January 18, 2006

Congo's less troubled brother

Monday was Kabila father's birthday and Tuesday was Lumumba's. Appropriately, since these are this nation's great hero, Monday and Tuesday were both off. Woohoo!

In an characteristic show of solidarity, I celebrated these two national heros' lives by...travelling to another country!

Needing to clear my head after just a week back from South Africa by going somewhere super exotic, I hopped on a boat near the Kinshasa beach, rode on the Congo River for about 7 mins, and promptly disembarked in...Congo! The other Congo that is. Also called Congo-Brazzaville, the safer Congo, the Republic of Congo (not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo), the little slice of heaven.

It is said that Brazzaville and Kinshasa are the closest country capitals in the world--and at 7 mins boat ride between it, you could believe it. Theoretically. In reality, one has to navigate through a series of ticketing agents, passport checks, waiting periods and staring contests that take about a couple of hours before reaching Brazzaville.

When I had sufficiently recovered from the confusing arrival proceedures, these are the things I noticed instantly:
-a DHL office
-clothing stores
-a paper store that sells good quality notebooks and brand-name pens
-taxis, taxis everywhere
-outside coffee shops
-noticeably better infrastructure
-a Score supermarket, City Sports sports store, and a currency called the CFA, all artifacts of Western African Francophone countries

After having a bite to eat, we went to the small airport in Brazzaville to board a one-hour flight to Pointe Noire, a city by the ocean. Though the insides are every bit as animated as a DRC airport, there seems to be a method to the madness. For example, I placed my ticket on a pile of other tickets…and the guy at the counter actually calls my name when it's my turn!

Around me people dragged their “refugee bags” to the scales (those plastic mulitcolored bags that, more often that not, have loads of vegetables to be carried to various acquaintances) and proceeded to cover them almost completely with masking tape.

People here are dressed very french-like with less mamans donning the pretty patterned pagnes.


Steve in Wisconsin said...

Perhaps I missed something... How can there be such a difference between cities that are 7 minutes apart? What is the reason for Congo-Brazzaville's shopping and modern conveniences as compared to the "other side" where you live? I guess I'm asking because I don't hear too much about Congo-B in the U.S. news.

TheMalau said...

If you allow me, 007, I will answer this, and you can contradict me if you want. See the 2 countries have has very different regimes. Brazzaville was under a Communist regime (under the curent President Sassou Nguesso), and then abandonned it, opened-up, local tribalisms led to a civil war, democratic elections, a new President, then another civil war, and then Sassou took over again. Since he came back, he wants to prove that he is the man of reconstruction, so many destroyed and bombed buildings and roads started to be rebuilt, giving to Brazzaville an even better look than it ever had before.

Oh, and rebuilding Brazza and securing it was also a condition for the return of the African headquarters of World Health Organization, which are located in a sprawling compoubd on top of a hill in Brazzaville, and that were pillaged and shelled during the civil war, prompting the whole office's temporary transfer to Harare, Zimbabwe. The Congo government shelled out much of the money for rebuilding the WHO headquarters facilities, a much needed sources for foreign currency (or "devises"). How did I do 007?

an anecdote, President Sassou was just elected Chairperson of the African Union.