Page 86

AfrikaUK

86  KINSHASA THE HOLE How livable is the legacy of colonialist modernity in the contemporary urban setting? What remains of the colonial infrastructural heritage on a material level? What kinds of social (after)lives does it still enable, and what dreams and visions of possible futures, if any, does that colonial legacy still trigger for the residents of Kinshasa today? In postcolonial Kinshasa, much of modernity’s promises and dreams have turned into a nightmare. The city is littered with colonialism’s broken infrastructural dreams, with fragments and figments of a modernity that has become part of an irretrievable past. And rather than referring to the ideal of the vertical, Kinshasa’s inhabitants often seem to resort to the concept of ‘hole’ to describe the urban infrastructure in which they live. On a first level the notion of the hole (libulu in Lingala, Kinshasa’s lingua franca) refers to the physical holes and gaps that have come to scar the urban surface (the many potholes in the road, or the numerous erosion sites that characterize Kinshasa’s landscape).3 But libulu may also refer to the dark hole of the prison, for example, or the city’s shadow economy.4 Often, the concept of the hole is used to make ironic comments upon the state of things in Kinshasa and Congo as a whole. Take the following example: A couple of years ago, a Kinois businessman opened a dance bar next to the Forescom Tower and called it Le Grand Libulu, ‘The Big Hole’. The formula proved successful and the owner opened two more bars with the same name in more distant parts of the city. In the meantime, the name itself has been adopted by other more informal small bars and dancings throughout the city, offering a typical Kinois response to the hole: if we have to live in a hole, we can as well dance in it! But even if the hole has emerged as a kind of meta-concept to reflect upon both the material degradation of the colonial infrastructure, and the closures and the often dismal quality of the social life that followed the material ruination of the colonial city, the question remains how the gap between colonial tower and postcolonial hole is filled in the experience of Congolese urban residents? Except dancing, what other possible answers does Kinshasa come up with in response to the challenge posed by the hole? If the city has transformed towers into holes, how can holes be ‘illuminated’ to become towers again? REWORKING THE LEGACIES OF COLONIALIST MODERNITY Ever since independence, the inhabitants of Congo’s urban landscapes have been turning away from former colonial models, and have redefined the spaces of colonialism on their own terms. Kinshasa’s residents appropriated the former colonial housing infrastructure, for example, reassembling and translating it in ways better suited to the local rhythms of social life. Using their own bodies as building blocks, Kinois have designed alternative architectures for their city. Through music and words, they have invented new acoustic landscapes for their city, and in doing so they have also moved away from the colonizer’s language. And there have been many moments of collective rebellion in which the mirror of Recently constructed private gated community with exclusive apartments. Photo: Municipality of Lingwala, March 2013 Pume Bylex, Tourist City, 2008.   Photo: F. De Boeck/K. Van Synghel Forescom Tower. First skyscraper of Kinshasa, 1946.   (Undated postcard, collection J. Lagae)


AfrikaUK
To see the actual publication please follow the link above