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Kinshasa. Tales of the tangible city

Johan Lagae

Résumés

En réponse à la thèse avancée par Filip de Boeck en 2004 selon laquelle l'urbanité du Kinshasa existe « au-delà de l'architecture de la ville », cet article affirme que pour saisir la condition urbaine actuelle il est judicieux de prendre en compte l'environnement bâti ainsi que la forme urbaine, et plus particulièrement les constructions de l'époque coloniale qui, de nos jours encore, définissent dans une large mesure la capitale actuelle de la République démocratique du Congo. En questionnant les approches conventionnelles du patrimoine (colonial) bâti, l'auteur soutient la thèse que toute réflexion sur cet héritage particulier a beaucoup à gagner d'une forme d'historiographie critique mettant l'accent sur le contexte singulier et les acteurs y ayant contribué, tout en s'engageant dans un travail de mémoire susceptible de dévoiler la façon dont l'infrastructure urbaine a été inscrite dans le temps par de nouvelles significations. En prenant l'exemple de Kinshasa et en démêlant le tissu urbain en tant que palimpseste, cet article ne vise pas à fournir des connaissances historiques sur ce qui devrait être ou ne pas être conservé. Il s'applique plutôt à démontrer que le vrai défi pour les historiens de l'architecture travaillant dans ce domaine se situe dans le développement de récits riches et complexes sur lesquelles les parties intéressées peuvent s'appuyer pour exprimer de façon plus nuancée leur position à l'égard de ce patrimoine bâti colonial.

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  • 1 Filip De Boeck and Marie-Françoise Plissart, Kinshasa. Tales of the Invisible City, [Ghent]: Ludion (...)
  • 2 Wim Cuyvers (ed.), Brakin: Brazzaville-Kinshasa. Visualizing the Visible, Baden: Lars Müller Publis (...)

1In 2004, anthropologist Filip De Boeck and photographer Marie-Françoise Plissart published a book entitled Kinshasa. Tales of the Invisible City. The book and the exhibition, that was derived from it, received immediate international acclaim being awarded among others the Golden Lion at the Venice Architectural Biennale that year.1 This is remarkable, considering that the main argument of the book states that the urban physical fabric is not a useful point of entry if one is to understand the current urban condition of the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Indeed, as the urban infrastructure of Kinshasa is characterized “by constant breakdown, by failure and by absence,” its urbanity exists “beyond the city’s architecture”. What is needed then, according to De Boeck, is to investigate the “second, invisible city” that exists in the form of “a mirroring reality lurking underneath the surface of the visible world”. While De Boeck’s perspective does have the merit of deepening our understanding of one of Africa’s main megalopolises as it highlights how Kinshasa’s urbanity is also constructed via its inhabitants’ imagination, contemporary urban life in Kinshasa is still very much played out through, and even dictated by, the physical environment and urban form. Even if its dilapidated state does seem to defy classic paradigms that architects, planners and urban historians commonly use to speak about cities, studying Kinshasa’s urban infrastructure does help to gain a more nuanced understanding of how this city functions, as has already been demonstrated by the Flemish architect Wim Cuyvers in a book-project provocatively entitled, in a direct response to De Boeck’s work, Brakin. Brazzaville–Kinshasa. Visualizing the Visible.2

  • 3 Carl De Keyzer, Congo (belge), Tielt: Lannoo, 2010.

2In his voluminous 2010 book and exhibition project Congo (belge), Magnum photographer Carl De Keyzer offers another perspective on the built fabric of Congo’s urban and rural landscapes, highlighting the endurance of the colonial legacy.3 Indeed, while there has been substantial building activity in Congo since independence, it cannot be denied that a large part of the urban landscapes of Congolese cities like Kinshasa are still very much defined by buildings and structures erected during the colonial era. Hence, the everyday life of the city’s inhabitants, commonly called Kinois, is still strongly influenced, if not by the architectural appearance of former colonial buildings as such, then surely by their spatial distribution and the city’s urban layout, which was introduced by colonial architects and planners.

  • 4 Anne Van Loo, “Page Coloniale,” in Maurice Culot and Caroline Mierops (eds.), Paysages d'architectu (...)
  • 5 The idea of the project, aiming at documenting 150 sites of architectural interest in the Congo’s c (...)
  • 6 Bernard Toulier, Johan Lagae and Marc Gemoets (eds.), Kinshasa. Architecture et paysage urbains, Pa (...)
  • 7 Johan Lagae and Bernard Toulier (eds.), Kinshasa, Brussels: CIVA, 2013 (Villes et Architectures).

3Since the mid-1990s, the architecture and urbanism produced under Belgian colonial rule have attracted the attention of architectural historians, among whom the author of this paper.4 But it is only more recently that it has also been approached from the perspective of colonial built heritage. An important step in this process was the project Kinshasa. Patrimoine urbain, that was initiated in 2009 by Bernard Toulier, a conservateur en chef of the département du Patrimoine of the French Ministry of Culture and a specialist on 20th century architectural heritage.5 As I had been researching Congo’s colonial architecture and urbanism for several years, I was invited to participate in the project and became responsible for the historical research underlying this first inventory of Kinshasa’s sites of architectural interest, which in 2010 led to the publication of the book Kinshasa. Architecture et paysage urbains, presented as a gift by the French ambassador to the Congolese authorities on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Congo’s independence.6 In 2013, as a follow up to this project, I co-edited, together with Bernard Toulier, an architectural guide to the city of Kinshasa, which complemented the first publication.7

  • 8 I am borrowing the term from Anthony D. King’s essay “Writing Transnational Planning Histories,” in(...)
  • 9 The show was commissioned by CIVA, Brussels, and presented the interweaving of a historical survey (...)

4In this paper, I want to present an auto-critical reflection regarding the “positionality”8 of the architectural historian involved in projects concerning colonial built heritage. I was confronted very explicitly by the tensions surrounding the notion of “built heritage” in the postcolonial Congolese context and was forced to re-assess conventional approaches of documenting and presenting the built legacy of the colonial era (fig. 1, 2) by the Kinshasa. Patrimoine urbain project, as well as an earlier exhibition I co-curated, entitled Congo. Paysages urbains. Regards croisés, which was on show in Kinshasa in 2010 after having been first presented in Brussels in 2007.9

Figure 1: Cover of Bernard Toulier, Johan Lagae and Marc Gemoets (eds.), Kinshasa. Architecture et paysage urbains, Paris: Somogy Éditions d’Art, 2010.

Figure 1: Cover of Bernard Toulier, Johan Lagae and Marc Gemoets (eds.), Kinshasa. Architecture et paysage urbains, Paris: Somogy Éditions d’Art, 2010.

Figure 2: Poster of the Brussels’ edition of the exhibition Congo. Paysages urbains. Regards croisés, 2007.

Figure 2: Poster of the Brussels’ edition of the exhibition Congo. Paysages urbains. Regards croisés, 2007.
  • 10 Wim Cuyvers has argued explicitly against the use of a historical perspective when investigating th (...)

5I will argue in this paper that much is to be gained by combining a focus on both the tangible and intangible aspects related to the built infrastructure when reflecting on colonial built heritage. Informed by, but also taking a critical stance vis-à-vis both the work of De Boeck and Cuyvers, I will furthermore make a plea for an approach that takes an explicit historical perspective. I will do so by reading and analyzing the current urban landscape of Kinshasa as a territorial palimpsest that testifies to an ongoing process of layering of uses and meanings over time.10 As such, our tales of the tangible city of Kinshasa will highlight both continuities and ruptures from colonial to postcolonial times, demonstrating that the urban fabric of the city forms a powerful mediator between colonial history and postcolonial memory.

“Shared heritage” in a postcolonial context

  • 11 The committee is based in the Heritage House of ICOMOS Netherlands, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I h (...)
  • 12 Bernard Toulier, “Introduction,in Bernard Toulier and Marc Pabois (eds.), Architecture coloniale (...)
  • 13 Mercedes Volait, “‘Patrimoines partagés’: un regard décentré et élargi sur l’architecture et la vil (...)
  • 14 See Pauline van Roosmalen, “Le positionnement de l’héritage colonial bâti, in Bernard Toulier and (...)

6One of the key notions that has emerged in recent institutional debates on the topic of colonial built legacy is “shared heritage”. The scientific committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) dealing with colonial built legacy, for instance, operates under the label “Shared Built Heritage”. While the official mission statement of the committee does not explicitly explain the term, discussions among several of its members indicate that it was chosen to underline that every initiative regarding this built legacy should be rooted in a dialogue in which former “colonizers” and “colonized” can engage on a basis of equality.11 Referring to the notion of “patrimoine partagé”, the aforementioned Bernard Toulier took a more outspoken position on the subject during a round table he co-organized on the theme of colonial architecture and heritage in Paris in 2003. Colonial built legacy, Toulier stated in the introduction to the event, no longer belongs to those who built it, but rather to those who inhabit it. In his opinion, the latter should be left the choice and the responsibility of deciding what should be transmitted to future generations. Arguing that the creation of a colonial heritage implies “revendiquer une filiation, se fabriquer sa propre paternité à laquelle les anciens colons et les colonisés s’identifient,” Toulier furthermore hints at the paradox that is inherent in such a process, as it forces former “colonized” to appropriate a “foreign” culture.12 His remarks offer a first complication to an all too easy usage of the notion “shared heritage”. At the same event, Mercedes Volait added another critical note by recalling that any involvement of colonial heritage inevitably “heurte de plein fouet une question sensible en Europe même, et singulièrement en France : celle du statut accordé à l’histoire coloniale – une histoire qu’on préfère au fond occultée plutôt que dévoilée.”13 It is very telling in this respect that the initial label of the ICOMOS scientific committee was “Colonial Built Heritage,” the word “colonial” having been dropped over the course of time.14 Indeed, the label “colonial” draws attention to a past that many former European powers are still struggling to come to terms with.

  • 15 Adam Hochschild, King Leopold II’s Ghost. A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa, (...)
  • 16 On the history of the equestrian statue of Leopold II as a symbol of Belgian colonial power, see Jo (...)

7Ever since the publication of Adam Hochschild’s bestselling 1998 book King Leopold II’s Ghost and Ludo Martens’ critical inquiry into the role of the Belgian government in the murder of Congo’s first prime minister Patrice Lumumba, the tension between “shared heritage” and “dissonant history” has become extremely explicit with regard to Belgian colonialism.15 A curious event that occurred in Kinshasa on February 2nd, 2005 is very telling in that respect. On that day, the equestrian statue of King Leopold II that had initially been installed in the city center of the then capital city of the Belgian Congo in 1928 and had been removed in the late 1960s in the context of president Mobutu’s policy of a “Recours à l’authenticité,” was re-installed in the public realm of Kinshasa (fig. 3).16

Figure 3: The equestrian statue of King Leopold II in the city center of Kinshasa, “une reproduction fidèle de celle de Bruxelles,” erected in 1928.

Figure 3: The equestrian statue of King Leopold II in the city center of Kinshasa, “une reproduction fidèle de celle de Bruxelles,” erected in 1928.

Source: Coll. Johan Lagae.

  • 17 Christophe Muzungu as quoted in A.P., Rise and Fall of a Brutal King”, The Times, 4 February 2005; (...)
  • 18 Important in this respect is the seminal survey by Isidore Ndaywel è Nziem, Histoire générale du Co (...)
  • 19 Le Soir headed “Congo: la mémoire retrouvée” in an article by Colette Braeckman, a leading journali (...)

8The then Minister of Culture of the RDC, Christophe Muzungu, presented the 2005 re-instalment of the statue as part of a broader effort of reminding the Congolese of their history, because, in his words “a people without history is a people without soul.”17 One could read this initiative as just another form of re-inscribing the colonial past in Congo’s national history, in line with what Congolese historians such as Isidore Ndaywel è Nziem or Jacob Sabakinu Kivilu had already been arguing for several decades.18 Yet the initiative should also be understood as a direct response to the fact that the following day, a major exhibition on Congo’s colonial past entitled The Memory of Congo. The colonial Era, opened in the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren, the “lieu de mémoire” par excellence of Belgium’s colonial past. The Congolese initiative and the opening of the Memory of Congo exhibition received international press coverage, reaching the front page of several leading newspapers in Belgium, with one leading journalist presenting them as indicators of a shared moment of “mémoire retrouvée” in the former colony and mother country.19 Ironically, the equestrian statue was removed after less than 24 hours. In the official press announcement, the removal was carried out because the monument “needed cleaning,” yet in reality its re-installment had created quite a controversy in the city, which, as some local contacts informed us, was staged by opponents to the Kabila regime. The sculpture was transferred to the site of the Institut des Musées Nationaux where, as is discussed later in this paper, it still is to be found today.

Colonial history, postcolonial memory and built heritage

  • 20 Erica Avrami, Randall Mason and Marta de la Torre (eds.), Values and Heritage Conservation. Researc (...)
  • 21 Galila El Kadi, Anne Ouallet and Dominique Couret (eds.), “Inventer le patrimoine dans les villes d (...)
  • 22 I have discussed this issue elsewhere, drawing on the situation in the Congolese city of Lubumbashi (...)
  • 23 Christine Deslaurier and Aurélie RogerMémoires grises. Pratiques politiques du passé colonial en (...)

9This event reminds us of the fact that “artifacts are not static embodiments of culture but are, rather, a medium through which identity, power and society are produced and reproduced.”20 Cultural heritage is indeed always a “social construct” to which multiple values are ascribed in dynamic processes of (re-)appropriation, negotiation and even “(re-)invention.”21 Coming to terms with the built heritage of postcolonial Kinshasa, I want to argue here, necessitates the acknowledgement of such processes in order to re-assess all too simplistic understandings of how “heritage” operates. In particular, it requires going beyond the dichotomy of “colonizer”/“colonized” underlying the notion of “shared heritage,” because such categories are too essentializing to grasp how colonial heritage has been appropriated and negotiated.22 Moreover, as Christine Deslaurier and Aurélie Roger have rightly stressed, dealing with the colonial past implies addressing the complexity of “grey memories”.23

  • 24 Zeynep Çelik, “Colonial/postcolonial Intersections. Lieux de mémoire in Algiers,” in Rasheed Araeen(...)
  • 25 Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch made a plea for integrating “memory work” in discussions on colonial b (...)
  • 26 Lushois is the common name in local parlance to designate inhabitants of the city of Lubumbashi.
  • 27 For the memory work on Lubumbashi, see a.o. Johannes Fabian, Remembering the Present. Painting and (...)

10In this respect, analysis of the built colonial legacy allows for a meaningful contribution to any reflection on colonial heritage, as memory and space are intrinsically bound up with each other. Pierre Nora’s notion of “lieu de mémoire” offers a useful starting point for reflection here, in particular because such “lieux” have the capacity to take up new meanings over—a capacity that for Nora was one of the main elements that made the concept an exciting one. “Lieux de mémoire” thus become particularly helpful in charting ruptures and continuities from colonial to postcolonial contexts, as the work on Algiers by Zeynep Çelik has so convincingly illustrated.24 Architectural historians have also a lot to learn from scholars in African studies that have long engaged in various forms of “memory work”.25 This specific field of research has been particularly well developed in the context of the Congolese city of Lubumbashi by scholars such as Johannes Fabian, Bogumil Jewsiwiecki and members of the “Mémoires de Lubumbashi”-group, such as Donatien Dibwe Mia Mwembu, who have studied the (post)colonial urban memory of the Lushois26 by analysing the production of popular painting, theatre, music or even fashion.27

  • 28 Johan Lagae (ed.), “Ambivalent Positions on Modern Heritage. A Dialogue between Réjean Legault and (...)

11My encounter with this kind of “memory work” during my first field trip to Lubumbashi in the summer of 2000 was eye-opening, and has strongly influenced my thinking on colonial architecture ever since. It is in spatializing such “memory work” and in combining it with critical architectural history that focuses on the modes of production of colonial architecture, that lies, in my opinion, a fruitful path for rethinking colonial built heritage. Architectural and urban historians should thus in my opinion contribute to the discussion on colonial built heritage not so much by defining what should be preserved or not, but rather by producing knowledge that allows for a more nuanced understanding of, first, the historical complexities underlying its production and, second, its inscription over time with several, sometimes divergent, meanings by a variety of stakeholders. In line with an argument advanced by architectural historian Réjean Legault in a discussion on heritage practices concerning modern architecture,28 I would like to plea here that rather than producing a discourse of action, the architectural historian should first and foremost develop a form of critical writing that advances the discipline of architectural historiography and the way it has engaged with the topic of colonial architecture, without it necessarily being adequate, let alone adapted to be easily instrumentalized in campaigns mounted to save a particular building or site. Unpacking the intricacies of architecture, colonial history and postcolonial memory indeed requires the elaboration of narratives that are often too complex or even too messy and “grey” for heritage policies to be drawn easily from them.

Kinshasa’s urban territory as a palimpsest

12A crucial aspect of the critical history writing I referred to above is that it develops a perspective that crosses different scales. This has direct implications of how such a practice can be linked to reflections on colonial built heritage. Conventional approaches of monuments and sites, or what the French call “patrimoine”, indeed still very much tend to focus on the individual artifact, i.e. the building as an isolated object, in order to define its heritage value on the basis of criteria of style, form or constructional innovation. When working on colonial contexts—but the argument could easily be extended to others—much is to be gained from analyzing buildings in their larger urban context as well as from investigating the interior distribution of rooms within a building. Both scales indeed can help us to understand the intrinsic relationships that exist between architecture and politics in the colonial/postcolonial realm.

  • 29 Odile Georg, “De la ségrégation coloniale à la tentation sécessioniste : ‘l’urbanisme sécuritaire’, (...)

13On the one hand, focusing on the internal organization of colonial houses, but even of public buildings, allows us to map the norms and forms governing everyday practices of colonial life and the particular encounter between the white colonizer and the African colonized subject, be it a domestic servant, an office clerk or a laborer. On the other hand, it is precisely on the urban scale that the common colonial policy of spatial segregation along racial lines becomes extremely tangible. Like elsewhere in sub Saharan Africa, the colonial city in the Belgian Congo was divided into a “ville européenne” and one or more “cités indigènes” (or “native towns”), neatly separated from each other by a no man’s land described in maps as “neutral zone” or “cordon sanitaire,” a label echoing the hygienist discourse used to legitimize such binary lay-out. Particularly present in 1930s planning policy, racial segregation continued to govern the construction of the postwar extensions around the major urban centers in Congo. The effects of this spatial strategy are even to be felt in present-day Kinshasa, in the emergence of what urban historian Odile Georg has coined an “urbanisme sécuritaire” of which gated communities form an explicit example.29

  • 30 André Corboz, Le Territoire comme palimpseste et autres essais, Besançon: Les Éditions de l’imprime (...)

14To bring to the fore such mechanisms and processes over time, we can read, following André Corboz,30 the urban territory of Kinshasa as a palimpsest that allows us to see both what is being superimposed on top of prior structures, and what remains present as traces of earlier periods. One task of the architectural/urban historian involved in projects concerning colonial built heritage thus can consist of trying to unpack the palimpsest in its constituent layers, explaining the discourses and logics of implementation underlying each of them while acknowledging the discrepancies that always exist between ideas, models, theories or projects and their realization on the ground.

  • 31 Kerstin Pinther, Larissa Fösster and Christian Hanussek (eds.), Afropolis. Stadt, Medien, Kunst, Ex (...)

15In the Kinshasa. Patrimoine urbain project, a lot of attention was already given to the urban dimension, in the text as well as in the extensive cartography that was produced specifically for the final publication. The idea of reading Kinshasa as a palimpsest was elaborated more explicitly in a subsequent project, developed in 2010 at the request of the organizers of the Afropolis. Stadt, Medien, Kunst exhibition to be shown in the renovated Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum – Kulturen der Welt museum in Cologne (fig. 4).31

Figure 4: “Mapping Kinshasa”.

Figure 4: “Mapping Kinshasa”.

A project produced by the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning for the Afropolis-exhibition, Cologne, 2010.

16Based on 15 years of research on the city’s spatial development and its architectural landscape, the project, which was conducted with two colleagues and a number of students of the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning of Ghent University, was built up around six spatial entities that, in our opinion, have structured the urban landscape of the city over time. The first consists of the monumental axes that structure the former “ville européenne” (the current neighborhood of Ngombe) and can be understood as the sites of political and economic power of colonial/postcolonial Kinshasa. The second focuses on the crucial structuring role of the railroad that linked the various economic nodes within the city to a regional transportation network that connected Congo to the outside world. The third, entitled “zone neuter,” brings to the fore the discourses and sites linked to the colonial urban planning policy of spatial segregation along racial lines. The fourth presents the Avenue Kasa Vubu that forms a major backbone of the urban territory as it runs from the “ville européenne” right down south and then curving to the west, cutting through a series of “natives’ towns”. The “new towns” for Africans that initially were constructed as autonomous satellite cities in the 1950s but have become encapsulated by the expanding urban tissue in recent decades, constitute the fifth structuring element. The sixth and final element is formed by the particular site of the Rond Point Victoire, a major crossroads that remains a mythical site of the city’s legendary nightlife but, more importantly also embodies Kinshasa’s nature of “ville flux” both in local and global terms.

17Taken together, these six elements are a means to unravel the spatial logics underlying Kinshasa’s urban tissue that at first sight presents itself as a complex patchwork not governed by any underlying spatial rationale (fig. 5).

Figure 5: The urban fabric of Kinshasa as a patchwork, as seen in a 1957 aerial photograph of the city.

Figure 5: The urban fabric of Kinshasa as a patchwork, as seen in a 1957 aerial photograph of the city.

The fragment shows post 1945 native towns, a labor camp and sport facilities.

Source: Coll. Johan Lagae.

  • 32 Johan Lagae and Bernard Toulier (eds.), Kinshasa, op. cit. (note 7).
  • 33 The elements differ somewhat from those of the Afropolis-project. In the guide, the structuring ele (...)

18Precisely by linking specific buildings and urban sites to these structuring elements, a narrative can be constructed that highlights the politics of architecture and urban design in colonial and postcolonial Kinshasa, without, however, necessarily reducing architecture to politics. This is precisely why we opted to organize the 2013 architectural guide to Kinshasa on the basis of a similar principle of structuring elements.32 Each of the chapters opens with a text discussing the urban rationale of the structuring element followed by a presentation of a series of buildings that all, in one way or another, are linked to this element.33 While sticking to the format of the architectural guide, our presentation of buildings thus aimed to construct first and foremost broader tales of a city governed by specific spatial ideas, discourses and practices in both the colonial and postcolonial era. In what follows, we will illustrate how such tales can be informative to re-assess colonial built heritage in a city like Kinshasa, by discussing in some detail three particular sites: a street, a building complex and a neighborhood.

Shaping Kinshasa’s skyline: the boulevard du 30-Juin

  • 34 Johan Lagae, Léopoldville-Bruxelles, villes miroirs ?, op. cit. (note 16).

19The vast and polycentric city of present-day Kinshasa, formerly known as Léopoldville, actually developed during the late 19th century out of two separate colonial posts, Léo-Ouest and Léo-Est. Coinciding with two pre-colonial villages (Kintambo and Kinshasa), these new settlements were interconnected by a railway, reaching the various trading posts installed along the edge of the Congo river and linking them via a quickly established railway connection all the way to the harbor city of Matadi, from where ships could navigate all the way to the métropole. Until the early 1920s, Kinshasa was not a city but rather an indispensable node in a colonial infrastructural network geared towards economic exploitation. This was to change when in 1923 the colonial government decided to move the colonial administration from Boma, a settlement closer to the Atlantic Ocean, to Kinshasa. Ambitious urban and architectural projects were soon to be developed to give an adequate shape to the new capital city of the Belgian Congo, yet their realization would prove troublesome. In fact, it was not until the immediate postwar years that some urban projects were proposed explicitly reflecting these ambitions of the colonial establishment. Of these, the master plan of architect Georges Ricquier for “le Grand Léo,” drawn in 1948-1949, is the most telling example.34

20What is remarkable in hindsight, however, is that these large scale symbolic urban projects were actually quite unsuccessful. Ricquier’s proposal to build a monumental axis lined with large scale public buildings representing colonial power, which was designed to surpass the Champs Elysées in Paris in grandeur, remained a largely unfinished project on the eve of independence. The importance of Kinshasa as a colonial capital city was thus not represented so much by this intended axis of political power, but rather by the Avenue Albert I, today the boulevard du 30-Juin, a major circulation axis of the “ville européenne” established in the mid-1930s on the tracks of a former railway connection between Léo-Est and Léo-Ouest (fig. 6).

Figure 6: Map of Kinshasa showing the two monumental axes of the former “ville européenne” of Kinshasa. The boulevard du 30-Juin runs parallel to the river’s edge.

Figure 6: Map of Kinshasa showing the two monumental axes of the former “ville européenne” of Kinshasa. The boulevard du 30-Juin runs parallel to the river’s edge.

Source: Map produced by Arter, Brussels, for Lagae Johan and Toulier Bernard (eds.), Kinshasa, 2013.

21Everyone driving along the long stretch of this boulevard today cannot but be impressed by its sheer size—a motorway in the middle of the city—and its skyline defined by large scale apartment buildings and office blocks (fig. 7).

Figure 7: View of the boulevard du 30-Juin before renovation in 2010.

Figure 7: View of the boulevard du 30-Juin before renovation in 2010.

View of the boulevard du 30-Juin before renovation in 2010 by Chinese contractors in the context of the 50th anniversary of Congo’s independence. On the left is the Sozacom tower dating from the 1970s, on the right are, first, the Banque Commerciale du Congo of the late 1960s and, second, a 1950s apartment building.

  • 35 For information on the different architects discussed here, see various contributions by Johan Laga (...)

22From an architectural history point of view, this is an interesting site as it provides a sample of the different architectures that were introduced in Kinshasa during the 20th century. They range from partly prefabricated colonial bungalows and so-called “regionalist” villas of later periods to unique sites like the missionary complex of Saint-Anne, with its neo-gothic cathedral, or the modest central railway station, designed in the late 1930s in an elegant modernist style. The skyline of the boulevard, however, is constituted primarily by buildings of the 1950s, designed in a “tropical modernist” style, an architectural idiom introduced in the colony by architects such as Claude Laurens, whose 60 meter high Sabena residential towers remain one of the landmarks along the boulevard du 30-Juin.35 As such, the boulevard du 30-Juin testifies to the importance of economic power and private initiative during the 1950s building boom that shaped Kinshasa’s skyline.

23Along this important axis, we can also find several “corporate modernist” buildings of the late 1960s and early 1970s, such as the Banque commerciale du Congo or the seat of the Institut national de la sécurité sociale, with their particular use of prefabricated façade elements that create appealing effects of light and shadow under Kinshasa’s tropical sun. One of the most remarkable buildings of this era, however, is the Sozacom Tower designed by Claude Strebelle and André Jacqmain and built between 1969 and 1977. Its choice of materials and sculptural form demonstrate the architects’ emphatic ambition to design a “genuine African skyscraper” in response to the encroachment of the more generic office towers erected along the boulevard du 30-Juin under Mobutu’s rule.

  • 36 Udo Kultermann, Neues Bauen in Afrika, Tübingen: Wasmuth, 1963, p. 23.

24The boulevard du 30-Juin has defined to a large extent the image of Kinshasa. Architectural historian Udo Kultermann, for instance, pointed out in his 1963 book Neues Bauen in Afrika that it was the buildings of Claude Laurens, most of which are situated along this axis, that shaped the capital city of Congo.36 This is perhaps not a coincidence, as this urban axis was one of the most mediated urban sites during the colonial era. Indeed, colonial propaganda of the 1950s presents the boulevard du 30-Juin as the icon of a modernized Kinshasa that represented “le nouveau Congo” of the postwar era (fig. 8).

Figure 8: Cover of the Revue Congolaise Illustrée, vol. 9, 1956, showing the Sabena residential towers designed by architect Claude Laurens in the early 1950s.

Figure 8: Cover of the Revue Congolaise Illustrée, vol. 9, 1956, showing the Sabena residential towers designed by architect Claude Laurens in the early 1950s.

Source: Coll. Johan Lagae.

  • 37 500 visages du Zaire, Kinshasa, Bureau du Président de la République du Zaire, 1975, 213.
  • 38 Johan Lagae, “Léopoldville-Bruxelles, villes miroirs ?,” op. cit. (note 16).

25Similarly, the visual propaganda of the Mobutu regime also explicitly played out in the architecture of this boulevard. In one of the regime’s most seminal publications, the 1975 book entitled 500 visages du Zaïre, the boulevard is defined as “the Wall Street of Kinshasa”.37 The latter description is significant, as it unveils the economic logic that in fact has underscored the shaping of this particular urban environment since the colonial era, as this urban axis formed the backbone of what was from the 1910s the commercial heart of the city. Moreover, one cannot understand the emergence of the 1950s modernist skyline of the boulevard du 30-Juin without taking into account that this was the prime site of interest of Belgian real estate agents and building contractors in search of new markets for their activities.38 Economic, rather than political power has thus always been at work here, although the distinction between the two has often been ambiguous, especially during the Mobutu regime.

26In this respect, there is a remarkable continuity in the ambition to shape Kinshasa’s skyline along this axis, which blurs the idea that a strict rupture existed between the colonial and postcolonial era. The colonial structures along the boulevard du 30-Juin do not seem to be burdened by the “dissonant history” of Belgian colonial rule, as they are not viewed as being directly linked with an oppressive power as other more public buildings, such as the Palace of Justice or the building housing the colonial administration, might be. Instead, to a large extent these modernist edifices have helped shape the memory of Kin-la-Belle (Kin the beautiful), a romanticized if not nostalgic view of Kinshasa’s past when it was still considered one of Africa’s “urban jewels,” an image standing in direct opposition to the discourse on the contemporary condition of Congo’s capital city, tellingly summarized in the popular expression Kin-la-poubelle (Kin the dustbin).

27I want to claim here that pointing out the economic logic of the skyline from a historical perspective is useful for reassessing the built legacy along this particular axis, especially since present-day Kinshasa is still witnessing the crucial impact of economically driven urban operations precisely on these sites. Foreign investors such as the Rakeen group, for instance, are currently building impressive new projects with a mixed program (housing, hotels, commerce) along the boulevard du 30-Juin that aim to constitute the new landmarks of 21st century Congo (fig. 9).

Figure 9: Publicity billboards presenting prestigious building projects initiated by the Rakeen group along the boulevard du 30-Juin.

Figure 9: Publicity billboards presenting prestigious building projects initiated by the Rakeen group along the boulevard du 30-Juin.

Source: Johan Lagae, 2010.

  • 39 The most extreme real estate development in this respect is the so-called Cité du fleuve, a project (...)
  • 40 Dominique Malaquais, “Anti-Teleology: Re-Mapping the Imag(in)ed City,” in Ntone Edjabe and Edgar Pi (...)

28With their fancy formal appearance and up-to-date comfort, they are in fact completely disconnected from Kinshasa’s current urban reality and project another image for the city which takes its models from abroad.39 By continuing the “teleological narratives of progress” characteristic of the Modernist city, these real estate operations offer, as Dominique Malaquais has recently argued, no adequate way of thinking and constructing the African city of the future.40

The “longue durée” of colonial infrastructure: the Hôpital Mama Yemo

  • 41 Pieter G. Janssens, Maurice Kivits and Jacques Vuylsteke (eds.), Médecine et hygiène en Afrique cen (...)

29Along with education, medicine formed one of the spearheads of Belgian colonization.41 In the “pioneering” era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, medicine was primarily oriented towards the well-being of the white explorer/colonizer. From the 1920s onwards the colonial state, using missionary congregations, also developed an explicit policy of guaranteeing the health of the African population, combining philanthropic ideas with considerations on how to stabilize the labor force needed for the economic exploitation of the colony. In the decades to come, a fine-grained network of hospitals and dispensaries was installed, covering almost all of the Congolese territory by the mid-1930s. Within the context of the Ten Year plan for the Social and Economic Development of the Congo (1949), a second, large scale building campaign in the medical field was started in order to replace the often poorly constructed facilities of the preceding decades. It created, mainly in the urban centers, a number of imposing hospital complexes in modernist style that embodied the introduction of a colonial welfare state during the postwar years.

  • 42 Recent research has demonstrated that the hospital for Africans, the construction of which started (...)

30Kinshasa forms a particular case to investigate the specific importance of the colonial health infrastructure. Indeed, the city counts several impressive facilities, often situated on prime sites and testifying to an explicit ambition to create landmark buildings. Following the logic of colonial urban planning, the infrastructure of health built during the interwar years highlights the spatial segregation along racial lines. The hospital for Europeans, the Hôpital Reine Elisabeth sits on a site overlooking the Congo river and benefitting from a welcome breeze, while the main hospital for Africans, known today as the Hôpital Mama Yemo, the first parts of which were constructed in 1924, is located in the city center, in close proximity to the buffer zones that were introduced in the urban fabric to separate the European area from the native residential neighborhoods (fig. 10).42

Figure 10: Map of Kinshasa showing the boulevard du 30-Juin and the Avenue Kasa Vubu as structuring elements of the city center. Indicated in orange somewhat to the right of the center is the Hôpital Mama Yemo.

Figure 10: Map of Kinshasa showing the boulevard du 30-Juin and the Avenue Kasa Vubu as structuring elements of the city center. Indicated in orange somewhat to the right of the center is the Hôpital Mama Yemo.

Source: Map produced by Arter, Brussels, for Johan Lagae and Bernard Toulier (eds.), Kinshasa, 2013.

31Contemporary sources evoke the up-to-date character of the medical infrastructures of the time. Both hospitals are based on the model of l’hôpital pavillonnaire, a typology en vogue at the time in the métropole. But architects of the Public Works Department of the colonial administration designing these facilities also sought to adjust western building types to a tropical climate. The architecture of the Hôpital Mama Yemo, for instance, is characterized by covered outdoor verandahs and a specific roof shape that allows the interior spaces to be naturally ventilated (fig. 11).

Figure 11: Pavilions of the Hôpital Mama Yemo, constructed in the late 1920s and still in use.

Figure 11: Pavilions of the Hôpital Mama Yemo, constructed in the late 1920s and still in use.

Source: Marc Gemoets, project Kinshasa. Patrimoine urbain, 2009.

32As such, the complex forms a particularly interesting example of the more mundane buildings erected all over the colony during that era, in order to provide the infrastructure necessary for the success of colonial governmentality. In the mid-1930s, some edifices in an art deco style were also erected on the site of the Hôpital Mama Yemo, among which a medical laboratory and a school to train “assistants médicaux indigenes,” indicating the importance given by the colonial authorities to medical care for the colonized population (fig. 12).

Figure 12: Design for the façade of the school to train African medical staff, the so-called Assistants Médicaux Indigènes (AMI), built as part of the Hôpital Mama Yemo complex in the 1930s.

Figure 12: Design for the façade of the school to train African medical staff, the so-called Assistants Médicaux Indigènes (AMI), built as part of the Hôpital Mama Yemo complex in the 1930s.

Source: Archive of the Service of Publics Buildings, Kinshasa.

  • 43 Mama Yemo refers to the name of president Mobutu’s mother.

33As elsewhere, Kinshasa witnessed a second building boom in the area of medical infrastructure in the aftermath of the launching of the Ten Year Plan. An important, modernist extension was made to the Hôpital Reine Elisabeth. Also the Hôpital Mama Yemo saw the addition of some new buildings in the 1950s. But a major project to construct a completely new and up-to-date facility for which architect Georges Ricquier made a design, which never got beyond the stage of the drawing board. During the Mobutu regime, the colonial complex remained a prime site for health care, its name underlining its important status.43 Today, the Hôpital Mama Yemo still functions as a major site of health care in Congo’s capital city, notwithstanding the fact that its infrastructure is rather run down, due to a lack of maintenance. As with many other hospitals, the financial means for substantial renovation are lacking or come mainly from development aid programs.

  • 44 While Kinshasa has witnessed the construction of a number of new medical facilities in recent years (...)
  • 45 See in this respect a forthcoming issue of the journal Politique Africaine, entitled “The politics (...)

34Such hospitals, just as school buildings for that matter, testify to the endurance of the colonial built legacy. In today’s Congo, they still provide a crucial part of the infrastructure required to respond to the immense needs in terms of health care and education.44 The often dilapidated colonial edifices can easily be used to construct a discourse of “before/after independence” that serves what some have called the “politics of nostalgia”.45 Indeed, hospitals and schools were visuals markers par excellence of the benefits that were brought to the “Heart of Darkness” by colonization, and have been portrayed as such in colonial propaganda time and again (fig. 13).

Figure 13: Typical 1950s photograph presenting up-to-date medical facilities in a hospital in Kinshasa, with a caption reading “Le Congolais a le sens inné du diagnostic. Habile de ses mains, il a un don réel pour dispenser les soins les plus délicats.”

Figure 13: Typical 1950s photograph presenting up-to-date medical facilities in a hospital in Kinshasa, with a caption reading “Le Congolais a le sens inné du diagnostic. Habile de ses mains, il a un don réel pour dispenser les soins les plus délicats.”

Source: Whyms, Léopoldville. Son Histoire 1881-1956, Brussels: Office de Publicité, 1956, p. 132.

  • 46 This became particularly evident in the comments on and reviews of Carl De Keyzer’s photo book and (...)

35Juxtaposing 1950s photographs of fully equipped ward rooms with contemporary shots of rundown medical infrastructure lacking even the most elementary facilities has proven to be a particularly efficient strategy to present Congo, and Africa in general, as a region in perpetual crisis ever since the (Belgian) colonial project has ended.46

  • 47 On the controversy this initiative raised, see Bart Van Peel, “Liever choqueren dan censureren,” De (...)

36The photo-exhibition entitled Moeders in Congo (= Mothers in Congo) that was presented in the Zuiderpershuis, a multicultural center in Antwerp in 2011, forms a telling case of the slippages that can occur in such a context. The exhibition was constructed around a series of photographs taken by Lieve Blancquaert, a very popular Flemish photographer, of women in Congolese hospitals during pregnancy or giving birth. The curators decided to complement this series with a number of historical photographs depicting similar scenes during the colonial era, selected from the collection of the Antwerp Tropical Institute. The “before/after” effect this juxtaposition inevitably created—an effect that surprisingly enough had not been anticipated by the exhibition’s curators—lead to a huge controversy even among the staff of the Zuiderpershuis, and resulted in the closing down of the show shortly after it opened.47

  • 48 Ann Laura Stoler (ed.), Imperial Debris. On Ruins and Ruination, Durham: Duke University Press, 201 (...)
  • 49 Jacob Sabakinu Kivilu, Paul-Gabriel-Dieudonné Bolya : de l’assistant médical à l’homme politique,(...)
  • 50 A rare example of such study is Aimé Kakudji Kyungu, “Sendwe Mining”. Socio-Anthropologie du monde (...)

37How to think then of such colonial medical infrastructure in terms of heritage? How to mediate between the real urgency of ameliorating and bringing up-to-date these rundown medical facilities without falling into the trap of the “politics of nostalgia” that is so strongly linked to this particular form of what Ann Laura Stoler has so evocatively called “imperial debris”.48 In line with what I have argued above, what we need are new forms of historical investigations that can provide us with a more nuanced understanding of these landscapes of colonial health that testify to both their philanthropic and disciplining agenda, but that also provides insights on how these infrastructures actually functioned, were perceived and accommodated particular local practices in dealing with sickness and death during colonial and postcolonial times. For, as some scholars have already demonstrated, health care formed a particular site of encounter between modernity and tradition, creating opportunities for the particular group of the African medical staff to climb the social ladder.49 In other words, to assess the heritage value of such sites as the Hôpital Mama Yemo in Kinshasa, what we need is in depth archival research combined with an anthropological inquiry of its spaces and an engagement with memory work, interviewing former and current stakeholders.50

The afterlife of colonial monuments: the Mont Ngaliema

38The third and last case-study I want to present here is the Mont Ngaliema, a highly symbolic site in Kinshasa. In colonial propaganda, the site was linked to the “founding father” of Kinshasa, Henri Morton Stanley, as it was here that the famous explorer created the colonial outpost of what would become Congo’s capital city. In 1956, actually quite late in the colonial era, a monumental statue of Stanley was erected on the hilltop overlooking the panorama of the Congo River. But the memory of the founding of the city was also embedded in the nearby “cimetière des pionniers,” a site containing tombs of the first colonials having resided in what was then called Léopoldville. Even today, one can find structures on Mont Ngaliema that bear witness to this first colonial outpost. Partly prefabricated metallic structures for the colonial administration, a small railway station, the first medical facilities, traces of the missionary post of Scheut, and the chapel of Mr. Sims, testify to the early protestant presence in Kinshasa. The Mont Ngaliema was soon to lose its importance in favor of Léo-Est, which developed rapidly as the commercial center of the city from the 1910s onwards. Yet, because of its milder climate, it also remained a preferred site of the colonial elite, some of whom built impressive private residences there (fig. 14).

Figure 14: Map of Kinshasa showing the Mont Ngaliema on the left.

Figure 14: Map of Kinshasa showing the Mont Ngaliema on the left.

Source: Map produced by Arter, Brussels, for Lagae Johan and Toulier Bernard (eds.), Kinshasa, 2013.

  • 51 On this policy, which aimed at erasing all remaining traces of colonialism, see Isidore Ndaywel è N (...)
  • 52 Initially the site was even called Mont Léopold.
  • 53 See Antoine Lumenga-Neso Kiobe, “En marge du centenaire de la ville de Kinshasa. La naissance de Lé (...)

39Under Mobutu’s rule, the Mont Ngaliema again became a site invested with symbolic meaning. In 1966, in the context of his policy of a “Recours à l’authenticité,”51 Mobutu dismantled the Stanley monument, having the impressive sculpture transferred to a warehouse at the outskirts of the city. Mobutu also introduced the name Mont Ngaliema to replace the earlier colonial name Mont Stanley.52 The change is significant as it refers to pre-colonial power structures, the name Mont Ngaliema being a direct reference to the local chief with whom Stanley had negotiated land property rights in 1881.53 Mobutu, who presented himself as the “chief” of the new independent Congo, thus skillfully drew on Congo’s pre-colonial history to inscribe himself in a local lineage of power, while also making a critical statement vis-à-vis the former colonial powers. Moreover, the new political and economic elite still regarded the Mont Ngaliema as a prestigious site to build their residences, also stimulating the development of the nearby neighborhoods of Joliparc or Macampagne, which today serve as gated communities for the wealthy, including some of Kinshasa’s leading musicians.

  • 54 Kalongo Molei, Kinshasa. Ce village d’hier, Kinshasa, s.e., 1979, p. 250 and 286-287.
  • 55 See for instance Joseph A. Cornet, Zaïre. Peuples/art/culture, Antwerp: Fonds Mercator, 1989. For a (...)

40The political significance of the site was further strengthened when Mobutu decided to build the Cité de l'Organisation de l'Unité Africaine (OUA) on the Mont Ngaliema in order to hold the fourth meeting of this international union of African leaders in 1967. Also receiving the seat of the nation’s military and secret services, the Mont Ngaliema turned into a presidential enclave, where Mobutu even planned to have an impressive palace built. However, at least until the early 1970s, the Mont Ngaliema remained a public site where the Kinois were allowed to walk in the presidential park which included an open air theater, a 1971 project by French architects Anabel Bado and Daniel Visart, as well as many artworks by leading Congolese artists such as Alfred Liyolo, Mokengo, Alexis Lemda and Kinsengwa. Official sources of the time stress how the park became a popular venue on Sunday afternoons.54 Mobutu’s plan to turn the Mont Ngaliema into a cultural site was also embodied by his initiative to locate the Institut des Musées Nationaux on the hill. Still holding an important collection of Congolese artifacts and craft, the museum only consists of storage spaces and offices, having no display rooms to showcase the national legacy to the citoyens. The visibility of its collection was thus being secured through lavishly illustrated publications of its then director, Joseph Cornet, most often prefaced by the president himself.55

  • 56 Plans for building a new museum to house the rich collections have been formulated for several year (...)
  • 57La Monusco rénove trois sites culturels congolais, Échos de la MONUSCO, vol. 1, no. 2, 11 August (...)

41Today, one can still find the Institut des Musées Nationaux on the Mont Ngaliema, but it has become an even less inviting site than under the late Mobutu rule56. Whoever wants to visit the collections first needs to negotiate his/her entry to the site with the presidential guards. Once inside, entry to the storage rooms of the museum can only be obtained at an official entry rate that by far surpasses the financial means of the average Kinois. It is thus all the more surprising that in 2010, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) decided to invest in the site of the Institut des Musées Nationaux. It financed the lay-out of an open air museum-like setting to present the former colonial monuments that had been transferred there in 2005: the equestrian statue of Leopold II, the statue of king Albert I, two busts of Queen Elisabeth,…57 Given the surrealistic scenery of the statues, placed on clumsy pedestals in a garden like setting which partly opens up to the panoramic backdrop of the majestic Congo river and the skyline of Kinshasa, yet remains a privatized enclosure, one can question the agenda underlying what was presented as a “gift” to the city and the country (fig. 15).

Figure 15: Open air display of former colonial monuments on the site of the Institut des Musées Nationaux, financed by Monusco in 2010.

Figure 15: Open air display of former colonial monuments on the site of the Institut des Musées Nationaux, financed by Monusco in 2010.

Source: Marc Gemoets, 2010.

“À voir absolument”?

  • 58 Stuart Hall, “Whose Heritage? Un-settling ‘The Heritage’, Re-imagining the Post-Nation,” in Rasheed (...)

42The last case confronts us heads on with the complexities linked to the issue of colonial built heritage in postcolonial Kinshasa. It raises questions concerning who is in charge of this particular heritage, what kind of messages it is supposed to convey and who constitutes its target audience. In short, it brings to the fore the crucial question of “whose heritage” that Stuart Hall raised when he discussed heritage as a discursive practice in the context of 1990s multicultural Britain.58 Having been involved in several projects documenting the colonial built legacy of Kinshasa, but also of other cities in Congo, I remain ambivalent about how to define my own position in these matters. Conducting historical research for the Kinshasa. Patrimoine urbain project allowed me to operate as an academic scholar producing knowledge, in the terms described in the introduction of this paper. However it also forced me to step outside of this role, as I was involved in defining the selection of the 150 sites that would be presented in the final publication.

43First proposals for this selection were based both on preliminary historical research as well as on what had been documented during two fieldwork missions in 2009. But discussing these proposals with a number of Congolese colleagues from the city’s urban planning office (BEAU), the National Archives, the Institut des Musées Nationaux as well as with some local historians such as Jacob Sabakinu Kivilu or Léon de Saint-Moulin made us explicitly aware of our own, often implicit, biases. Of course, some of the divergences on what to present and what not were related to our different professional profiles (architect, city planner, art or architectural historian, historian,…), but they were at least as much influenced by the very different understanding of the city of those embedded in its everyday life and we who, as initiators of the project, inevitably had an outsider’s perspective.

  • 59 Johan Lagae, “‘À voir absolument’? Quelques notes sur la raison d’être d’un guide d’architecture po (...)

44If we in the end did take up several suggestions of local stakeholders, among whom a number of mayors of the various neighborhoods in Kinshasa who had signaled sites they believed of importance, we decided to stand largely with the initial decision to focus on sites with an architectural and urban interest, thus excluding suggested sites that did have a “lieux de mémoire” quality yet lacked an expressive physical infrastructure to represent it. But what we did decide upon after intense dialogues with local partners was that the title of the project had to change. It is not a coincidence that the term “patrimoine”/“heritage” does not appear in the title of the final publication, which ultimately became the more neutral Kinshasa. Architecture et paysage urbain. We came to see the project as a way of providing documentation, not as a proposal of what should be defined as the highlights of the city’s colonial built legacy. In the following publication, the 2013 architectural guide on Kinshasa, I have articulated such decisions more explicitly, in an introduction that explains why this architectural guide does not necessarily aim at what is “à voir absolument”.59

  • 60 Since 2005 I have been in contact with a group of young artists in Lubumbashi that now operate unde (...)

45Thinking through this experience as well as a collaboration I have had over recent years with a collective of young artists in Lubumbashi,60 I have come to believe that one of the real challenges for architectural historians working on the built environment in a postcolonial context lies in developing new strategies and ways of writing history that can produce forms of knowledge which will enable and stimulate a variety of local stakeholders, from policy makers to urban dwellers, to construct their own narratives and define in a more nuanced way their own positions vis-à-vis this particular legacy, a legacy they have appropriated and even domesticated long before we started to rediscover it.

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Notes

1 Filip De Boeck and Marie-Françoise Plissart, Kinshasa. Tales of the Invisible City, [Ghent]: Ludion; Tervuren: Royal Museum for Central Africa; [Antwerp]: Vlaams Architectuurinstituut VAi, 2004.

2 Wim Cuyvers (ed.), Brakin: Brazzaville-Kinshasa. Visualizing the Visible, Baden: Lars Müller Publishers; Maastricht: Jan Van Eyck Academie, 2006.

3 Carl De Keyzer, Congo (belge), Tielt: Lannoo, 2010.

4 Anne Van Loo, “Page Coloniale,” in Maurice Culot and Caroline Mierops (eds.), Paysages d'architecture, Exhibition Catalogue (Brussels, Fondation pour l'architecture, June 21-September 20, 1986), Brussels: Archives d'Architecture Moderne, 1986, p. 52-55. The first major contributions to the field were the doctoral dissertations of Bruno De Meulder (1994) and Johan Lagae (2002). See also Bruno De Meulder, Kuvuande Mbote. Een eeuw koloniale architectuur en stedenbouw in Kongo, Antwerp: Houtekiet, 2000.

5 The idea of the project, aiming at documenting 150 sites of architectural interest in the Congo’s capital city, was first formulated to potential local stakeholders in 2007 during a workshop on urban heritage organized by Bernard Toulier at the Bureau d’Études et Aménagement Urbain in Kinshasa.

6 Bernard Toulier, Johan Lagae and Marc Gemoets (eds.), Kinshasa. Architecture et paysage urbains, Paris: Somogy Éditions d’Art, 2010 (Images du patrimoine, 262).

7 Johan Lagae and Bernard Toulier (eds.), Kinshasa, Brussels: CIVA, 2013 (Villes et Architectures).

8 I am borrowing the term from Anthony D. King’s essay “Writing Transnational Planning Histories,” in Joe Nasr and Mercedes Volait, Urbanism Imported or Exported? Native Aspirations and Foreign Plans, Chichester: Wiley, 2003, p. 1-14.

9 The show was commissioned by CIVA, Brussels, and presented the interweaving of a historical survey of the architecture and urbanism of three Congolese cities with contemporary art work of Congolese artists. Curated by Johan Lagae and Marc Gemoets, it was first displayed in the Espace d’Architecture of the La Cambre school in Brussels and in 2010 at the French Cultural Center in Kinshasa.

10 Wim Cuyvers has argued explicitly against the use of a historical perspective when investigating the contemporary urban condition of Kinshasa, see Johan Lagae (ed.), Reading Public Space in the ‘Non-Western’ City. A Dialogue between Zeynep Çelik and Wim Cuyvers,” OASE, vol. 69, 2006, p. 32-42.

11 The committee is based in the Heritage House of ICOMOS Netherlands, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I have been able to follow some of its internal discussions through the mailings of the committee.

12 Bernard Toulier, “Introduction,in Bernard Toulier and Marc Pabois (eds.), Architecture coloniale et patrimoine. L’expérience française, Proceedings of the conference (Paris, Institut national du patrimoine, September 17-19th, 2003), Paris: Institut National du Patrimoine, 2005, p. 2.

13 Mercedes Volait, “‘Patrimoines partagés’: un regard décentré et élargi sur l’architecture et la ville des xixe et xxe siècles en Méditerranée, ibid., p. 121-122.

14 See Pauline van Roosmalen, “Le positionnement de l’héritage colonial bâti, in Bernard Toulier and Marc Pabois (eds.), Architecture coloniale et patrimoine. Expériences européennes, Proceedings of the conference (Paris, Institut national du patrimoine, September 7-9th, 2005), Paris: Institut National du Patrimoine, 2006, p. 157-160.

15 Adam Hochschild, King Leopold II’s Ghost. A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998; Ludo Martens, De Moord op Lumumba, Van Halewyck: Leuven, 1999. Martens’ book created a controversy and led to the establishment of a parliamentary commission to investigate the claims made in the book.

16 On the history of the equestrian statue of Leopold II as a symbol of Belgian colonial power, see Johan Lagae, “Léopoldville-Bruxelles, villes miroirs ? L’architecture et l’urbanisme d’une capitale coloniale,” in Jean-Luc Vellut (ed.), Villes d’Afrique. Explorations en Histoire Urbaine, Tervuren: MRAC; Paris, L’Harmattan, 2007 (Cahiers Africains, 73), p. 67-99.

17 Christophe Muzungu as quoted in A.P., Rise and Fall of a Brutal King”, The Times, 4 February 2005; see also De Standaard, 4 February 2005.

18 Important in this respect is the seminal survey by Isidore Ndaywel è Nziem, Histoire générale du Congo. De l’héritage ancien à la République Démocratique du Congo, Bruxelles: Duculot; De Boeck & Larsier; Paris: Agence nationale de la francophonie, 1998. See also Christine Dupont and Johan Lagae, “Du bon usage de la mémoire coloniale. Entretien avec le Prof. Dr. Jacob Sabakinu,” Cahiers de la Fonderie. Revue d’histoire sociale et industrielle de la Région bruxelloise, no. 38, 2008, p. 42-46.

19 Le Soir headed “Congo: la mémoire retrouvée” in an article by Colette Braeckman, a leading journalist on African affairs.

20 Erica Avrami, Randall Mason and Marta de la Torre (eds.), Values and Heritage Conservation. Research Report, Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute, 2000.

21 Galila El Kadi, Anne Ouallet and Dominique Couret (eds.), “Inventer le patrimoine dans les villes du Sud”, Autrepart, no. 33, 2005.

22 I have discussed this issue elsewhere, drawing on the situation in the Congolese city of Lubumbashi, see Johan Lagae, “From ‘Patrimoine partagé’ to ‘Whose Heritage’? Critical reflections on colonial built heritage in the city of Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Afrika Focus, vol. 21, no. 1, 2008, p. 11-30. URL: http://www.gap.ugent.be/file/75. Accessed November 14, 2013.

23 Christine Deslaurier and Aurélie RogerMémoires grises. Pratiques politiques du passé colonial entre Europe et Afrique, Politique Africaine, vol. 102, June 2006, p. 5-27.

24 Zeynep Çelik, “Colonial/postcolonial Intersections. Lieux de mémoire in Algiers,” in Rasheed Araeen, Sean Cubitt and Ziauddin Sardar (eds.), The Third Text Reader on Art, Culture and Theory, London: Continuum, 2002, p. 61-72.

25 Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch made a plea for integrating “memory work” in discussions on colonial built heritage during the round table “Architecture coloniale et patrimoine” held in Paris in 2005, see her conclusion in Bernard Toulier and Marc Pabois (eds.), Architecture coloniale et patrimoine. Expériences européennes, op. cit. (note 14), p. 208-219.

26 Lushois is the common name in local parlance to designate inhabitants of the city of Lubumbashi.

27 For the memory work on Lubumbashi, see a.o. Johannes Fabian, Remembering the Present. Painting and Popular History in Zaire, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996; the series Mémoires de Lubumbashi published under the direction of Bogumil Jewsiewicki with L’Harmattan, Paris, since 2000; Danielle De Lame and Donatien Dibwe Mia Mwembu (eds.), Tout passe. Instantanés populaires et traces du passé à Lubumbashi, Tervuren: MRAC; Paris: L’Harmattan, 2005 (Cahiers Africains, 71).

28 Johan Lagae (ed.), “Ambivalent Positions on Modern Heritage. A Dialogue between Réjean Legault and Wessel de Jonge,” OASE, vol. 69, 2006, p. 46-58.

29 Odile Georg, “De la ségrégation coloniale à la tentation sécessioniste : ‘l’urbanisme sécuritaire’,” in Laurent Fourchard and Isaac Olawale Albert (eds.), Sécurité, crime et ségrégation dans les villes d’Afrique de l’Ouest du xixe siècle à nos jours = Security, Crime and Segregation in West African Cities since the 19th century, Paris: Karthala, 2003 (Homme et Société: Sciences économiques et politique), p. 245-261.

30 André Corboz, Le Territoire comme palimpseste et autres essais, Besançon: Les Éditions de l’imprimeur, 2001.

31 Kerstin Pinther, Larissa Fösster and Christian Hanussek (eds.), Afropolis. Stadt, Medien, Kunst, Exhibition catalogue (Cologne, Rautenstauch-Joest-Museum, November 5, 2010-March 13, 2011), Cologne: Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, 2010 (an English edition was published in 2013 by Jacana Media, Johannesburg). The mapping of Kinshasa was prepared during a research seminar, conducted in collaboration with two colleagues (Luce Beeckmans and Guy Châtel).

32 Johan Lagae and Bernard Toulier (eds.), Kinshasa, op. cit. (note 7).

33 The elements differ somewhat from those of the Afropolis-project. In the guide, the structuring elements are defined as follows: (1) Le Mont Ngaliema; (2) The railroad; (3) The river and the harbor; (4) Monumental Axes, (5) l’Avenue Kasa-Vubu; (6) the New Towns; (7) Other sites of interest.

34 Johan Lagae, Léopoldville-Bruxelles, villes miroirs ?, op. cit. (note 16).

35 For information on the different architects discussed here, see various contributions by Johan Lagae in Anne Van Loo (ed.), Dictionnaire de l’architecture belge de 1830 à nos jours, Antwerp: Mercator fonds, 2003.

36 Udo Kultermann, Neues Bauen in Afrika, Tübingen: Wasmuth, 1963, p. 23.

37 500 visages du Zaire, Kinshasa, Bureau du Président de la République du Zaire, 1975, 213.

38 Johan Lagae, “Léopoldville-Bruxelles, villes miroirs ?,” op. cit. (note 16).

39 The most extreme real estate development in this respect is the so-called Cité du fleuve, a project that brings Dubai-inspired urbanism to Kinshasa, see http://www.lacitedufleuve.com/ and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9Kl3X5AvZg.

40 Dominique Malaquais, “Anti-Teleology: Re-Mapping the Imag(in)ed City,” in Ntone Edjabe and Edgar Pieterse (eds.), African Cities Reader II, Mobilities & Fixtures. URL: http://www.africancitiesreader.org.za/reader.php. Accessed July 30, 2012.

41 Pieter G. Janssens, Maurice Kivits and Jacques Vuylsteke (eds.), Médecine et hygiène en Afrique centrale de 1885 à nos jours, Brussels: Fondation Roi Baudouin, 1992, 2 vols.

42 Recent research has demonstrated that the hospital for Africans, the construction of which started in 1924, was in fact located on the “wrong” side of the “cordon sanitaire,” resulting in a continuous flux of Africans into the “ville européenne,” a situation strongly lamented during the interwar years but never amended. See Johan Lagae, “Cracks in the ‘cordon sanitaire’. Hospital architecture, urban planning and colonial policy in the Belgian Congo, 1920-1960”, paper presented at the “Colonial and postcolonial urban planning in Africa,” conference organized by the IPHS in Lisbon, September 2013.

43 Mama Yemo refers to the name of president Mobutu’s mother.

44 While Kinshasa has witnessed the construction of a number of new medical facilities in recent years, a large number of them financed and built with Chinese aid, such alternatives are often not accessible to most of the Kinois for financial reasons. For lack of any form of social security, access to health care remains a most problematic aspect of everyday life in Kinshasa, as elsewhere in DR Congo.

45 See in this respect a forthcoming issue of the journal Politique Africaine, entitled “The politics of nostalgia: remains of development and traces of modernity in Africa”, which will be edited by Guillaume Lachenal and Aïssatou Mbodj-Pouye.

46 This became particularly evident in the comments on and reviews of Carl De Keyzer’s photo book and exhibition Congo (belge), see also note 3.

47 On the controversy this initiative raised, see Bart Van Peel, “Liever choqueren dan censureren,” De Standaard, 29 November 2011.

48 Ann Laura Stoler (ed.), Imperial Debris. On Ruins and Ruination, Durham: Duke University Press, 2013.

49 Jacob Sabakinu Kivilu, Paul-Gabriel-Dieudonné Bolya : de l’assistant médical à l’homme politique, in Jean-Luc Vellut (ed.), La mémoire du Congo : le temps colonial, Gent: Snoeck, p. 235-239; Nancy Hunt, A Colonial Lexicon of Birth Ritual, Medicalization and Mobility in the Congo, Durham: Duke University Press, 1999. 

50 A rare example of such study is Aimé Kakudji Kyungu, “Sendwe Mining”. Socio-Anthropologie du monde social de l’hôpital à Lubumbashi (D R Congo), unpublished doctoral dissertation, Université Libre de Bruxelles, 2011.

51 On this policy, which aimed at erasing all remaining traces of colonialism, see Isidore Ndaywel è Nziem, Histoire générale du Congo, op. cit. (note 18).

52 Initially the site was even called Mont Léopold.

53 See Antoine Lumenga-Neso Kiobe, “En marge du centenaire de la ville de Kinshasa. La naissance de Léopoldville en 1881,” Zaïre-Afrique, vol. 160, 1981, p. 615-617.

54 Kalongo Molei, Kinshasa. Ce village d’hier, Kinshasa, s.e., 1979, p. 250 and 286-287.

55 See for instance Joseph A. Cornet, Zaïre. Peuples/art/culture, Antwerp: Fonds Mercator, 1989. For a study of the role and position of African art and museums under late colonial rule and during the reign of Mobutu, see Sarah Van Beurden, Authentically African: African arts and postcolonial cultural politics in transnational perspective (Congo (DRC), Belgium and the USA, 1955-1980), unpublished PhD, Penn University, 2009.

56 Plans for building a new museum to house the rich collections have been formulated for several years and a site in the middle of the city has been indicated for the purpose. The new museum is to be built and financed with Korean aid.

57La Monusco rénove trois sites culturels congolais, Échos de la MONUSCO, vol. 1, no. 2, 11 August 2010. The other two cultural sites in Kinshasa the upgrading of which was financed by Monusco for a total amount of 50,000$ are the botanical garden and the exhibition hall of the Academy of Fine Arts.

58 Stuart Hall, “Whose Heritage? Un-settling ‘The Heritage’, Re-imagining the Post-Nation,” in Rasheed Araeen, Sean Cubitt and Ziauddin Sardar (eds.), The Third Text Reader on Art, Culture and Theory, op. cit. (note 24), p. 72-84.

59 Johan Lagae, “‘À voir absolument’? Quelques notes sur la raison d’être d’un guide d’architecture pour la ville de Kinshasa,” in Johan Lagae and Bernard Toulier, Kinshasa, op. cit. (note 7), p. 10-21.

60 Since 2005 I have been in contact with a group of young artists in Lubumbashi that now operate under the label Picha, the Swahili word for image. One of the forms of collaborations has been my role as scientific advisor for the two most recent editions of the event Picha Rencontres, a biennale for contemporary African photography and video art. Organized in 2010 and again in 2013, these events have been constructed around artistic interventions in the public realm of the city of Lubumbashi. In that respect, my role has consisted in providing the organizers of the Biennale, Patrick Mudekereza and Sammy Baloji, as well as the curators of the two editions, Simon Njami and Elvira Dyangani Ose respectively, with a critical mapping of the built environment of the city. See Johan Lagae and Sofie Boonen, “Des pierres qui (nous) parlent,” in Simon Njami (ed.), Rencontres Picha. Biennale de Lubumbashi du 13 au 17 octobre 2010, Paris: Filigranes, 2012.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Cover of Bernard Toulier, Johan Lagae and Marc Gemoets (eds.), Kinshasa. Architecture et paysage urbains, Paris: Somogy Éditions d’Art, 2010.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/378/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 16k
Titre Figure 2: Poster of the Brussels’ edition of the exhibition Congo. Paysages urbains. Regards croisés, 2007.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/378/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 36k
Titre Figure 3: The equestrian statue of King Leopold II in the city center of Kinshasa, “une reproduction fidèle de celle de Bruxelles,” erected in 1928.
Crédits Source: Coll. Johan Lagae.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/378/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 52k
Titre Figure 4: “Mapping Kinshasa”.
Légende A project produced by the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning for the Afropolis-exhibition, Cologne, 2010.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/378/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 168k
Titre Figure 5: The urban fabric of Kinshasa as a patchwork, as seen in a 1957 aerial photograph of the city.
Légende The fragment shows post 1945 native towns, a labor camp and sport facilities.
Crédits Source: Coll. Johan Lagae.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/378/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 32k
Titre Figure 6: Map of Kinshasa showing the two monumental axes of the former “ville européenne” of Kinshasa. The boulevard du 30-Juin runs parallel to the river’s edge.
Crédits Source: Map produced by Arter, Brussels, for Lagae Johan and Toulier Bernard (eds.), Kinshasa, 2013.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/378/img-6.png
Fichier image/png, 3,3k
Titre Figure 7: View of the boulevard du 30-Juin before renovation in 2010.
Légende View of the boulevard du 30-Juin before renovation in 2010 by Chinese contractors in the context of the 50th anniversary of Congo’s independence. On the left is the Sozacom tower dating from the 1970s, on the right are, first, the Banque Commerciale du Congo of the late 1960s and, second, a 1950s apartment building.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/378/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 12k
Titre Figure 8: Cover of the Revue Congolaise Illustrée, vol. 9, 1956, showing the Sabena residential towers designed by architect Claude Laurens in the early 1950s.
Crédits Source: Coll. Johan Lagae.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/378/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 16k
Titre Figure 9: Publicity billboards presenting prestigious building projects initiated by the Rakeen group along the boulevard du 30-Juin.
Crédits Source: Johan Lagae, 2010.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/378/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 12k
Titre Figure 10: Map of Kinshasa showing the boulevard du 30-Juin and the Avenue Kasa Vubu as structuring elements of the city center. Indicated in orange somewhat to the right of the center is the Hôpital Mama Yemo.
Crédits Source: Map produced by Arter, Brussels, for Johan Lagae and Bernard Toulier (eds.), Kinshasa, 2013.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/378/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 16k
Titre Figure 11: Pavilions of the Hôpital Mama Yemo, constructed in the late 1920s and still in use.
Crédits Source: Marc Gemoets, project Kinshasa. Patrimoine urbain, 2009.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/378/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 12k
Titre Figure 12: Design for the façade of the school to train African medical staff, the so-called Assistants Médicaux Indigènes (AMI), built as part of the Hôpital Mama Yemo complex in the 1930s.
Crédits Source: Archive of the Service of Publics Buildings, Kinshasa.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/378/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 8,0k
Titre Figure 13: Typical 1950s photograph presenting up-to-date medical facilities in a hospital in Kinshasa, with a caption reading “Le Congolais a le sens inné du diagnostic. Habile de ses mains, il a un don réel pour dispenser les soins les plus délicats.”
Crédits Source: Whyms, Léopoldville. Son Histoire 1881-1956, Brussels: Office de Publicité, 1956, p. 132.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/378/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 12k
Titre Figure 14: Map of Kinshasa showing the Mont Ngaliema on the left.
Crédits Source: Map produced by Arter, Brussels, for Lagae Johan and Toulier Bernard (eds.), Kinshasa, 2013.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/378/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 800k
Titre Figure 15: Open air display of former colonial monuments on the site of the Institut des Musées Nationaux, financed by Monusco in 2010.
Crédits Source: Marc Gemoets, 2010.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/378/img-15.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 13k
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Johan Lagae, « Kinshasa. Tales of the tangible city », ABE Journal [En ligne], 3 | 2013, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2013, consulté le 20 octobre 2017. URL : http://abe.revues.org/378 ; DOI : 10.4000/abe.378

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La revue ABE Journal est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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