Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Leopoldville 1960 - Independence Celebrations

June 30 1960. Congo obtains independence after 75 years of Belgian colonial rule (including Leopold's Congo Free State)
June 17, 1960 - Governor General Cornelis addresses Congolese politicians.
Kasavubu 3rd from left, Lumumba 2nd from right.
June 24, 1960 - Lumumba's first government on Parliament grounds.
Lumumba center left in bow tie, Mobutu 5th from right in sun glasses.
June 25, 1960 - Lumumba, Resident Minister Ganshoff Van derMeersch and Kasavubu at an official dinner.
June 29, 1960 - Lumumba and Kasavubu receive King Baudouin at Ndjili Airport
June 29, 1960 - A celebrant grabs Baudouin's sword during the parade through town.
Mwana Mboka and father (in white shirt) observing at right of motor cycle helmet.
June 30, 1960 - Baudouin, Kasavubu and Lumumba arrive at the Monument to Leopold II in front of Parliament. 
June 30, 1960 - Police maintain the crowd in front of Parliament.
June 30, 1960 - The crowd around Parliament.
June 30, 1960 - Baudouin's speech to Parliament.  Kasavubu seated at his left.
Note Lumumba (far left) rewriting his speech in response to the King's patronizing remarks. 
June 30, 1960 - Lumumba addresses Parliament. The speech, which denounced Belgian colonialism, nearly provoked an international incident.  Lumumba later offered more conciliatory remarks and the crisis was averted.
June 30, 1960 - Independence festivities in Stade Baudouin (now Stade Tata Raphael).
June 30, 1960 - Revelers dancing in a Leopoldville bar.  Blackboard behind guitarist says "OK Jazz"
June 30, 1960 - Fireworks over Parliament.
Liberaal Archief (

Friday, June 12, 2015

Leopoldville 1923 – Brasserie de Leopoldville Founded

At the end of 1923, a group of Belgian investors led by the Banque de Bruxelles came together to build a brewery in Leopoldville.  Given the pervasiveness of the golden brew in Kinshasa today, it may seem curious that the city had already been established for forty years before this step was taken. However, the colonial model was based on production of raw materials by the colony and import of manufactured goods from the metropole, including beer.  Recall, as well, that the Charles Lejeune company’s first commercial transaction in Congo was to insure a shipment of beer from Bremen to Boma in 1886 (See Aug. 1, 2013). 

Imported beer was expensive.  Postal agent Leon Tondeur reported in 1900 that a bottle selling for Fr.1 in Matadi cost three times that in Leopoldville.  When District Commissioner Costermans was assigned a warehouse manager who happened to be a brewer, he ordered equipment from Europe and installed a brewery opposite his office on Avenue du Roi Souverain (now the location of INBTP on the Matadi road in Commune de Ngaliema (See Feb. 20, 2011).  But, the local brew could never shake its disparaging moniker, “liquid manure”, and the operation folded after the second brewer died in February 1903.
Avenue du Roi Souverain looking towards the River.  District Commissioner's Residence at left.
A site for the new Brasserie de Leopoldville was located on the river at Ndolo and construction commenced in 1924.  December 27, 1926, the first bottle came off the production line, which had a capacity of 35,000 bottles per month.  When the plant became fully operational the following year, it produced 815,500 bottles of beer as well as 252,000 bottles of mineral water and 825 tons of ice. In 1928, beer production exceeded 1.1 million bottles, plus 720,000 bottles of water and over 2000T ice.  Plans were in the works to double output.
The Brewery under construction
The Brewery nearing completion
Inquiring minds might wonder, who was drinking all this beer? In 1928 there were about 2500 Europeans in Leopoldville and another 800 across the river in Brazzaville, or about one bottle per person daily. The development of European breweries in Congo and elsewhere in Africa was frequently justified on the basis of providing an alternative to locally distilled “lotoko” alcohol or palm wine.  At the time, Congolese were forbidden to buy alcohol. An ordinance in July 1911 prohibited the sale of alcohol to Congolese in Leopoldville between the hours of noon Saturday to Monday morning. It was not until July 1932 that Congolese were allowed sell alcohol to other Congolese, which led to the establishment of a number bars in the Cite (an informal color bar prevented Africans from purchasing in European establishments until the late 1950s). Palm wine was popular, though limited by lack of a significant number of palms that could be tapped within a radius of the city; allowing the naturally fermenting beverage to remain fresh (See Feb. 12, 2012).  Some enterprising Congolese in Bas-Congo shipped “bidons” of freshly tapped wine on the railroad, but this was not a significant source for a town of 40,000 in 1930.
Sofrigo ice plant in foreground, established in 1928
The Depression nearly sank the brewery.  Incomes and purchasing power declined and a significant number of its European clientele lost their jobs and were repatriated to Europe.  This loss of market no doubt contributed to the decision to allow the sale of beer to Congolese.  The company’s marketing campaign was lackluster and its less-than-premium product was priced at only 1 franc less (10 francs) than Beck's Beer imported from Germany.  During this time, Dutch brewer Heineken invested in the Brasserie de Leopoldville. 
Advertisement from 1933 ("Etoile de l'AEF", Brazzaville)
Anticipating 7-Up's "uncola"campaign by four decades
In 1933, a new brewer, Anselme Visez, was hired with a mandate to purchase new equipment to improve the quality of the beer.  The brewery introduced three grades of Primus and rolled out a new line of carbonated drinks.  Within a year, Visez claimed steadily increasing sales despite a declining market and stiff competition (such as Beck’s and Holsten which was marketed by Sedec). The Brewery hosted influential visitors to further get the word out.  The Touring Club du Congo Belge toured the facilities in September 1934, praising the ultra-modern equipment that precluded any contact between the workers’ hands and the liquid, a procedure “not to be scorned in Africa”.  Governor General Renard of French Equatorial Africa visited from Brazzaville in December 1934.  After inspecting grain storage facilities, fermentation tanks, the brewing hall, bottling line and sampling the product, he told Visez that his beer was better than the imports, and he should know, as he “consumes it regularly”. Throughout the 1930s, the brewery continued to expand production.  The company marketed Coolerator iceboxes, manufactured in Duluth, Minnesota, to enable customers to keep their beverages cold (with blocks of ice purchased from its ice plant, bien sur).
An advertisement from 1934 (note production levels are not quantified)
New brewing equipment - 1930s
When world war broke out in 1940, Brasserie de Leopoldville joined the fight.  At the time, bottles were shipped in 24-count wooden crates enclosed in basketry.  The crates were so flimsy and prone to breakage that Otraco, the state shipping agency (See Oct. 31, 2011), refused to accept them as cargo. Citing the importance of maintaining the morale of up-river customers providing raw materials for the war, the brewery persuaded the authorities to declare beer part of the war effort.  The Brasserie also sent regular shipments of beer to the Allies in Nigeria.  In September 1943, the “New Columbia” left Matadi for Lagos with 600 tons of beer. Called “Congo juice” in the bars of Apapa, merchant seaman Harold Taylor of the Thurland Castle recalled loading a cargo of empty bottles destined for Matadi in December 1944 and returning with full ones.  In Leopoldville, consumption in licensed bars in the cité had increased to such an extent that missionaries pressured government to impose restrictions. This initiative was supported by certain industrial firms concerned about the impact of drinking on productivity.  The reduction measures enabled the brewery to meet its contract with Nigeria and keep Europeans in the bush well supplied.
Bottles from the Brasserie were recovered from the wreck of the “Thor”, which sank off Milford Haven in Wales, December 18, 1943. 

Leopoldville’s Territorial Administrator assigned to the Cité, Emmanuel Cappelle, estimated sales there in 1946 at 500,000 bottles a month, worth 50 million francs per year, surpassing consumption of palm wine.  The Brasserie embarked on an upgrading and expansion program to serve this burgeoning Congolese market.  Architect Charles Van Nueten designed new buildings.  When completed in early 1948, management reported to shareholders that the product was esteemed for both quality and cost and held up to the competition. This allowed the company to raise prices for the first time since the Depression.  Beginning in 1947, the brewery allocated 2 million francs per year to a welfare fund, today the Fondation Bralima.  Anticipating electric power constraints of a growing capital, the company obtained a concession to a potential 200 HP hydroelectric site on the Ndjili River (which explains why the Quartier of Ndjili Brasserie in Ndjili Commune does not have a brewery).  In 1947, as well, construction began on a bottle factory, Bouteillerie de Leopoldville, on the Route du Camp Militaire (Sgt. Moke) in what is now Quartier Socimat.  The company also began building a brewery in Bukavu, the capital of Kivu Province that was developing into a region of white settlement similar to the Highlands in Kenya.
Brasserie de Leopoldville in the 1950s
The facade of the building designed by Van Nueten - 2010
The Brasserie’s venture into new markets was likely driven by the arrival of a competitor in Leopoldville, the Brasserie du Bas-Congo.  Bracongo’s investors included the Belgian Brasserie de Haecht (controlled by retail and ranching firm SARMA) and two breweries recently established in Stanleyville (Kisangani) and Luluabourg (Kananga). It constructed its facility (also designed by Charles Van Nueten) near the mouth of the Funa River in Kingabwa, part of the rapidly developing industrial zone of Limete.  The construction forced the displacement of a Bateke fishing community. During excavation work, the discovery of a number of cowries indicated the presence of a prehistoric settlement here.  The Bracongo brewery was completed by Auxeltra-Beton in 1954.
Heineken and the Brasserie de Leopoldville merged to form Brasseries Limonaderies et Malteries Africaines (Bralima) in 1957.  At Independence in 1960, Bralima operated breweries in Leopoldville, Bukavu, Stanleyville and Boma, as well as one in UN mandate territory of Ruanda-Urundi.  In 1959, Bracongo, along with affiliated breweries in Stanleyville, Luluabourg and Paulis, merged to form Unibra.
Labels and drink coasters - 1950s
Brasserie de Leopoldville labels and coasters - 1950s
Brasserie du Bas-Congo labels - 1950s

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Kinshasa 2015 – Hotel Stanley to reopen as a Hilton

Hilton Worldwide signed a franchise agreement in March with Africa Hospitality Investments to renovate and reopen the former French Embassy and Hotel Stanley as the “DoubleTree by Hilton Kinshasa – The Stanley”.  The property is expected to open in 2016 and will be Hilton’s 37th hotel in Africa.  Africa Hospitality Investments was incorporated in Mauritius in December 2014.
The former French Embassy, looking down Ave. Tchad towards Blvd. du 30e Juin
The Stanley was built in the late 1950s opposite the Memling Hotel (See Mar. 29, 2011) at the intersection of Avenues Moulaert (now Tchad) and Stanley (now Bas-Congo).  It was built by the Damseaux family, proprietors of the original Stanley on Ave. Hauzeur (Wagenia), which became the Musée de la Vie Indigène (See Mar. 27, 2011). 
The site of the Hotel Stanley in 1956 - Blvd Albert 1er (30e Juin) runs left-right across center of the image
In 1954, the Frigos Damseaux company requested bids on nylon carpet for a 40-unit apartment hotel it was constructing in the capital. By 1959, the hotel, described as 50% complete, was up for sale at an asking price of $560,000.  The nine-floor structure had a 20-car basement garage, ground floor and mezzanine and the top six floors offered 12-13 double apartment-style rooms featuring deluxe bathrooms, air conditioning, and telephones. The public areas included a restaurant, bar, a beauty salon, an office for a travel agency, a small store and a patio with a small pool. The builder would complete all construction, leaving decoration and furnishings to the buyer.
The Stanley in the late 1950s
At Congo’s Independence June 30, 1960, the Stanley Palace Hotel was billing itself as, “A New Hotel in Leopoldville --The most comfortable in town and one of the best in Western Africa”.  The United Nations delegation to the Independence ceremonies, led by Ralph Bunche, Jr., lodged there.  When the army mutiny July 5 precipitated Belgian military intervention and an exodus of expatriate civil servants and others running the government and essential services, UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold asked Bunche to stay on as his personal representative.  An African-American diplomat who received a Nobel Prize for negotiating a cease-fire between Israelis and Arabs during the war that followed the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, Bunche was experienced to conflict.  But Leopoldville in July 1960 was a scary, unpredictable place. On July 8, Bunche wrote a letter to his son on Hotel stationary in a guarded tone that suggested he realized it might be his last.  Heavily armed soldiers had burst into the hotel and ordered all residents into the lobby where some were manhandled roughly.  They could hear shots in the city, were restricted to the hotel and the airport was closed.
Bunche began to put in place a UN peacekeeping operation.  On July 15, the first Ghanaian and Tunisian troops arrived.  The head of Unicef, Maurice Pate, arrived on July 18 to organize the humanitarian relief effort and established his base of operations in the Stanley’s flower shop.  The UN Force Commander, General Carl von Horn arrived on July 21 and took over rooms at the hotel for his command headquarters.  Bunche brokered a deal July 23 for UN troops to replace the Belgians deployed around the country, and importantly take over patrolling the streets of Leopoldville.  That same day, Bunche and his entourage moved to the Le Royal apartment building on Blvd. Albert, which eventually became the headquarters of the UN operation in Congo (See Mar. 19, 2011).
Ralph Bunche (standing left) holds a press conference in lobby 
India and Israel initially opened embassies in the hotel, but when France decided to open an embassy in Leopoldville in 1963, it acquired the entire building.  A Centre Culturel Français opened in January 1965.  During the second “pillage” in January 1993, Ambassador Philippe Bernard was killed in his office by a shot from the street.  The official verdict, accepted by France, cited a stray bullet, but some suggest it resulted from a failed assassination plot targeting opposition leader Tshisekedi wa Mulumba.  In 2010, the Embassy moved to renovated premises of the former administrative offices of Utexafrica on Ave. Mondjiba (See July 3, 2011).
A view of the former French Embassy in 2012 with new construction at the rear of the building
Hilton Worldwide originally planned to launch its Kinshasa operations in the Congo Trade Center under construction on Ave. Wagenia (See July 3, 2011).   But these plans hit a snag in 2012 when the CTC developer would not agree to modify the design to meet Hilton’s requirements.  The renovated “DoubleTree by Hilton Kinshasa – The Stanley” will offer 96 rooms, three restaurants (including one on the roof), a business center, three conference rooms and a fitness center. DoubleTree by Hilton’s global head, John Greenleaf, reports the company looks forward to “welcoming guests with our warm service and signature chocolate chip cookie”.
Congo Trade Center nearing completion.  The Sheraton chain is reported to be negotiating with the owner.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Kinshasa 2015 – Master Planning Contract Awarded to Surbana International Consultants

Last week Surbana International Consultants of Singapore signed a contract with the Kinshasa Provincial Government to provide master planning services, including a Regional Structure Plan covering the 9,900 km2 extent of the Province and a detailed master plan for the capital (2500 km2).  This is the firm’s largest master planning contract to date.  A privatization spin-off of Singapore’s Housing and Development Board, the company has prepared master plans for Kigali and residential sub-division plans in Nigeria and has broad experience in commercial, industrial, health care, hospitality and aviation projects.
Surbana's vision for Kigali, Rwanda
Urban planning in Kinshasa has a long history, beginning with District Commissioner Moulaert’s platting the cité streets and residential lots in 1912 (See Apr. 30, 2011), establishment of neutral zones separating Congolese and European neighborhoods in the 1920s (See July 31, 2011), District Commmissioner Dendale’s creation of the “Nouvelle Cité” in the 1940s, the ambitious Office des Cités Africaines construction in the 1950s (See Sep. 30, 2011) and the optimistic plans and strategies elaborated by the French-supported Mission Francaise d’Urbanisme (MFU) in the 1960s which led to creation of the Bureau d’Etudes et d’Amenagements Urbains (BEAU) in 1973.  In 1967 the government acknowledged the phenomenal growth of the capital by creating the 24 Communes that comprise the City-Province today.  At the same time, the MFU produced a comprehensive development plan for the City.  The plan was only haphazardly implemented and immediately overtaken by events. Mobutu was only interested in cherry-picking certain aspects, while Commune and traditional authorities platted and sold raw land in a checkerboard, sprawling pattern without provision for attendant streets and storm drainage, installing utilities or inclusion of community infrastructure such as commercial zones, education or cultural space.
Urban Growth in Kinshasa 1950-1975 (Flouriot, 2005)
More recently, the Kabila government has invested in reconstructing and upgrading the urban infrastructure inherited from the colonial period.  Major arteries include Blvd. du 30e Juin and the Avenue Mondjiba extension, Blvd. Patrice Lumumba, and Avenues Poids Lourds, Huileries and Pierre Mulele (Liberation). Joint ventures to develop residential subdivisions in vacant (and not so vacant) sites are springing up around the city (See Mar. 20, 2015).
Ave. Pierre Mulele at the Universite Protestante du Congo in Commune de Lingwala
In 2013, the Agence Francaise de Développement contracted the French planning firm Groupe Huit to develop a plan for the Hotel de Ville (City Hall).  The plan (Schéma d’orientation stratégique de l’agglomération kinoise – SOSAK) rolled-out in August 2014 covers a 15-year planning horizon to 2030 and prioritizes expanding the street network and public transit to access new commercial and residential areas for a growing population, and open up enclaved neighborhoods. SOSAK would further upgrade existing quartiers, bring land use practice in harmony with the environment and promote the development recreational and cultural zones throughout the capital.
The General Development Plan would consolidate existing infrastructure and develop new areas northeast towards Maluku
One element of the companion Development Plan (Plan Particulier d’Amenagement) for the northern section of the city would eliminate the last vestiges of the second Neutral Zone, which includes Ndolo Airport and Camp Kokolo.  The 1967 MFA plan proposed relocating a new town center there, taking the pressure off Blvd. 30e Juin and Commune de la Gombe, which is certainly acute today.  Although Mobutu erected some monumental projects, including the Palais du Peuple and Stade des Martyrs, these were not part of a coherent vision for the area, nor intentionally integrated with the urban fabric of the surrounding area.  SOSAK would close Ndolo Airport, one of my favorite urbanization projects (See. Jan. 27, 2014), allowing Blvd. Lumumba to reach Blvd. 30e Juin at the Gare Centrale, while intersecting with an extended Avenue Triomphal, which would become a major east-west arterial paralleling 30e Juin. Most of the development opportunity zones in the Plan are located along Ave. Triomphal.
Ndolo Airport. Blvd. Lumumba center foreground (SOSAK)
Ndolo Airport - proposed Blvd. Lumumba and Triomphal extensions (SOSAK)

Ndolo Airport center right. Areas in beige are development opportunity sites (SOSAK)
In choosing yet another planning firm, the Kinshasa provincial authorities seem more intent on “planning to plan” than grappling with the knotty challenges of implementation.  There is so much public and private investment occurring in Kinshasa at this time that would contribute to realization of the SOSAK framework and become more enduring assets for today’s and future Kinois.   No matter what final plan is adopted, the government must today confront the need for political will to implement such a transformative vision of a future Kinshasa and transparently enforce existing land use and land tenure regulations.

  • Beeckmans, Luce and Johan Lagae, 2015. “Kinshasa’s Syndrome-Planning in Historical Perspective”, in Carlos Nunes Silva, Urban Planning in Sub-Saharan Africa, Routledge.
  • Beeckmans, Luce, 2010. “French Planning in a Former Belgian Colony: A Critical Analysis of the French Urban Planning Missions in Post Independence Kinshasa”,  OASE, No.26, pp.56-76.
  • Flouriot, Jean, 2005. “Kinshasa 2005: Trente ans après la publication de l’Atlas de Kinshasa”
  • Pain, Marc, 1984. Kinshasa: La Ville et La Cité, Eds. ORSTOM.
  • SOSAK documents (!publications/c20x9)