Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kinshasa the heart of Africa

Kinshasa located along the south bank of the Congo River, directly opposite the city of Brazzaville, capital of the Congo, is the city of Kinshasa.

The city is a melting pot of Congolese cultures, famous for its local music and arts, and also has a very lively nightlife. ‘Kinois’ normally refer to their home as ‘Kin’ (short for Kinshasa) — a vibrant city of sharp contrasts and the capital of African music.

Kinshasa has affluent residential and commercial areas and three universities coexisting side by side with sprawling slums. Once a fishing village, Kinshasa is now an urban area with a population of more than eight million people. The city of Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo with about 1.5 million inhabitants, lies just across the Congo River from Kinshasa.

Congo is the only place in the world where two national capital cities are on opposite banks of a river, in sight of each other. Kinshasa is both a city (ville) and a province — one of the 11 provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Its status is thus similar to Paris, which is both a city and one of the 100 departments of France.

Kinshasa ties with Johannesburg for the status of the second largest city in sub-Saharan Africa and the third largest in the whole continent after Lagos and Cairo. Kinshasa is considered the city with the second most French speakers in the world after Paris though, in Kinshasa, Lingala is more widely spoken than French. If current demographic trends continue, Kinshasa will surpass Paris as far as its French-speaking population before 2020.

Kinshasa is also a major river port and can be reached by boat from many parts of the country, as well as a few neighbouring countries. The Congo River is the second longest river in Africa after the Nile, and is the largest in terms of discharge.

The entire country with its dense rain forests, wildlife and rivers offers an important investment opportunity for the development of eco-tourism. Travelling to Kinshasa is easiest by air and it has two airports, of which the N'Djili International Airport receives most of the international flights into Kinshasa. Flights are available from Paris, Brussels, Madrid, and several African cities, as well as from many cities in the Democratic Republic of Congo itself.

The river provides a means of transport for much of the Congo basin, being navigable for large river barges between Kinshasa and Kisangani with many of its tributaries being navigable too. The river is also an important source of hydroelectric power and downstream of Kinshasa it has the potential to generate power equivalent to the usage of the whole continent. There are regular ferries to Kinshasa from across the river in Brazzaville.

Kinshasa is a huge city that includes the ‘ville’ and the ‘cite’. It has one main impressive street dominating the centre, the Boulevard du 30 Juin — the Champs-Élysées of Africa. The Boulevard du 30 Juin (Boulevard of June 30th) is a major five-kilometre road in Kinshasa and is the city’s main transport artery connecting the southern Bay of Ngaliema to the west. The road was renamed from Boulevard Albert to Boulevard du 30 Juin following the Congo’s independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960.

Any traveller visiting this beautiful location will be wondering how to get into town. Transport via city buses has been bolstered of late and routes have improved. However, this system pales in comparison to the taxi system that has risen organically to serve the needs of the local people of Kinshasa. These taxis run set routes between embarkation points and the cost between these various points is usually around 250 Francs.

There are a number of options as far as accommodation is concerned in Kinshasa.

Hotel Memling is probably the best and second most expensive hotel in town. This hotel is equipped with 180 deluxe rooms and executive suites with individual controlled air-conditioning, electronic key system, telephone, satellite television, mini bar, electronic safe and 24-hour room service.

At the fashionable Bar L’Entr’act, refreshing cocktails and an exclusive range of spirits are served. The Mangoustan Coffee Shop offers French-style brasserie cuisine and atmosphere. The hotel provides a business centre with full range office support including internet access, email, ticketing and car rental. Other facilties include a swimming pool, fitness centre, laundry service, free parking, hairdresser, gift shop, flower shop, boutiques, pharmacy and airport shuttle.

For the purpose of conferencing, it has five fully equipped meeting rooms that can host up to 280 people. At the Papageno Restaurant each meal becomes a celebration with fresh market products, local and international wines. The cuisine harmoniously combines creativity, the mood of the season and local recipes.

The Grand Hotel Kinshasa is located in a residential area overlooking the Congo River, a few minutes from a shopping centre and close to government buildings and embassies.

The rooms are stylishly decorated and comfortable to make guests feel completely at ease. Excellent parking facilities are also available. Guests can enjoy quality time at the coffee shop and snack bar of the hotel restaurant.

The Grand Hotel Kinshasa is the only five-star hotel in the country and offers a wide range of facilities. Approximately 45 minutes from the airport, the hotel boasts 422 fully equipped and furnished rooms with air-conditioning, television, telephone and en suite bathroom.

Le Voyageur is also a top establishment located next to Elais. Here one will need to book well in advance to ensure availability.