The last time I was in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, must have been in 2006. I disembarked on the shores of the Congo River just north of Kinshasa after a nine day journey downstream from Mbandaka to check out the country ahead of the landmark first democratic elections since the fall of Mobutu. I loved the city back then. Although completely dilapidated it had a charm and vitality that grabs your heart.
Much has changed since then. Already on the way into the city from the airport you can tell that things are different. The road used to be totally congested, and sometimes so flooded you couldn’t pass. Now the driver took swerves around the construction sites of one bridge after another, contentedly pointing to each of them and saying: “pont, bridge.” Oui, oui, I nodded. Impressive.
The roads in the city centre are even more impressive. The main boulevard used to be a loosely connected network of patches of tar around potholes, now it’s a smooth six lane autostrada running through the centre with traffic lights that count down the seconds until they change color. There are new, modern luxury hotels, upmarket shops and hip nightclubs, and branchless banking services to the poor using biometric identification.
And the food is fabulous. I had some delicious grilled capitaine at the Corleone restaurant at the hotel Fleuve Congo, traditional pondu for lunch at the Panoramique close to the market area, a perfect beef brochette with chips at a sports bar, and an interesting Brazilian buffet of grilled meat, ranging from antelope to quail, at the hip Tucanos.
My favourite was the grilled chicken with fried plantains at the backyard New Relax restaurant downtown, which also offers crocodile on the menu. My only disappointment was the Fleur de Sel, a French restaurant that had been recommended to me. Though the garden is very pretty and the background tones of La vie en rose makes you smile, the food was not as good as in any of the other places. Maybe we were just unlucky.
It’s a different Kinshasa, even more charming and lively than before. A city to love.