April 2018

Kinshasa or the dynamics of chaos

By Cédric GOUVERNEUR
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Congested, anarchy and in many respects intolerable, Africa’s third largest city knew how to create a perennial cultural identity, made by resourcefulness and staunch optimism.

Sunday, 25 February the demonstrations of the Coordination of Secular Committee (CLC) against the tumour in Joseph Kabila's presidency were, as expected, banned and subsequently repressed. More surprising is the pretext put forward by the governor of Kinshasa to justify the ban: "In the absence of an itinerary, the city cannot authorise your event because it cannot guarantee an efficient supervision,” Andre Kimbuta, told the Catholic opponents on the eve of the proposed demonstrations. His reasoning calls for some smile in Kinshasa, where an "efficient supervision" is a pipe dream, an optical illusion, a UFO, certainly the last qualification that the inhabitants would associate with the management - or rather the lack of management - of their incredible megacity. Africa’s third largest city with over 15 million inhabitants, according to some estimates, it is a true city-state. Kinshasa and its 24 districts shelter all the extremes, from the worst slums in Pakadjuma to the ostentatious billionaire villas on the hills of Mont-Fleury. Every morning, "spirits of the dead", overcrowded buses-pour out troops of workers into the center of La Gombe, the business district - which leave at nightfall, creating gigantic traffic jams on the few major arteries of the city, despite the recent doubling of lanes on the Lumumba and 30-June Boulevards. Here are to be found malls and exorbitant residential buildings, a sociological bubble in which elites, expatriates and Monusco (the United Nations’ interminable peacekeeping mission in the DRC) officials live, causing an inflated the cost of living.
 
 
DIRTY SHANTY TOWNS AND BILLIONAIRES' VILLAS
At the other end of the social ladder, three quarters of the megalopolis are made up of filthy and ruined zones, without water or electricity supply, unnamed streets, populated by rural exodus and those who fled the many wars in the eastern provinces. Even in the districts of the middle class, infrastructure, where they exist, are failing. Last July for instance, inhabitants of Ngaliema municipality had the unpleasant surprise, when they turned on their taps only to see semblance of faeces dripping out! Waste recycling is present only because it allows some members of the population to survive (metals, glasses, gravel making materials …)
 
Several mayors have been sacked, simply as punishment for the filth of their municipalities.  And yet, without any masterplan and subject to a totally failed management, Kinshasa bubbles. The city indeed benefits from its own vital fluid: the "Mayélé". The intelligence, cunning, inventiveness that allows Kinois (as the inhabitants are called) to face adversity, overcome the hassle of everyday life and fight against the economic slump, with energy and extraordinary over activity, where everyone does two or three jobs a day. Between the Memling and Grand Hotels, around the French Embassy, the chégués (young boys and girls left to fend for themselves) sell everything on the sly, targeting tourists, while at the same time dancing and gyrating. Capital of "SAPE" and partying, music ranging from the old ‘Ndombolos,’ to modernised ‘rhumbas’ blare out of old speakers in popular bars day in day out nonstop, while ultra-modern glass buildings in the chic Boulevard du 30-Juin, hosts the expensive nightclubs. Kinshasa is "paradoxical and fascinating," sums up Sylvie Ayimpam. A doctor of political and social sciences at the Catholic University of Louvain, she studied the informal economy of the mega-city * and emphasizes the "contrast between the dilapidated morphology of the city and the vitality of its inhabitants". "Kinois are proud of their city and of themselves, they do not let themselves go to despair and maintain an amazing appetite for life," she concludes. Deep within its chaos, Kinshasa has created a dynamic and optimistic urban identity that radiates far beyond the Congo Basin: "They proudly display their Kinshasa identity, continue to believe that their city is one of the world capitals of music, festive atmosphere and elegance. What does not kill us ... 
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