Kinshasa, formerly (until 1966) Léopoldville, largest city and capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It lies about 320 miles (515 km) from the Atlantic Ocean on the south bank of the Congo River. One of the largest cities of sub-Saharan Africa, it is a special political unit equivalent to a Congolese region, with its own governor. The city’s inhabitants are popularly known as Kinois.
Kinshasa is not only the capital but also the centre of the dynamic and contradictory influences that have shaped the country’s character in modern Africa.
The only city not clearly identified with any particular region of the country, it was until 1997 the seat of a long-lasting Zairean military government based, on the one hand, on the strength of the armed forces and, on the other, on a technique of political and social compromise that until its later years gained the rather grudging collaboration of most of the citizens. Caught between spectacular wealth and massive poverty, most Kinois must spend a considerable amount of their time scrambling for necessities that are in erratic supply. Nevertheless, they have found the means to make Kinshasa a source of distinctive influence in intellectual and popular culture felt throughout Africa.The most heavily inhabited area of Kinshasa covers 58 square miles (about 150 square km). The total area subject to city government, much of it sparsely populated, is 3,848 square miles (9,965 square km). Pop. (2005 est.) 5,717,000..
- City site and climate
Kinshasa spreads out southward from the shoreline of the Congo River at Malebo Pool, a widening of the river. The plain on which the city lies varies mostly between 918 and 1,148 feet (280 and 350 metres) above sea level and is partly encircled by higher ground. The surrounding countryside is heavily farmed savanna and gallery forest; the chief crops are cassava, sugarcane, oil palms, plantains, corn (maize), peanuts (groundnuts), and beans..
The eastern sector (known before 1966 as Léo-Est), of which the wide Boulevard du 30-Juin forms the main artery, is a major commercial area. The waterfront, along Kinshasa’s northern edge, is lined with quays and large warehouses. Ndolo, east of Gombe, comprises a complex of port facilities and industrial plants. The poorer areas extend southward on the east and west of Kinshasa.
Among Kinshasa’s satellite cities, Ndjili, to the southeast, has become a residential area, while Kimpoko upstream has been developed as an outer port. During the 1970s wealthy businessmen and politicians built mansions, often of spectacular opulence, in Binza, an area in the western hills overlooking the city.There are a variety of architectural styles in Kinshasa. High-rise apartment blocks, luxuriously appointed banks, stores, and the offices of large corporations and government agencies characterize the centre of town. Some date from shortly after World War II, but the most prominent were constructed during the economic boom of the early 1970s. They include the Parliament, the president’s palace (built by the Chinese), the headquarters of the national broadcasting corporation (Radio-Télévision Nationale Congolaise), the International Trade Center, the headquarters of the mineral marketing agency, and an unfinished tower dedicated to nationalist leader Patrice Lumumba. Spacious villas surrounded by ornamental shrubs and flower gardens, and often also by high walls and iron bars, stand on tree-lined, paved boulevards that mark the elite residential districts.
Dwellings in the less affluent communities often consist of tin-roofed concrete-block houses and multiunit dwellings on unpaved streets, often inaccessible to vehicles. These in turn give way to hastily assembled shelters and rough pathways in the extensive squatting zones of the city, where many of the most recent immigrants reside.PeopleThe population of Kinshasa grew slowly at first (from 5,000 people in 1889 to 23,000 in 1923) but increased rapidly after 1940; after 1950 it doubled about every five years and by the beginning of the 21st century was approaching 5,000,000, a great many of whom lived in the squatting zones. Much of the population growth has been the result of Congolese migration and government expansion, but widening of the city’s boundaries has caused some of the increase. Kinshasa has a young population. More than half the people are under 22 years of age, and only a tiny proportion of the population is over 50.Migration of peoples from the rural areas intensified greatly after independence as colonial restrictions were relaxed. Political troubles and the economic decline of rural areas and their lack of amenities and opportunities, as well as the attractions of the city, have contributed to this rural exodus. In its early years the city received immigrants from western Africa and the various neighbouring countries of Central Africa; since independence, however, most new inhabitants have come from within Congo, especially the nearby regions of Bandundu to the west and Bas-Congo (Lower Congo) to the south and east.
The region of Bas-Congo supplies at least half of the food consumed in the capital. Other foodstuffs come from more distant regions of Congo or are imported. For those who can afford it, South Africa has been an important source of meat and fruits and vegetables, which are flown in. For the poor, however, Kinshasa is in some ways like an overgrown village, whose people forage at a considerable distance for firewood and keep gardens where they can find good soil. The demands of this vast urban population have caused extensive erosion in the surrounding countryside, as the soil is exhausted from overcultivation and trees cut for charcoal have not been replanted.TransportationKinshasa’s transportation system is inadequate in many respects.
Economic problems and a shortage of foreign exchange have caused severe deterioration, and there has been a continual need for spare parts and replacement vehicles. Kinshasa is well served by roads, but its dense and rapidly increasing population causes much congestion. The city is connected by a paved road to Matadi, Congo’s principal port, at the head of navigation on the Congo estuary, and by another to Kikwit, to the east. The railway line from Matadi, bypassing the rapids on the river below Kinshasa, brings in most of the country’s imports, some of which are then conveyed upriver.
The Congo is navigable to Kisangani, some 1,000 miles (1,600 km) upstream, and a vast network of navigable stretches on its tributaries, connected by railways, brings almost all inland traffic carrying exports destined for Matadi down the Congo and through the port of Kinshasa. Ndjili International Airport, to the southeast, is one of Africa’s largest airports.
A busy ferry connects Kinshasa to Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo, across Malebo Pool. Within Kinshasa, public transportation consists of grossly overcrowded buses, minibuses,