The Kinshasa airport has been known for years as one of the worst, or possibly the worst international airport in the world. In years past, passengers have stepped from their planes into a dysfunctional and dirty building. Run down and chaotic, getting through the airport used to be a source of endless challenges.
When I landed in Kinshasa before Christmas, then, I was pleasantly surprised to see windows and shiny new tile on the outside of the terminal building. And inside, there was order and efficiency! My flight in was late at night, and I left Kinshasa for the interior of Congo early the next morning, so other than the airport, I was not able to see much of Kinshasa, or get much of a feel for the changes that have happened in the 3.5 years since I have been away.
After a few weeks in the bush with my parents, I returned to the city and was blown away by the changes I saw. The main roads and many of the smaller ones have been widened and paved. Before, the constant traffic jams, and dodging potholes made it a constant battle trying to go anywhere. Now we zipped along in a lot of places with ease. Directing traffic are streetlights, and Robo Cops! These robots stand in the center or side of the road, and direct traffic by turning and stretching out their arms. On their chests is a small light, and on their palms are lights that light up once they have moved in to directing position. Here is a little photo I pulled off of Google.
There are also big public transit buses that have normal routes and covered bus stops to go with them. although people like the buses, they complain that there are not enough of them in the city yet. I did not have any time to do any riding, but the buses seem to be fast, cheap, and easy.
Transportation is not the only thing that has improved in the city. There are buildings. New construction is everywhere. Houses, apartments, shops, and office buildings are going up all over the city. These new buildings are pretty and clean, even landscaped nicely.
Perhaps one the things that impressed me the most were the stores and restaurants. I remember when there was only one Chinese restaurant in the city. Now there are so many of every kind. The US fast food joints have not made it yet, but there are countless other sit down places that actually get business.
Then, there are the shopping centers. I only went to one out of about a dozen I saw by just driving around. I felt like a tourist in this store as I walked in through the produce department. There were fresh pears, peaches, and apples among other things. There was a large diary department, frozen food, bakery, and even a food court. Entire rows of foods, house hold items, and things like BBQ’s were stacked up in the
aisles on display. Some 20 checkout stands, most of them open and working, guaranteed a fast exit.
That night I was taken to a few parks, complete with fountain and lights. Wow, what a change.
Overall, I was amazed with the development that has happened in the city during my absence. There is definitely a lot of investment occurring. The atmosphere is hopeful, and with all the new jobs, there is a brand new developing middle class emerging.
It was encouraging to see an African city developing as Kinshasa has, and not staying stagnant, or sliding backwards. I am glad I knew the old Kinshasa so that I can be even more impressed with this new developing one.
The morning after I left, there was a small attempted coup. Some places around town and the airport were shot up a little before those making the trouble where caught. Every thing seems to be back to normal and calm again. The airport was closed all of that day, so I made it out just in time.