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Re-awakening Kinshasa’s Splendor Through Targeted Urban Interventions

Sameh Wahba's picture
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The district of Gombe from above. Photo: Dina Ranarifidy/World Bank


While traveling from the Ndjili Airport to the city center of Kinshasa, you will be introduced to a unique urban experience. The ambient chaos, high traffic congestion and crowded streets may remind you of other African cities, but in Kinshasa—Kin as locals fondly refer to her—everything is larger, faster and louder than life.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital is a festival of the senses; a dynamic amalgam of people and places that mix the rich and poor, blending the activities of people with opportunities and people fighting for survival, where fancy multi-story buildings are erected just miles away from massive slums. Although poverty is apparent, the lust for life, the vibrancy of local cultures, and the vivid manifestation of cultural expressions thrive among the Kinois.

Africa’s largest megacity by 2030

With an estimated population of 12 million inhabitants in 2016, Kinshasa is the largest and fastest-growing urban agglomeration in Central Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo Urbanization Review, launched last year, revealed that, if the current urban growth rate of 5.1 per cent is sustained, Kinshasa is likely to host 30 million people by 2030. The city may soon overtake Lagos as Africa’s most populous city. This prospect presents an opportunity to reap potential economies of agglomeration.
 

A daily life in the streets of Kinshasa. Photo: Sameh Wahba/World Bank

Populations faced with multi-faceted urban exclusion

As a country urbanizes, geographic differences in living standards tend to converge. In Kinshasa, however, lack of infrastructure coupled with the city’s flood-prone morphology and poor urban management contribute to the spatial, economic and social exclusion of much of Kinshasa’s population.

Spatial exclusion. An estimated 6.4 percent of the city has planned and well-serviced neighborhoods. Get past the eight-lane divided highway that connects the city center to the airport, you will see many underserved neighborhoods in low elevations, limiting access to basic urban services. In addition, the lack of secure land and property rights, and inadequate planning and land development regulations leave the poor with no option but to settle in flood and erosion-prone areas, or in the under serviced outskirts of the city, increasing their exposure to natural hazards and climate-related risks. According to the Red Cross, the January 2018 heavy rains affected over 2,600 households.

Social exclusion. Spatial segregation has also aggravated social exclusion in the city. People living in spatially disconnected neighborhoods have limited opportunities to participate in local decision-making. The needs of such communities are not systematically considered in urban planning and service delivery, leading to increased social exclusion.  

Economic exclusion. Lack of access to the labor market is a key determinant of poverty in Kinshasa.  Inadequate road networks and transport supply excludes many people from participating in economic activities. In Kinshasa, about 80 percent of trips are made on foot, and only about 15 percent are by public transport, reducing significantly access work opportunities. At the same time, Kinshasa is amongst the most expensive cities in Africa, with prices about 40 percent higher than expected for its level of income and urbanization rate. Your 4-dollar regular cappuccino in a Washington café retails for at least twice as much in Kinshasa!
 

Waste is a sad reality in the precarious district of Matete in Kinshasa. Photo: Dina Ranarifidy/World Bank

Where to start?

The Urbanization Review proposes a policy framework focusing on institutions, infrastructure and interventions (3 Is) to help cities benefit from urbanization. Kinshasa, already at an advanced urbanization stage, requires investment across all three areas - better institutions, more connective infrastructure, and targeted interventions.

  • Institutions are the foundation for development. It is critical for Kinshasa to strengthen its institutional systems for urban planning and property rights. Planning institutions will help pace investments in a sequenced and coordinated way, to match emerging financing opportunities.
  • Infrastructure should be bolstered to ensure that planning and service delivery are based on strong institutional foundations. Breaking the cycle of underinvestment in infrastructure will require a major push to improve the functionality and livability of Kinshasa’s infrastructure. Improving roads and access to services where jobs are concentrated, while upgrading transportation services to expand the labor market pool is key. It will be critical to invest in services and amenities in poor, un-serviced neighborhoods. Yet, given limited investment capacity, the challenge resides in the sequencing and coordinating investments effectively across sectors and space.
  • Lastly, in addition to institutions and infrastructure, Kinshasa will need interventions and investments spatially targeted at priority areas. Well-located and serviced central areas with post-industrial infrastructure present important opportunities as centers for job creation and housing.

Kinshasa is at a crossroads. Decisions made today will influence the trajectory of the city for decades to come. If planning and land tenure institutions remain weak, with deficient investment in infrastructure, Kinshasa may well be on track to earning the dubious honor of the world’s largest slum by 2030.  But if institutional strengthening and infrastructure investments are properly undertaken, Kinshasa will become the prosperous African city it once was—a vibrant urban agglomeration that the Kinois are proud of. The flamboyant elegance of the Sapeurs will only be matched by the background of a prosperous and vibrant Kin la Belle.
 

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