Of course there is a Kinshasa beyond the financial sector and having lived in the city myself, many parts of the city are known to me and more than once—to the amusement of my colleagues—I pressed my nose against the car window exclaiming “Wow, this is new!”, “This thing did not exist before” or “Hey, that thing is still there!”.
Of course one thing that impacted me immediately is the new road from the airport N’Djili to Gombe, Kinshasa’s business centre. The construction had started in 2008 by felling the trees alongside the old road. The tree trunks were lying along the road-side for a long time, almost like corpses and many times I wondered how the neighbourhood had looked like with these big trees spending shade to passers-by. Sadly, they had to disappear to leave space to modernity!
Massina neighbourhood, Kinshasa’s most populous banlieu is of course still as bustling as it was before, although the new road with several lanes and with the typical light-blue and yellow mini buses stopping everywhere, driving as crazily as ever, has not become more secure for people. The N’Djili road prepared me well for the Boulevard du 30 juin (on a Sunday morning without traffic on the picture to the left), the city’s main artery that cuts like a highway through the centre and with that Gombe in two halves. It has also been entirely redone with four lanes on each side. And with the new Boulevard come a few novelties: traffic signs, sheltered bus stops and Kinshasa’s first (functioning) traffic lights.
And of course, the Congolese don’t do with the same boring stuff that other countries do with: instead they instead installed “robot-traffic-lights”. Imitating the former police(wo)men coordinating traffic, these robocops use their arms to indicate how traffic should flow. And apart from a human-component, they also have a gender-component: I found this interesting story about the Congolese woman entrepreneur Therese Izay Kirongozo who invented and produces the robots. And for those wondering: Kinshasa’s most famous policemen on Lukusa street, next to Chantilly café (with a fancy new look as well, the café I mean) is still there and organizing traffic to and from Rond-Point Forescom.
But it’s not only roads that are being built – and of course mainly in the centre, but hardly reaching the suburbs where the majority of people live – it is also buildings. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the enormous residential buildings constructed on either side of Avenue du 24 Novembre driving towards Bandal. I heard that apartments, which must be constructed in the hundreds there, are too expensive for the young upcoming middle class. So who is supposed to live there? Most probably not expatriates who for some years drove up apartment rents in the central neighbourhoods. Now with the MONUSCO having left to Goma, it is said that demand and with it rent prices are slowing down.
A friend working for the UN made an interesting comment about Kinshasa: He said that these days as a foreigner in Kinshasa if you are at a social gathering and tell people that you work for the UN you are rather an exception and most (foreign) people would be working for some private sector enterprise. In early 2009 when I told people that I worked for a bank, that usually led to a raised eyebrow in expat circles—as much as I raised my eyebrows when I met this girl who told me she was a “welfare officer” at the UN—not working on the development of social welfare systems for DRC, but welfare for UN staff based in Kinshasa!! The message is entirely positive: the private sector is growing and there seems to be more foreign investment (note to myself: check numbers on inflows!). You obviously don't build an economy with aid workers!
Back to Bandal: Bandal Bloque, a small street in Bandal neighbourhood with food stalls and plastic chairs and tables on the road side has evolved as a second “Bon Marché”. Offer has expanded I feel: besides the usual poulet et chevre (chicken and goat) there was also beef and fish on offer. Phantastic evening out! Staying with food: “Let’s have an ice cream—where do we go?” is a question that could not be more normal in many parts of the world, but raised my attention in Kinshasa. It implies that there are several choice to go for an ice cream, a novelty, I had not known a few years ago. Entering the ice cream store (the one I knew!) I was once again puzzled, because it has about quadrupled the number of flavours on offer, being able to compete with any Italian gelateria in the world!