Kinshasa: beautify, large, and full of contrasts

(David Tansey)

Located along the banks of the Congo River, the second longest river on the continent — just behind the Nile River — and it is the largest in water volume, Kinshasa is a musical city and full of contrasts. It is the capital and the largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Kinshasa is composed of a large urban agglomeration with about 10 million inhabitants. It is the third largest city in Africa – just below Cairo (Egypt) and Lagos (Nigeria) – and it is also the most populous Francophone city in the world, almost five times the population of Paris, although almost half of its residents speak the Lingala language (44.5%).

In 1881, when Henry Stanley,an British explorer arrived there, the place was but a small fishing place. It was named Léopoldville in honor to King Leopoldo II, of Belgium, who sponsored the expedition. Afterwards, it became then the capital of the Belgian Congo colony and it was named Kinshasa in 1966. One of the legacies from Belgium occupation is mayonnaise, present in most of the local culinary dishes, in the traditional version, as well as in the spicy version, named Piri-piri.

Freshwater shrimp from the Congo River are among the recommended delicacies, named Cossa Cossa in the menus. Kinshasa is full of contrasts, including large commercial areas, with sophisticated restaurants, luxury apartment buildings, and three universities, coexisting side by side with complexes of favelas, Amid chaotic traffic and poor streets, it is possible to see the colorful enchanting garments of “sapeurs”, impeccably elegant men. The visual influence came from great vintage musical stars. By the way, Kinshasa is where the Congolese rumba, “soukous”, and “ndombolo” were born, musical styles featuring peculiar dances. The romantic song “Marie Louise”, by Wendo Kolosoy, is the musicality symbol of the Country.

With a visa to the neighboring country of Republic of Congo it is possible to go by boat to Brazzaville, just a few kilometers away, on the opposite bank of the Congo River. Kinshasa and Brazzaville are the closest capital cities in the world. A boat ride along the Congo River is strongly recommended. You can also search for works of art in countless artist ateliers in the city. After decades of armed conflicts imposed by neighboring countries, Kinshasa is trying to modernize its infrastructure and offer improved living conditions for its residents and visitors.

Foreign companies, mostly Chinese, have actively participated in a great number of projects to rebuild the city. It is ecologic, colorful, joyful, and dynamic. The capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo truly deserves its nickname, “Kin, the beautiful”.