blog. Even trough I never even been to Kinshasa I can say that this is great read. I would like to ask about particular place on north-east corner of Avenue Du Haut Congo and Avenue Kasa-Vubu Any photo, historical or current and any information about place would be helpful. Thanks very much.