Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Reference work entry


Kinshasa is in the west on the south bank of the Congo just over 450 km from the Atlantic Ocean. It is one of the largest cities in sub-Saharan Africa. The city was originally formed from two villages, Nshasa and Ntamo (latterly called Kintamo).


The founder of Kinshasa was the explorer Sir Henry Stanley who forged an alliance with the ruler of Kintamo in 1877 and subsequently acquired a trading post there on a return visit in 1881. Out of deference to his patron, the Belgian king Léopold II, Stanley called the new post Léopoldville. The city became increasingly important after 1900 when it became the terminus for the crude oil trade. After the establishment of an air service from Stanleyville (now Kisangani), Léopoldville’s prominence was assured. It was made the country’s administrative headquarters in 1923. It finally became the capital in 1960 following a series of insurgencies against colonial rule. It was renamed Kinshasa 6 years later.

Modern City

The city is divided into industrial, residential and commercial zones. To the north is the waterfront. The eastern part of the city forms the commercial hub, centring on the Boulevard du 30 Juin. To the west is the industrial heartland. It is situated close to the original site of Sir Henry Stanley’s ivory trading post. Kinshasa’s major industries include textiles, paper, beer, and food-processing, footwear, chemicals, woodwork, tyres and tobacco. East of the industrial zone is found the primarily administrative and residential district of Gombe which houses most of the city’s wealthy citizens and expatriates. The poorer areas are mainly located in the east and west of Kinshasa.

Transport to and from the city is erratic. There is a rail and road connection to Matadi, and another road to Kikwit in the east. The Congo riverboat (Le Grand Pousseur) is the most reliable means of travelling from Kinshasa to Kisangani in the northeast. Ndjili International Airport is to the southeast of the capital. Within Kinshasa itself public transport consists of minibuses, taxis, buses and trucks which have been adapted to carry passengers and are known locally as fula-fula. Kinshasa is a vibrant but dangerous city. Many poor areas do not have regular supplies of electricity, running water or sanitation.

Places of Interest

The Académie des Beaux-Arts provides a taste of local artwork, and the Institut des Musées Nationaux houses a celebrated collection of ethnographic and archaeological exhibits. The city is one of the major centres of modern African music.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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