By Marie-Rose Ndimbo
Since Jean-Marc Ela’s famous book on The City in Black Africa, we know that African cities are a mixture of modernity and the village realities of poverty. Kinshasa is no exception to this rule. This present article simply aims to clarify the following questions in the case under study: Where does this situation of poverty come from? What are the causes and the indicators of this situation of poverty? What remedies can the government make? What is the contribution of the churches and the Catholic Church in particular?
Kinshasa is the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the former Belgian Congo, in the heart of Africa. The country has a growing population (about 70 million inhabitants), and has made some noticeable effort to address the economic situation in the recent past.
The country barely kept its head above water for the first twenty years after independence in 1960, due largely to the continuing colonial businesses and to the relatively high price of mineral resources (copper in particular, but also uranium, gold and diamonds). The late 1980’s to 1990 were economically and politically difficult. The economic fabric had completely deteriorated to the point that the national budget was barely 1 billion dollars, with a complete neglect of social services. On the political scene, the one-party regime of Marshall Mobutu consolidated its control over the nation, leaving no other possibility than exile for any political opponents.
With the support of some neighbouring countries, Mobutu was conquered. Another period of uncertainty followed, with Laurent Désiré Kabilia and the secret negotiations of his son Joseph Kabila, the president, with a certain opposition army. Despite the inevitable challenges to their validity, the elections of 2006 and 2011 have seen the country take off again economically. The national budget is now approximately 5 billion dollars; the national currency is relatively stable, and there is a noticeable political openness.
But as a Christian and moral theologian, one cannot but be worried by the condition of the poor, especially in Kinshasa, which is taking on the appearance of a megalopolis of about 9 million inhabitants. For almost two-thirds of this urban population, the indicators are still red. Accommodation in the suburban slums has become insalubrious due to lack of sewage reticulation or garbage collection. Salaries are pathetic to the point of non-existent. What school or medical infrastructure there is, is in a total state of collapse. Electricity and drinking water are inadequately supplied (to the point that some people use water from untreated wells – like in the villages). Access roads to some areas are impassable in the rainy season or too sandy in the dry season. Unemployment is in full swing. Juvenile delinquents (called Kuluna) make many slums totally unsafe. Works on the major road networks of the capital are carried out with no concern at all about the dust and noise disturbance to the locals.
Despite the efforts of those in power, all of these factors contribute to a morally alarming situation for Kinshasa’s poor. No doubt this explains the numerous appeals for greater social justice from the Congolese Episcopacy at the end of their annual plenary assemblies. Personally, I am hoping that by describing in greater detail the different social dramas of these poor people, I can speed up a positive and appropriate solution.
Marie-Rose Ndimbo Ngbiangonda is a member of the Religious of the Congregation of the Sisters Daughters of Mary of Molegbe, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). She is a recipient of a CTEWC scholarship. Currently, she is at the Catholic University of Congo, where she is preparing her thesis on “Justice, Peace and Reconciliation in the minds of Bishops of the sub-region of the Great Lakes.”