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Friday, September 30, 2011

Leopoldville 1952 – Office des Cités Africains

A substantial village existed at Kintambo when Henry Stanley established Leopoldville on a nearby hill in 1881 (See Mar. 5, 2011).  But the economic activity stimulated by the outpost attracted African workers and soon a large informal settlement developed near the European town. In 1911, District Commissioner Moulaert created the first Cité Indigène, known popularly as Belge. The Cité was laid out in a grid pattern of 1 hectare squares and subdivided into 32 lots which could be assigned to any regular worker if they were registered with the Territorial Administrator, had a clean bill of health, could prove employment and paid their taxes.  As the commercial district of Kinshasa began to grow upstream, an adjacent Cité, comprising the future Quartiers of Kinshasa, Barumbu and St. Jean (Lingwala), developed there as well (See Mar. 13, 2011).
The Cite in 1925
Housing plans for Chanic workers

A Colonial Decree in March 16, 1922 required large companies to provide housing for their workers within 5 kilometers of the worksite, so when the Texaf textile mill and Chanic shipyards were established in 1928, the firms built housing camps in Kintambo for their employees.  The shipping firm Unatra (Otraco after 1935) and Lever Brothers’ Huileries du Congo Belge did the same in Kinshasa.

Worker Housing Camp in Leopoldville -- 1920s.  Communal water tap in foreground
In 1927, the plans for a grand capital at Kalina brought the deplorable conditions in the Cité into focus for Constant Wauters, the Urbain District Commissioner.  Wauters, who would complete his career as Governor of Kasai Province, was concerned about the proximity of the African township to the European town and the concomitant spread of disease. Four related interventions were proposed; establishment of a “neutral zone”, sanitation measures in both existing and future Cités, development of compact rather than fragmented townships and application of standard construction practice, either by construction firms or the residents themselves.  On the latter point, Wauters favored awarding a concession for the work to a major financial institution or engaging local construction firms. In April 1928, Chief Engineer Gustave Itten proposed constructing the houses with a metal framework, which could be dismantled and moved if the main city needed to expand. This direct involvement of the government in the production of housing ran counter to Wauters’ plan.
A view of the Cite 1925 -- note proximity to the European section
In January 1929, Assistant Commissioner Fernand deBock submitted an initial plan for housing the Congolese residents of the city, though it was essentially a segregation measure.  40,000 households were to be relocated at a cost of 20 million francs, in order to create a neutral zone of 250 meters separating the two communities.  This exceeded the financial means of the colony and the following year, now District Commissioner de Bock, proposed a “New Formula” which would create a 300 meter park, which could be expanded to 800 meters over time.  De Bock obtained Fr.1,000,000 from the Colony for housing loans for African applicants.  This plan was implemented in the 1930s, with Parc de Bock and the Zoo becoming one of the central elements of the plan (See Feb. 6, 2011)
The entrance to Parc de Bock -- 1930s
In 1932, at the time the Scheut mission was building the first Catholic Church in the Cité, St. Pierre, the mission also provided loans and technical assistance to enable a few parishioners to build houses of permanent materials (these included Jean Bolikango, who would become the doyen of Congolese politicians by Independence in 1960).  By 1934, some 15 houses had been built under this initiative. Housing for Africans remained a problem, however, such that when the Comité Urbain attempted to create the Neutral Zone between the European and African districts in 1933, the effort foundered in part because there was no housing for the affected Congolese to move to (See July 31, 2011).
Otraco workers camp in the Cite of Kinshasa
The hard economic times of the Depression further limited options and the advent of World War II diverted attention to the war effort.  The war attracted many Congolese to the capital to work in the transport sector, light industry and expanded government services.  By 1945, the Congolese population had increased to 96,000, more than double the number of residents in 1940.  The colonial government decided to create a “Nouvelle Cité” south of the original cité and stretching east to the Funa River from Quartier Dendale (now Commune Kasavubu) including Kalamu and Ngiri-Ngiri. Public Works architects developed standard house plans for colonial agents.  On April 5, calls for proposals to develop housing in two projects were released.  The location of Ndolo Airport in this area was problematic as the runway needed to be extended to accommodate larger post-war passenger planes such as the DC-4 and DC-6. Ndolo airport was part of the second Neutral Zone the colonial authorities attempted to establish between the two races and also included the popular Funa Club opened in 1938.
The old Cite (top) separated from the "Nouvelle Cite" by Ndolo Airport
Two million francs was made available in 1946 for housing loans in Leopoldville. The following year, a home mortgage facility for Congolese, the “Fonds d’Avance”, was created along the lines of the Catholic Mission’s 1932 initiative. The Congolese who had received lots in the new Cité lined up to apply for Fonds d’Avance loans.  As part of the Ten Year Plan for the colony launched by Minister of the Colonies Pierre Wigny in 1949, an “Office des Cités Indigènes” was created in June 1949 with individual offices in the main cities, including Leopoldville.  In November 1950, the first buildings were started, for which there were 11,000 applicants. New Quartiers were developed in Renkin (now Matonge in Commune Kasavubu), Christ-Roi (C.Kasavubu), Yolo, Foncobel, Bandalungwa, Lemba and Matete.  In the first year, 1,000 of 6,500 planned dwelling units were completed.
An example of Fonds d'Avance housing in the Cite
A section of one of the new planned Cites
As noted earlier (See July 31, 2011), urban development took a new departure in 1951 when Maurice Heymans succeeded Georges Ricquier as chief urban planner for the capital.  Heymans put less emphasis on the Neutral Zone, focusing instead on creating new, completely serviced satellite communities to the east of the city. This process was reinforced in March 1952, when the Office des Cités Africaines was created, bringing together all the municipal “Office des Cites Indigenes” under one comprehensive planning and construction agency.  The idea was to move away from workers camps and to produce completely integrated cities comprising residential, commercial, educational, recreational, local government and religious facilities linked to employment centers via public transport. 
One of the new OCA Cites (possibly Matete) looking towards downtown and the Congo River
Architect's plan for the municipal section of an OCA Cite
The young architects who worked on the projects were influenced by the work in the 1930s of German architect Ernst May and Le Corbusier.  They were conscious of engaging in social engineering, not only in the spirit of the Bauhaus in the use of new technologies and materials, but also, given the new living arrangements, in changing Congolese preference for a single-family dwelling in the center of a small plot and orienting food preparation and cooking inside the dwelling. The initiative also sought to encourage the values of thrift and home ownership, even though the buyer could not own the plot.  In addition, the concept of social segregation was introduced; Matete, adjacent the industrial district of Limete, was designed for workers, while Bandalungwa, closer to the governmental district of Kalina was planned for white collar workers.
Photo of a Congolese family in modern housing -- 1953
OCA housing block in Bandalungwa
In 1954, the first lay schools opened in OCA housing and the primary school in Kauka (Quartier Nicolas Cito) was built as well as St. Alphonse Catholic Church, designed by OCA architects in the Cite Pierre Wigny, named for the author of the Ten Year Plan.  The Fonds d’Avances” process was streamlined in 1954, but a new mortgage instrument, the “Fonds du Roi” was introduced in November 1955 during the visit to the colony of the new Belgian King, Baudouin. Though managed by the Ministry of Colonies, the new fund benefited from the cachet and enthusiasm for the new sovereign. Baudouin inaugurated the first two-story building in Bandalungwa on December 8.  By this time, OCA was constructing 16 dwelling units per day in Matete and had completed nearly 20,000 houses, more than half in Leopoldville.
The Commercial district of Matete
Newly completed OCA housing units in Bandalungwa -- 1958
Workers inspect damage to the Matete Administrative offices after the January 1959 riots
With the recession which hit Congo in 1956-57, the rhythm of production in the OCA sites declined.  Significantly, the riots which rocked the city in January 1959 targeted the new infrastructure, viewed as evidence of the colonial power.  In February, police patrols scoured the cités, looking for undocumented workers with the intent of sending them back to their home communities.  Shiny Leo was only to be for employed workers.  At Independence in 1960, OCA had built 32,224 DU, of which 19,689 were in Leopoldville.

A view of an OCA Cite -- 1959
The urbanization and housing initiative collapsed after Independence, victim to both the departure of technical staff and budget considerations and more critical survivalist priorities of the Congolese state.  No new housing was built, though streets were paved in Lemba Commune in 1964 with European Community funds. OCA staff went on strike in April 1965.  June 9, 1965, OCA was replaced by the Office National du Logement (ONL). In June 1966, the Government considered merging the “Fonds d’Avances” with ONL.  A new financing mechanism, the Caisse Nationale d'Epargne et de Crédit Immobilier (CNECI) was created in 1971 with funding from USAID and resulted in the construction of 800 dwelling units in Cité Salongo in Lemba Commune.
Aerial view of Cite Salongo in Lemba


Kinshasa’s communes have now expanded significantly beyond this original initiative.  There was almost no urban planning and the greatest challenge for the municipality was to provide a minimum of water and electrical service – which are minimal and irregular in many quartiers.  Nearly all housing is owner built. The homogeneity of the original OCA Cités has blended into the “look” of Kinshasa’s low and middle income neighborhoods, but traces can still be discerned, as the following photos from Bandalungwa, taken on Ave. Kasavubu, demonstrate.


Sources:
·        Lusamba Kibayu, Michel. 2008. “La Typologie des quartiers dans l’histoire du développement de Léopoldville-Kinshasa en République Démocratique du Congo
·        Robert, Yves. 2010. “L’Oeuvre moderniste remarquable de l’Office des Cités Africaines au Congo”, in Les Nouvelles de la Patrimoine, pp. 35-39.
 

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