Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Life gets better for Kinshasa elites, but is a struggle for most

I have just returned from a quick trip to Kinshasa, my first in a long time.

Several things surprised me. First, the city has developed spectacularly in some respects over the past several years. Dozens of kilometers of new roads have unclogged traffic in some select areas of the city as Chinese contractors have repaired and broadened some of the main thoroughfares: Boulevard de 30 Juin, Avenue des Huileries, Boulevard Lumumba (under construction), Boulevard Triomphale and Avenue des Poids Lourds. The favorite word for the construction seems to have been "anarchique," as the roads often lacked drainage, resulting in flooding, and traffic signs - dozens of people have been killed in traffic accidents as a result.

But there is no doubt that there has been some modest - and relatively untransparent, given some opaque tenders - improvement to infrastructure in the city. The main Boulevard de 30 Juin is a different (and less leafy) street altogether. Add to this the Hôpital du Cinquatenaire, the largest Central Africa apparently (but which has also raised questions about expropriation of land, long delays, and management challenges), the Rakeen Towers, the quixotic Cité du Fleuve, and a possible new Sheraton, and some Kinois grudgingly admit that the government is developing the city.

But the progress has mostly benefited the narrow elite - the number of new highrises, restaurants, internet cafés and bars is astounding (as are the prices on the menus). For the average citydweller, life has gotten harder, mostly because the cost of living has gone up. A look at food prices gives a decent idea of these hardships: