Kinshasa - History

History

The city was founded as a trading post by Henry Morton Stanley in 1881 and named Léopoldville in honor of King Leopold II of Belgium, who controlled the vast territory that is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, not as a colony but as a private property. The post flourished as the first navigable port on the Congo River above Livingstone Falls, a series of rapids over 300 kilometres (190 mi) below Leopoldville. At first, all goods arriving by sea or being sent by sea had to be carried by porters between Léopoldville and Matadi, the port below the rapids and 150 km (93 mi) from the coast. The completion of the Matadi-Kinshasa portage railway in 1898 provided a faster and more efficient alternative route around the rapids and sparked the rapid development of Léopoldville. By 1920, the city was elevated to capital of the Belgian Congo, replacing the town of Boma in the Congo estuary.

In 1965, Joseph-Désiré Mobutu seized power in the Congo in his second coup and initiated a policy of "Africanizing" the names of people and places in the country. In 1966, Léopoldville was renamed Kinshasa for a village named Kinchassa that once stood near the site. The city grew rapidly under Mobutu, drawing people from across the country who came in search of their fortunes or to escape ethnic strife elsewhere. This inevitably brought about a change to the city's ethnic and linguistic composition as well. Although it is situated in territory that traditionally belongs to the Bateke and Bahumbu people, the lingua franca among African languages in Kinshasa today is Lingala while the administrative and main written language is French, see further Languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In 1974, Kinshasa hosted 'The Rumble in the Jungle' boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, in which Ali defeated Foreman to regain the World Heavyweight title.

Kinshasa suffered greatly due to Mobutu's excesses, mass corruption, nepotism and the civil war that led to his downfall. Nevertheless, it is still a major cultural and intellectual center for Central Africa, with a flourishing community of musicians and artists. It is also the country's major industrial center, processing many of the natural products brought from the interior. The city has recently had to fend off rioting soldiers who were protesting the government's failure to pay them.

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