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n o m a t t e r h o w f u l l t h e r i v e r, i t s t i l l w a n t s t o g r o w

First published in South Africa in 2008 by Silver Halide Publishing CC Postnet Suite 255, Private Bag X31, Saxonwold, 2132 All photography © the photographers listed The moral rights of the authors have been asserted Copyright © Vodacom/Silver Halide Publishing ISBN 978-0-620-40742-7 Editor: Greg Marinovich Design and typesetting: Vivien Barnes Printed in Italy by Graphicom

Conditions of Sale All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

P r o s p e c t s o f B a bE l New

imager y




Naomi Ngungu is a member of Emanuel Lupungu’s Ballet Mpende traditional dance and fetish group in Masina commune, Quartier 2, Kinshasa.

i nt ro d u c tio n

tex t m e s s a g e s

Alan Knott-Craig On my first visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the DRC) I was struck by the fact that petrol was sold and consumed by the bottle, with vehicles travelling only as far as that bottle would take them. I was struck by the fact that packed mini-bus taxis hosted passengers sitting and lying up to the roof. When I asked one of the commuters why they did not simply wait for another taxi rather than endure the danger and discomfort, he replied, “This may be the last taxi.” I was struck by the fact that more than a million people trade under ragged umbrellas and from rickety boxes—their wares comprising a few bananas, a bottle of petrol, a trinket or two. I was struck one evening by the fact that I enjoyed some of the best French cuisine I have experienced at a restaurant in Kinshasa. Inside the expatriate Belgian chef’s restaurant, I enjoyed the delightful décor in the company of my host, the previous chief of security and godfather to current President Joseph Kabila. Outside, the streets were in disrepair and cripples begging for a dollar engulfed the entrance. I was struck by the fact that the main boulevard in Kinshasa faintly resembled the Champs-Élysées and that I could only find a single traffic light in Kinshasa. I was struck by the lack of crime and the infinite patience of the people. By their courtesy, by the distinctive Parisian hint in the women’s dress and their bearing, despite having to sidestep potholes in the streets and delicately scuttle for cover from spurious downpours. I have seen a gaping hole in our Vodacom building caused by a tank shell. Apparently blasted just for the hell of it, during the most recent political unrest. I have watched, as some would-be thieves returned one of our vehicles they had stolen and apologised for their thoughtless deed. I have struggled with my colleagues and friends in Kinshasa to try to restore order during two days of near riots when the people fought for Vodacom SIM cards and the police literally had to beat them off with batons and rifle butts. I watched my cousin sit brazenly and bravely on a wall, calming hundreds of angry and frustrated customers. I have watched with incredulity as a dealer wishing to purchase prepaid airtime vouchers opened the trunk of his car—it was filled with dollars. There were no banks. I have read the gripping novels about the DRC: In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz and Poisonwood Bible. I try to imagine the days when the DRC had more hospital beds than the rest of Africa combined. I try to visualise Lubumbashi being a medical centre of excellence to which Europeans aspired. Of all the countries in Africa, I weep more in my soul for the DRC, with all its contradictions, for all its hopes and aspirations, for all its beautiful people.

Perilous engagement Emmanuel Makila Magali awoke feeling down in the dumps. Late the previous night, her fiancé had sent her a text message putting an end to their relationship. “I confirmd wot I was told. U can forget me frm midnite.” She hadn’t slept a wink. Again and again, she had turned over the events of the previous day in her mind without managing to work out what had brought on such a brutal end. She had tried all night to call him—without success. Every call from Magali was systematically rejected, as were those from joint friends and family members. Their numbers had been listed in George’s cellphone memory in a joint folder—“family”, and were now censored by the techno-savvy fiancé. Around midnight, Magali tried calling him from a public phone. As soon as George pressed the “OK” button, Magali volunteered a hesitant “Hello... George.” But he immediately realised it was her. The beautiful voice which once had made his heart leap with joy became the vector of nightmares. He ended the call and switched off his phone. All night he tossed and turned in bed. He couldn’t believe Magali could have done this to him. What hadn’t he done for her? Had he not endured extensive humiliation for this woman? George had met the beautiful Magali as if by accident. It happened at the Kinshasa International Fair, at a disco sponsored by a mobile phone operator. She was with her sister and a group of friends. He’d noticed her and hadn’t hesitated to go up to her. Even though he had initially been attracted purely by her beauty, George seemed to recognise the fire of love in her eyes and a host of angelic qualities behind her gracious smile. They met several times more, and fell in love. Magali later said she had felt love at first sight (but this was just a woman’s trick aimed at fuelling the passion). She very quickly gave him a run for his money. He had told her he lived in Limete. She had said Salongo. Both are fashionable neighbourhoods in the capital. When George discovered that she lived in Kisenso, a shanty town, it did not put him off. Nevertheless, the early-day white lie had upset him greatly. From the point of view of the beautiful Magali, she simply hadn’t wanted her beauty to be associated with the high-density suburb of which she was ashamed. That’s all. It wasn’t a big lie. Just a bit of fiction. Nothing the power of love could not erase. George recalled all the nightmare journeys to Kisenso along untarred roads, through darkened landscapes. He remembered the heavy rain that thundered down on him and the mudslides that nearly carried off his vehicle. He had raised the young woman’s standing, but she had repaid him with a slap in the face. George would not hear sense from anyone. He even removed the battery from the switched-off phone as if to be sure not a single call would sneak through. He fell into a deep sleep. Morning came and Magali was still crying her heart out. She was inconsolable. She loved George and he had promised to marry her. Magali was right to be miserable. George was the ideal husband: likeable, caring, patient, slow to speak and quick to listen.


An influential friend of George’s had been called upon in the early hours to attempt a man-to-man conversation with him. The friend had offered to act as mediator in the case of any conflict. Starting out at Magali’s home, he had listened to her interpretation of the break-up, trying to unravel the mysteries of all that had been said and anything that had been left unsaid during their final encounter. He tried to work out what misunderstanding could have vexed the reserved George. He ran every detail through a fine-tooth comb. To Magali’s mind, nothing could have pushed George to ask her to forget him. In all his conversations with Magali, George’s friend could not recall having picked up any hints that she might have betrayed him. They went over Magali’s activities in the past few days: there had been a casting, an interview, rehearsals, a personal appearance—all everyday stuff for her. George had recommended Magali to an agency which was looking for models for a cellphone campaign. As an information technician with the phone company, he was well connected and had got wind of the ad campaign ahead of time. As soon as the ad agency’s director of marketing set eyes on Magali, he proclaimed that her face was the perfect fit. The casting session became a formality. It was just that Magali, of humble stock and living in a Kinshasa suburb, had never done anything like appear in an advert before. She had to learn everything from scratch, and it wasn’t easy. George had advised her to put up with the criticism coming from the ad agency boss and he also helped her deal with the bitching of other models. Magali had been shocked by the ruthless advertising world but had gradually developed a liking for it. It took only a year for her heaven-sent beauty to make her a big star. She headlined all the ad agency’s campaigns and adorned the front pages of gossip magazines. She even bought herself a nice house in Lemba. But one day, the marketing director asked to be paid—in kind. Magali had been disgusted and even mentioned the man’s advances to George. From that day on, he had been on his guard. It was the start of her troubles, too. She found herself being cast for fewer ad campaigns. But when she suddenly turned up in the biggest ad campaign of the year, George got really suspicious. A giant portrait of Magali adorned huge billboards all around Kinshasa and in the main cities of the DRC. The sight of it made George, wrongly, feel more distant from her. To add to everything, one of his sisters overheard a group of models accusing Magali of having a questionable relationship with the marketing director. As soon as George heard the rumour, he saw red. George struggled out of bed at the habitual heavy-handed door-knocking of his friend. “You should be out celebrating Magali’s success,” said the friend, feigning ignorance of the split-up. “She told me there’s to be a reception in her honour in a week’s time. Why are you sleeping at this hour? Aren’t you going to work?” George snapped back, “Don’t tell me you don’t know—the whole city knows. Magali is dating the marketing director. What kind of gratitude is that? If I think of all I’ve done for her...”. A long discussion ensued between the two men. They weighed up the credibility of various rumours and the reliability of the models who had purveyed them. The two men called some of the young women to sound them out. Nothing could be confirmed.


Suddenly, George’s spirits rose. He turned his cellphone back on. Magali’s message awaited him: “I don’t know what has got into you my darling. Your message has brought me great pain right up until today. I can’t sleep. It’s just that I feel betrayed by your lack of trust. I love you.” The cellphone beeped and squeaked to reveal several more voice and text messages: kind, loving and crazy. George pulled himself together. The two men resolved to trek to Magali’s and tackle her head-on. On the way there, George decided to drop the subject altogether. As soon as he entered her compound, he was overwhelmed by Magali leaping into his arms. He squeezed her so hard that she cried with joy at having won back her happiness. “It’s all over now,” George whispered. “I’m sorry. It was my fault. I shall never behave like that again.”

The beep freaks Emmanuel Makila The introduction of cellphones in the DRC has led to the emergence of new behaviour, especially among people who give the impression they are something they are not. First among these unequals are the “beep freaks” (la race des bipeurs). The term crept into Kinshasa slang after a man used it to refer to a friend of his who was in the habit of “beeping” people—calling them, and then hanging up just as their phone rang. The intention was to be called back. The practice has now become so widespread that many call recipients find it deeply irritating. To “beep” someone can mean lots of things: “hello” or “call me” or “is your phone switched on?” A “beep” can be like a wink of the eye or a reminder to watch a television programme. This writer has come to the conclusion that there’s nothing anodyne about beep freaks. Often they are the kind of people who like to show off their phone(s), especially new models lent to them by friends, or maybe even an iPhone, now in circulation in the DRC even though no Congolese network provider supports it, or one of those Chinese models with sophisticated and strange ring signals. Whatever his apparatus, the beep freak is only interested in receiving calls on it. Should they by chance find themselves with phone credit, beep freaks manage their minutes with the utmost rigour. Their dexterity in hitting the “off” button before engaging in a call is impressive. And if for some reason a beep freak happens to make a call, his language is telegraphic—so brief and economical that it’s all over in 48 seconds, whether or not everything has been said. This peremptory brevity can lead to remorse in the beeper who will then call back to send his greetings properly. Other beep freaks are so methodical that they write down what they intend to say before starting the call. The worst thing that can happen to a beep freak is for him to accidentally start a new unit and be unable to use up the ensuing minute. A beeper rarely calls but loves being rung up. Some members of the beeping fraternity even programme their phones so that they ring at a given time,

in a given place. It’s a way of seeming important and gives rise to the following scene: As the phone rings, the beep freak will move away slightly from the crowd he is in and pipe up: “Hello, all my respects to you, General,” or “Colonel” or “Excellency” (especially handy when women are around as it’s good to pass for a man with links to a government minister). The greeting is invariably followed by a conversation festooned with figures and dates. A beeper, in common with all crooks, takes great care of his appearance. He is generally clean, with a tidy haircut, fragrant perfume and top clothes, generally borrowed but always the latest fashion. His mobile phone, of course, needs to be an upmarket model. But as a result of all this, many beepers’ incoming calls are from the people who have lent them their outfit: “Well listen. That’s no reason for you to disrespect me. I’ve had a small setback. My friend, the managing director of Diamond and Gold, has given me a cheque which I can cash at the beginning of the week. Just leave me enough time and everything will be fine.” Like all good crooks, he always has an accomplice with him. That person’s role is to step in when the beep freak moves away from the crowd and to provide inquisitive bystanders with tidbits of information so as to make the scene as credible as possible. At the end of the call, the beeper never allows anyone to touch his phone, for fear of being found out. Cellphone trickery extends to women who are in the habit of listing their “contacts” under fake names. “Pierre” becomes “Pierrette” which allows women to avoid inspiring jealousy among their boyfriends. Men also play that game. A friend told me that, when at home, he was in the habit of continuing conversations after his girlfriend-callers had hung up, in a bid to make the exchange sound like business. He would then proclaim: “It was a friend. He called on the subject of the deal we’ve struck. He is getting impatient.” But even the most clever of ruses backfire. One day, the girlfriend of a gigolo checked his “received calls” while he was in the shower. She found no sign of a business associate… to the contrary! She grabbed her own phone and stepped out on to the balcony. She dialled the number of the last received call and a woman answered: “Hello, good evening, who is this please?” After a short moment’s hesitation, she responded: “I’m sorry to bother you, madame. My name is Marie. I am a businesswoman. Would you mind giving me your address because I have a parcel for you from Brussels. My friend there told me to call this number,” she lied. Having heard that a parcel was coming from Brussels, the woman on the other end of the line fell straight into the trap and gave her the address without asking any further questions. “As soon as I arrive, I’ll beep you and you can come to the door. I’ll be in a bit of a rush because I have several parcels to deliver and I need to get back to the airport to clear my own freight through customs,” said the girlfriend. She then stepped back into the apartment. By now her boyfriend had finished taking his shower and was about to sit down at the table. She took his hand: “Not so fast, my love. I’d like you to accompany me somewhere. It won’t take long. We can eat when we get back.” En route to the mystery woman’s address, the girlfriend could hardly disguise her twitchiness. Her driving was erratic. As they approached the woman’s home, she grabbed her boyfriend’s phone and beeped her. Then she used her own phone to call her. “I’m here, you can come out,” she said.

In the distance, a silhouette crept out of a darkened doorway: “Wait,” said the man, “What are we doing here?” The girlfriend shouted to the woman: “Are you the one expecting a parcel from Brussels?” The man pretended not to know the woman. “Yes, that’s me,” said the woman without seeing who was in the passenger seat. The girlfriend turned to the man who was about to become her ex-lover and asked him to get out. “Well, here’s your parcel, you can come and get him,” she said and accelerated away.

Network miracle saves a journey Placide Makashi “Whatever happens, don’t move from the spot where the icon tells you there’s a network.” That was the recommendation. We were in Kimi, an outpost in the grassy savannah that stretches as far as the eye can see from the Nationale 1 leading out of Kinshasa. By pure chance we had discovered that, in this place, it was possible to receive a call and to make one. It’s said that every cloud has a silver lining. Travelling this road, sitting on a truck laden with goods, upon whose roof passengers perched and were made to swing from side to side with the vehicle’s movements, the state of the road had caused the truck, a World War II civilian MAN, to break down in the middle of the bush! We had left Kinshasa in the early hours, intending to travel as far as possible during the cool morning hours of this June day. The idea was for the engine still to be relatively cool as we hit the dreaded valley of the River Mai-Ndombe with its seven kilometres of slope followed by seven kilometres of incline—at a maximum speed of ten kph, low gears in constant use. The mere mention of Mai-Ndombe, “the black river” more than 100km east of Kinshasa, inspires fear in everyone. The record number of accidents here has left the river valley with the reputation of having claimed thousands of lives. Whatever the state of their vehicles, drivers and truck crews face serious challenges as they descend one side and ascend the other. Even the most prudent crew can come a cropper due to another vehicle’s bad manoeuvre. And given that the dreaded 14km stretch skirts a precipice, any accident is guaranteed to be fatal. Passengers therefore always choose to get off and walk. Dressed in greasy, torn overalls and brandishing wedges which they are always ready to slip under the tyres, the truck boys, known as mutshunga (protectors) in Luba, shout war cries or bellow encouragement to Poro (Father), the driver: “Malembement, mayele!” or “Pole pole!” (slowly), they yell. “Moto!” (fire) and “kisela” (accelerate), they holler. The passengers also tend to join in, making the vehicle’s journey a team effort. A driver, whatever his age, is always referred to as “Father” by his assistants. He teaches them to drive and allows them to take the wheel at times. But their apprenticeship is long and hard, and requires great humility. Their lot is to change wheels in the harshest of conditions, often using inappropriate or defective jacks. They learn to remove defective parts, often without the correct tools. They find themselves staying weeks on end, without provisions, with a brokendown vehicle and being held responsible for the theft of any part.


Mai-Ndombe is a graveyard for vehicles. The road leading to Kikwit is littered with chassis, engine blocks, gearboxes, axles, drive shafts, pistons, connecting rods, seat brackets and entire wrecks cannibalised for spare parts by desperate Mutshungas. When a vehicle reaches the top, puffed-out passengers break into a chorus of ovations, sighs of relief and exclamations of “Thank God”. And everyone needs to take a rest—not least the exhausted and overheated truck engine. Why? Because the real challenge lies ahead: 100km of sand surrounding the town of Kenge. It’s about 5pm when all the passengers climb aboard to perch again on the truck’s load. There are about 60 of us, dressed to face the evening chill of the dry season. It’s not long before we confront the first sandbank. The Mutshungas get back to work, this time with five-metre long tree trunks, each about ten centimetres in diameter, which they place in front of the rear tyres to prevent the truck from sinking into the sand. Night falls. At about 2am the crew notices a strange noise coming from the transmission. They decide to keep going—to a village about 20km off the N1. It is dawn when we get there and almost all the passengers are dotted about among the bails and parcels, sleeping. A major discussion gets under way between the crew and the truck’s driver because he had not warned them of the possibility of a fault in the transmission. The defective part, a prop shaft, has been completely mangled by the vehicle’s efforts hitherto. There is much uncertainty as to whether such a part will be available in Kimi, a trucker’s village that never sleeps because it lives on the misfortunes of the previous 100 kilometres. In this place, triumphant drivers let themselves go like dogs off the leash. All trades are practised—from the oldest profession in the world to the sale of fuel by so-called kadhafis. There are tyre workshops and stands selling reconditioned parts. Others sell brand new spares (though pristine packaging is no guarantee of the youthfulness of the part). Kimi is known as the 25th commune of Kinshasa. No one speaks Kikongo here any more. Influenced by their Kinois visitors, by the resident prostitutes, traders and truck drivers who have become stuck here, the locals of Kimi have all switched to Lingala. The village bars run on generators and never close. One young traveller in our party suddenly gets the idea of trying to make a phone call to the truck owner to ask him to send the replacement part. Without a thought about the fact that he is outside network range, he pulls his phone out of his bag, switches it on and, hey presto, sees the network icon fill up with tiny bars. He dials the number but since he is, at the same time, wandering towards a secluded patch to relieve himself, he loses the signal. Forgetting the call of nature he backtracks and, for a second time, picks up a network signal. Half a pace in one direction or another and he will lose it—there isn’t a single relay antenna within 50km of here. News of the miracle spreads fast. Within minutes, the village chief has taken possession of the spot so as to open a business there. Pay-as-you-go cards are put on sale, phone batteries are spread out in one corner, the man who owns the generator sets up a battery charging service (for a fee) and others are immediately inspired to start charger-rental counters. Our driver calls his boss to explain the problem. At the end of the call, a man goes up to him. He has the part. They haggle and a price is agreed. Within seconds of the money changing hands,


the seller of the part is accosted by another man claiming to have acted as an intermediary. He wants commission. But the relief felt by us passengers is so great that none of us notice whether the percentage is handed over. We just want to get going for Kikwit.

Neighbours engage in aerial wars Emmanuel Makila When GSM arrived in the DRC, the frenzy by cellphone operators to get a foothold in the new market meant windfalls for many families. Money was to be gained by anyone lucky enough to own land or a building with potential as a phone signal relay position or a billboard site. Service providers each wanted to achieve the widest and strongest cellphone coverage and some families found themselves in a highly lucrative position. Antenna sites were sold for no less than US$ 1,000 and in some neighbourhoods landowners could earn a monthly rent of up to US$ 200. This lead to rivalry between neighbours, not least in Lemba, where one household used Machiavellian tactics to beat the Shake family to a contract. The senior member of the family, Pierre Shake, in his sixties, had asked for time to consult his relatives, who included doctors and electronics experts, so as to avoid taking a unilateral decision. He wanted to be methodical so he wouldn’t have to shoulder the blame should the aerial lead to any trouble down the line. His finances were shaky but Daddy Shake took his time. Whenever the technical director of the cellphone operator became impatient, he was instructed that patience was his only weapon. Frustrated by his father’s procrastination, one of the sons in the Shake family began to complain to his friends, “Father is going too far in his rotten logic. If it were down to me, the deal would already be done. I don’t know whether he realises the extent of the hardships we’re facing as a household. I’d rather die from deadly ultraviolet rays, x-rays, gamma rays or non-ionised radiation, than from hunger,” he moaned. The impetuous Jean-Paul Shake had already worked out what he would do with the money. He intended to buy himself a new wardrobe so as to win back the girlfriend who had dumped him for his lack of means. He recalled the deals for clothes he had made with friends who later dropped him because of his insolvency—a great unfairness given that he, once upon a time, had been the one who had lent gear to everyone. But then that was back in the days when his father was an aircraft mechanic aboard an airline that flew twice a week between Kinshasa, Lagos, Joburg, Paris, Brussels and other places. These days, the Shakes were living in unprecedented hard times. Having acquired a considerable lineage from his harem of women, Daddy Shake was now reeling from the impact of multiple school fees. The eldest of the children were only allowed to eat at home on Wednesdays and Sundays. On other days, it was each one for him- or herself. The teenage girls had slid into the worst libertine habits. The children he had managed to send to Europe for their studies had fallen into frivolous ways, drugs and prison. Daddy Shake regretted having sent them overseas. Jean-Paul Shake’s complaints reached the ever-attentive ears of the Mokuba family, next door. Bruised by a years-old conflict with the Shakes that had

ended with them losing a court case, the Mokubas were full of rancour. The inferiority complex they had been left with nourished their desire for revenge. The Mokubas began working out ways of outsmarting their dithering neighbour. They knew their compound did not qualify for an aerial relay but they were certain the technical director could be convinced of the opposite, in return for a small fee. One morning, they resolved to pay a visit to the head office and selected two members of the family whom they deemed most likely to succeed in their dastardly endeavour. Their son, who spoke French, was kitted out in a blue suit jacket, jeans and black shoes. His teenage sister was made-up for the occasion and dressed to the nines in a sexy outfit. Once in situ, the pair filled in a form requesting to meet the technical director. They did not wait long to be received and the director very quickly fell under spell of the young Carla Mokuba. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. The deal was clinched: the aerial would be planted in the Mokuba compound. By pure coincidence, Daddy Shake had chosen the very same morning to make his way to the cellphone operator’s offices. He was filling in his visitor’s form when he heard familiar voices and looked up. The technical director was bidding farewell to the Mokuba pair and they were effusively thanking him for everything. The executive then leapt into the lift to attend a board meeting on another floor. Carla spotted Shake and made as if to greet him before being stopped by her brother. Daddy Shake betrayed no sign of concern and leant down to continue filling in his form. But the receptionist told him there was no point: the board meeting was likely to take all morning and the company’s executives rarely came back to their offices after such meetings. “Never mind,” said Shake. “May I make a request for a meeting tomorrow?” he enquired. “No, if it’s for tomorrow, you’d better return tomorrow—except tomorrow is not a day for meetings with the public. I’d advise you to return the day after tomorrow,” she suggested. “Thank you, madame,” said Shake, as he picked up his faithful, worn attachè case, his last vestige of distinction and refinement. But in that moment it dawned on Daddy what had happened: that jackal Mokuba had used his tart of a daughter to steal the deal. Shake’s anger switched rapidly to guilt over his failure to have secured this rare opportunity to help his family make ends meet. The Mokubas had hired a taxi with money the director had given them. When they reached the corner of their street they asked the driver to serenade their success on his horn. The rest of the family had already been told the news by phone. They came running. The Mokubas sang and shouted with joy. Soon the entire neighbourhood knew what had happened and opinions were divided over the Mokubas’ coup. Most people did not approve. In the Shake household an atmosphere of mourning set in. Jean-Paul wasted no time in criticising his father. But Mother Shake, the senior wife but also the one who had stayed on through all the family’s hardships, reserved judgment. “Calm down. I refuse to believe anything until Daddy’s return,” she counselled, even as everyone was being deafened by the Mokuba’s cacophonous celebrations. Daddy Shake, meanwhile, was still at the cellphone head office. He needed time to pick himself up from the humiliation he had suffered before heading home. As he was preparing to depart, he was approached by a man he hardly

recognised and could not place. “Daddy Shake? What a pleasure it is to see you again! What a Godsend you are! My wife will be so happy,” he piped up joyously. “Please, come to my office,” said the man, holding out his hand. Shake followed the man into a grand office, furnished in the image of this giant of the Congolese cellphone world. Shake was invited to sit in a huge armchair facing a desk on which were littered a laptop computer, two telephones, a pile of files and newspapers. The man kept his phone clamped to his ear, giving orders and calling a secretary who came and went, came and went. Shake felt somewhat lost in the office of his mysterious friend. To no avail, he wracked his brains to work out who the man was. Blank. Nearly half an hour passed and Shake was finishing off a glass of juice given to him by the secretary when the man turned to him. “Sorry, Daddy. With so much work to be done, every day is like a marathon. God sent you. I was feeling guilty for not having taken time off to come and see you at home. How is Mummy and the little Jean-Paul? What of Martin?” As he talked, the man left his desk to sink into a huge beige sofa in the middle of the room. Shake responded to the questioning with some reticence. The men talked of everything but the object of Pierre Shake’s visit. They had met on a flight from Kinshasa to Brussels when the man, now managing director of the mobile phone company, had been on his way to Belgium to study. He remembered how Daddy Shake had arranged for him to stay in a hotel which normally was only for aircraft crew, and how he had done all sorts of unexpected favours (none of which Shake could remember). “Still in Lemba, then? A friend told me,” the man added before slipping his hand into his jacket pocket and taking out an envelope. “Thank you for everything,” he said, handing it over and leading Shake to the door. “But…” mumbled Shake. “I’ll hear none of it,” the man retorted. “My inability to show my gratitude since I have been in Kinshasa has preyed greatly on my mind. I know you are no longer employed. Do me the honour,” the managing director insisted, oblivious of the fact that whatever the envelope contained, it could never be enough to compensate for the humiliation Shake would face when reaching home. Shake decided he must take his courage into his own hands before he reached the office door. “As regards the aerial”, he said. The managing director looked surprised. “What aerial?”. Shake explained the whole story and the managing director wasted no time in calling the technical director. “Dear friend. What arrangements have you made for the relay at Mr Shake’s place at Lemba? He is with me now.” At least three minutes passed as the two directors conversed. “So, when does work begin?” the managing director asked his colleague. “The sooner the better, I say, to clear the network for our customers in the area. Thank you,” he commanded and folded his phone. Shake was assured that his land would host the antenna and that work would begin as soon as the contract was signed. The director called his security staff to arrange for a vehicle to take Shake home. When the company 4x4 pulled up in front of the Shakes’ place, a quizzical buzz filled the entire neighbourhood. Shake made no fuss, thanked the driver and stepped out of the car. Then he walked towards the front door with footsteps so calm and confident that the Mokubas could not fail to realise that their plan


had backfired. He looked at his wife, smiled, “It’s in the bag,” he said. Howls of joy echoed from the house.

A hands-free marvel on a bus Emmanuel Makila I was jolted from my reverie by the silence that had suddenly settled over the bus. The driver had turned down the radio and I realised someone must be taking a phone call. It turned out to be a man in his fifties who seemed to have just discovered hands-free calling, and couldn’t get enough of it. “Hello! Summarise the situation quickly,” he ordered. “It’s my accountant...” he commented to a young man seated on his left. In fact the entire bus was all ears. “Well if that’s the case, get him to call me on my new number, zero one hundred and eighty one million, three hundred and seventy nine thousand, two hundred and twenty two.” His unusual way of giving out his number had everyone in stitches. This man was clearly comfortable handling big numbers. “Put her on to me,” he barked after his correspondent told him one of his wives had taken one hundred dollars. “A hundred dollars! Do you realise? One hundred just for you. What about the others?” he grumbled. “It’s my first wife...” he explained to the man next to him. The traffic jam outside was growing as the bus waited to turn into Avenue des Huileries. Three, four, five minutes passed and the man was still talking. The stifling heat on the bus had coated the windows with droplets but nobody minded much: the man’s conversation was a far better traffic jam distraction than even the best music. Had he taken out a subscription allowing unlimited talk time, or was he on a postpaid deal? “Let me speak to the checkout girl,” he commanded in a language from the centre of the country. As proof that he had not really graduated from walkietalkie speak, he punctuated his sentences with words like “Over” and “Do you read me?” It was a clue that perhaps he hailed from a mining region. The conversation continued for at least another five minutes. The young man next to him was beside himself with laughter. As if to stoke the stifled hilarity inside the bus, another funny scene began to take shape in the street. On the side of the road, a man with a phone jammed between his head and his shoulder was gesticulating wildly—occasionally with his left arm, occasionally with his right. All around him at his feet, he had traced numbers and lines in the sand—apparently to help him give directions to his correspondent. He, too, had an audience. The bus continued on its way but the scene outside had served to increase the contagious hilarity inside. The young man now had a tear of laughter running down his cheek. Other passengers were also cracking up. And just to push the scene to its utmost funniest, the young man decided to engage in a bout of deadpan dialogue with his neighbour. He expressed his amazement at such a “wonder of technology” adding, “Old man, I’ve never seen such a marvellous telephone. Can I buy the same one here in town?” The man, whose name was Jean-Pierre, failed to realise he was being ridiculed and launched himself into a eulogy worthy of the best phone company sales patter. He vaunted the merits of his phone, boasted of its price tag, its country of origin


and its “heavenly” extras, ranging from its ability to take pictures and videos, to its Bluetooth and wap links, its recording ability, its conference call and “call waiting” capacity. I wondered if he realised that, by now, he had the entire bus eating out of his hand, rather like those evangelists who get so carried away with their stories that they sometimes digress considerably from the word of the Lord. Jean-Pierre had to get off at the next stop, which was just as well or he would have begun sharing the contents of his VIP contacts list with us. But everyone on the bus was so spellbound by his verbiage that when he asked to alight, neither the driver nor anyone else heard his request. When he finally stepped out of the vehicle, it was like a release: a giggling fit broke out among the passengers, punctuated only by comments on his show-off style and questions about who he was and what his job might be. That morning, everyone started work with a smile on their face—thanks to an unexpected comedy brought to them by an unsuspecting phone user.

tex t m e s s a g e s Fiançailles en péril Emmanuel Makila Magali est au plus mal ce matin. Son fiancé lui a dressé tard dans la nuit un sms de rupture qui lisait: “j vien d confirm ce kon me disé. Oublie-moi a partir de minuit”. Elle n’a pas fermé l’œil de la nuit. Elle a fait et refait la revue de toute sa journée d’hier, la dernière passée avec lui sans trouver ce qui pourrait causer une aussi brusque rupture. Elle a tenté toute la nuit de l’appeler mais sans succès. Tous les appels de Magali étaient renvoyés, de même que ceux de tous leurs amis communs, membres de famille compris. Des numéros classés sur le téléphone de Georges dans une même catégorie, “ma famille”. Autour de minuit, elle décida d’appeler à partir d’une cabine. Lorsque George appuya sur OK, Magali hésita un moment puis, “Allo, … Georges…”. Georges avait vite comprit que c’était Magali. La belle voix qui faisait jadis son bonheur devint celle qui lui apportait les cauchemars. Il coupa la communication et ferma carrément son téléphone. Toute la nuit, il ne parvenait pas à dormir. Il tournait dans son lit, ne croyant pas que Magali pouvait lui faire ça. Que n’avait-il pas fait pour elle, jusqu’à quel point ne s’était-il pas humilié devant cette fille? Georges avait rencontré la belle Magali tout à fait par hasard. C’était à la Foire de Kinshasa dans une discothèque branchée organisée par un opérateur de téléphones mobile. Elle accompagnait sa sœur avec un groupe d’amis. Il l’avait remarqué et l’avait abordé sans tergiverser. Magali lui avait fait voir de toutes les couleurs. Même si c’est pour sa beauté qu’il avait été attiré, Georges avait perçu dans ces yeux le feu de l’amour, et derrière son gracieux sourire l’expression d’un visage angélique. Après plusieurs rendezvous et rencontres, ils se sont aimés. Magali avait avoué l’avoir aimé la même

nuit. Mais comme font toutes les filles, c’était pour faire durer la passion. Elle lui disait qu’elle habitait Salongo. Lui Limete. Deux quartiers huppés de la capitale. Le fait que Georges découvrit qu’elle habitait plutôt Kisenso, un bidonville, n’effleura en rien son amour pour elle mais ce petit mensonge de départ le bouleversa énormément. Magali ne voulait pas associer sa beauté à cette commune sémi-rurale dont elle avait honte. Sans plus. Ce n’était pas dans l’intention de mentir. Cette première bisbille entre eux fut vaincue rapidement par la force de l’amour. Georges se souvient des calvaires qu’il avait enduré sur la route de Kisenso, où il n’y a pas une seule route asphaltée et les poches noires font partie du décor. Il avait encore frais en mémoire des trombes d’eau qui se sont abattues sur lui, des coulées de boue qui dévalaient les pentes de Kisenso et qui ont failli emporter sa voiture. Il avait donné un nouveau standing à la fille mais cette dernière l’avait payé en monnaie de singe. Georges enleva jusqu’à la batterie du téléphone comme si un appel pouvait lui parvenir même si l’appareil était fermé. Il tomba dans un profond sommeil. Ce matin, Magali pleurait à fendre le coeur. Elle restait inconsolable. Elle aimait Georges et ce dernier lui avait promis le mariage. Magali avait raison de regretter ce qui lui arrivait. Georges est vraiment le prototype du bon mari. Aimable, attentif, patient, lent à parler et prompt à écouter. Un ami très influent de Georges avait été appelé très tôt le matin pour tenter d’en parler entre hommes. Il avait promis de se mettre à contribution pour résoudre le problème, si problème il y avait. Il avait commencé chez Magali pour faire le tour d’horizon de la situation, décortiquer mot à mot le dernier instant passé avec son fiancé, ce qui aurait pu le vexer (étant moins direct, ce dernier aurait peut être mal digéré un propos). Tout fut passé au peigne fin et rien ne fut laissé au hasard. Rien de rien, vraiment rien, n’aurait pu pousser Georges, selon Magali, à lui demander de l’oublier. L’ami de Georges ne se souvenait pas, dans ses entretiens avec Magali avoir relevé des soupçons de trahison de la part de cette dernière. Ils revirent ensemble les activités de Magali de ces derniers jours: casting, interview, répétition, mise en bouche, etc., Bref, son train-train quotidien. Georges avait recommandé Magali à une agence de publicité qui sélectionnait des mannequins pour la campagne d’un nouveau produit pour le compte d’un opérateur de téléphonie mobile. Informaticien chez l’opérateur, Georges s’était noué d’amitié avec le personnel de l’agence et avait vent du lancement de la campagne. A la vue de Magali, le directeur de marketing de l’agence ne s’est pas gêné de dire qu’elle était le type de fille qui méritait ce rôle. Le casting était juste de formalité. Seulement Magali, vivant dans le faubourg de Kinshasa et issue d’une famille des gens de peu, ne s’était jamais essayée à ce type d’exercice. Elle avait à tout apprendre. Et dans quelles conditions! Georges l’avait encouragé à supporter les remontrances du chef, les moqueries des consoeurs, que dis-je, des concurrentes, car Magali avait découvert un monde impitoyable et avait fini par y prendre goût. Une année seulement après, elle était devenue la star, avec la gracieuse beauté que la providence lui avait donnée. Elle était de toutes les campagnes, sur les unes de tous les magazines people, s’était même offert une belle maison à Lemba. Et le directeur de marketing avait un jour exigé de se faire payé. Ce que Magali avait trouvé abject et en avait même parlé à Georges. Ce dernier était à ses gardes depuis. C’était le début des tourments pour Magali. Elle était de moins en moins sélectionnée. Et lorsque tout d’un coup, elle refit surface avec la

plus grande campagne de l’année, Georges commença à éveiller des soupçons. Un portrait géant de Magali ornait des monumentaux panneaux qui trônaient sur les places de Kinshasa et des principales villes de la RDC. Depuis, Georges sentait, à tort sûrement, que sa fiancée se détachait de lui. Mauvaise coïncidence certes, une de ses sœurs avait surprit un groupe de mannequins accuser Magali de relations coupables avec le directeur de marketing. Rajoutant aux soupçons de Georges, la nouvelle lui était naturellement parvenue et sans vérifier, il s’était donné un coup de sang. Georges se leva difficilement de son lit pour ouvrir à son ami qui frappait comme à son habitude par des coups violents, faisant semblant de n’être au courant de rien. “Tu n’as pas déjà commencé à fêter le succès de Magali? Elle m’a dit qu’une récéption sera offerte en son honneur dans une semaine. Pourquoi dors-tu jusqu’à cette heure, n’iras-tu pas au boulot?” demanda-t-il. “Ne me dis pas que tu n’es pas au courant! Toute la ville en parle! Magali sort avec le DM de son agence. Oh, l’ingrate, si je me représente ce que j’ai fait d’elle.” Un long débat intervint entre les deux hommes. Ils commencèrent à juger du crédit à accorder à la nouvelle et au sérieux des mannequins l’ayant colportée. Ils appelèrent quelques unes d’entre elle pour les sonder. Rien de tel. Subitement, Georges commença à retrouver ses esprits. Il rouvrit son téléphone. Un message vocal de Magali l’y attendait: “Je ne sais pas ce qui te prends, mon amour. Ton message me fait très mal jusque maintenant. Je n’arrive pas à dormir. Seulement, je me sens trahie lorsque tu sembles ne plus me faire confiance. Je t’aime.” Plusieurs autres messages, vocaux ou texto, des plus gentils aux plus fous tombèrent sur le téléphone. Georges se ressaisit. Les deux hommes décidèrent d’affronter Magali chez elle. En route, Georges décida de ne plus faire allusion à l’affaire. Dès qu’il entra dans la parcelle, Magali, sans aucun doute, accourut vers lui et sauta dans ses bras. Georges l’étreignit si fort qu’elle pleurait de joie d’avoir récupérer son bonheur. “C’est terminé, murmurait Georges. Je suis désolé. C’est ma faute. Ça ne reviendra plus jamais.”

La race des “bipeurs” Emmanuel Makila Depuis l’arrivée du standard GSM en RDC, il s’est développé certains comportements dans le chef de quelques usagers de téléphone mobile, notamment de ceux qui veulent paraître ce qu’ils ne sont pas réellement. Le premier groupe est la “race des bipeurs.” L’expression a été introduite dans le vocabulaire kinois depuis qu’un homme l’ait appliquée à un de ses amis qui n’avait pour usage de téléphone que de “biper”, entendez appeler un correspondant juste en faisant sonner son téléphone. Il s’agissait de contacter son correspondant afin qu’il vous rappelle. L’usage aujourd’hui est quelque peu péjoratif, voire embêtant, bien que le bip puisse s’avérer très utile. “Biper” quelqu’un peut s’avérer tout un langage: salutation, demande d’appel, vérification si son correspondant est ouvert, invitation à lire un sms, clin d’œil, appel à regarder quelque chose à la télé, etc. Cet homme était parvenu au constat selon lequel les “bipeurs” sont souvent ces gens qui ont l’habitude d’exhiber leur(s) téléphone(s), ceux de la dernière génération emprunté


à quelqu’un (parfois un iPhone alors qu’aucun réseau ne développe le service ici) parfois ces gadget d’origine chinoise avec une sonnerie sophistiquée et étrange, mais ne l’utilisent que pour recevoir des appels. Et s’il leur arrive d’acheter ou d’obtenir du crédit de téléphone, leur gestion rigoureuse des unités peut partir de l’humour jusqu’à l’énervement. Lorsqu’un “bipeur” finit à composer un numéro, il place son pouce sur le bouton “off” de son téléphone afin de couper l’appel avant même que le tout premier bip ne s’accomplisse entièrement. Et si vraiment il se décidait à passer l’appel en question, son langage devient télégraphique, très bref en sorte qu’il a tendance de vite en finir et sous cette pression interne, il peut terminer l’appel à 48 secondes, regrettant même de n’avoir pas pu transmettre fidèlement tout son message. Et pour réparer la faute, il peut lui arriver de reprendre l’appel. Dans certaines circonstances, il préférera l’écrire sur un bout de papier pour ne rien oublier. Le drame aussi pour un “bipeur”, c’est de dépasser l’unité de quelques secondes et de ne pas pouvoir consommer entièrement la minute suivante. Il va continuer à se plaindre comme s’il avait perdu toute sa fortune. Un “bipeur” n’appelle pas souvent mais aime à être appelé régulièrement. D’aucun d’entre les “bipeurs” ont même programmé leurs téléphones en sorte qu’ils sonnent à un certain intervalle lorsqu’ils sont dans un certains milieu. Tout ceci dans le but de paraître important. C’est ainsi qu’il va s’écarter du groupe et répondre. “Allo! Mes respects, mon général!” ou mon colonel, ou Excellence (pour que ceux, surtout celles, qui l’écoutent pensent à un ministre). Suivra alors une conversation émaillée de chiffres et de dates afin d’influencer ces auditeurs. Comme tout escroc, c’est quelqu’un qui, généralement, met beaucoup de soin à son apparence. Il est bien propre, bien coiffé, bien parfumé et toujours tiré à quatre épingles. Son habillement, la plupart du temps, se résume par des vêtements d’emprunt; des complets dernier cri, à l’instar de ses appareils de communication. Ainsi bon nombre de vrais appels qui lui sont destinés viennent de ses créditeurs, chez qui il emprunte des vêtements: “Bon, écoute. Il ne faut pas me manquer (du respect) pour cela! J’ai connu un contretemps. Mon ami, le PDG de Diamond and Gold company m’a signé un chèque que je dois encaisser au début de la semaine. Accorde-moi juste le temps de l’opération et tout sera réglé.” Et comme tout bon escroc, il se fait toujours accompagner de complices. Leur rôle est d’appuyer tout ce qu’il affirme et, lorsqu’il s’écarte pour répondre à ses correspondants fictifs, le complice explique à l’assistance de quoi il s’agit, après une mise en scène savamment et synchroniquement orchestrée. A la fin de l’appel, il ne permet à personne de toucher à son téléphone. Là aussi, il y a à boire et à manger. Ce sont des filles qui ont introduit cette technique de tromperie. La plupart de leurs copains sont enregistrés au féminin, par exemple Pierrette pour Pierre, dans le but de tromper la vigilance du copain présent lors de l’appel. Ce qui n’est pas seulement de l’apanage des femmes. Un ami me disait qu’il avait l’habitude de continuer des appels terminés de ses copines, lorsqu’il était à la maison, par une tournure qui fait penser à son business. “C’est un ami qui m’a appelé au sujet de l’affaire que nous avons conclue avec lui. Il manifeste son impatience,” invente-t-il. Et patati patata... Le scandale est finalement arrivé le jour où la copine du gigolo avait réalisé qu’il la trompait. Elle avait vérifié ses appels reçus alors qu’il prenait sa douche en chantant. Dans le menu “appels reçus” comme parmi les “appels émis”, aucune trace de l’ami. Bien au contraire. Elle saisit son propre téléphone et


sortit sur le balcon. Elle composa le numéro. C’est la voix d’une femme qui lui répondit: “Allo! Bonsoir. A qui ai-je l’honneur s’il vous plait?” Elle avait noté que ce n’était pas un homme mais bien une femme. Après hésitation, elle prit son courage à deux mains. “Excuse-moi madame de vous déranger. Je suis Marie, je suis femme d’affaires. Puis-je connaître ton adresse car une de mes amies m’a confiée un colis à Bruxelles pour sa famille et m’a priée d’appeler à ce numéro pour obtenir l’adresse,” mentit-elle. La femme au bout du fil mordit à l’hameçon. Ayant entendu parler de colis en provenance de Bruxelles, elle négligea toute précaution et indiqua l’adresse sans demander qui était l’expéditeur du colis et quel était le nom du destinataire. “Dès que je serai sur les lieux, je vais te “biper” et tu te mettras à la porte avec le téléphone en main. C’est compris? Ne me perd pas beaucoup de temps à chercher. J’ai beaucoup d’autres colis à distribuer ce soir car demain je dois aller à l’aéroport dédouaner mes propres colis,” ajouta-t-elle. “C’est compris,” affirma l’autre. La copine du gigolo rentra dans la maison. Son petit ami avait fini de prendre son bain et s’apprêtait à se mettre à table lorsqu’elle s’approcha de lui et le prit par la main: “Pas si vite. Accompagne-moi quelque part. Ce ne sera pas long. On mangera au retour,” dit-elle avec une gentillesse un peu exagérée. En route, elle traduisait l’excitation par sa façon de freiner, d’embrayer, d’accélérer et de renvoyer les appels téléphoniques. Lorsqu’ils s’approchèrent de l’habitation de la femme, elle prit le téléphone de son amoureux et “bipa” la fille avec, puis prit le sien propre et la téléphona. “Je suis là, tu peux sortir.” Au loin, apparut une belle silhouette devant un portail sombre. “Attends, dit l’homme. Tu ne m’as pas encore expliqué ce que l’on fait ici”. Elle donna un coup de frein brusque devant la parcelle et dit à la fille: “C’est toi qui attends un colis de Bruxelles?” demandat-elle. L’homme fit semblant de ne pas connaître l’autre femme. “Oui, c’est moi,” acquiesça-t-elle sans distinguer qui occupait le siège du passager. Elle demanda à celui qui devenait son ex ami de descendre. “Eh bien, il est là ton colis, tu peux venir le chercher,” et démarra en trombe.

Un réseau miracle sauve un voyage Placide Makashi “Surtout, il ne faut pas bouger de l’endroit où l’icône indique que tu as le réseau.” Telle était la recommandation. Nous sommes ici à Kimi, un bourg perdu dans la savane herbeuse qui s’étend à perte de vue sur la Nationale n°1, entre Kinshasa et Kikwit. C’est par pur hasard qu’on avait découvert que d’ici, on pouvait recevoir un appel téléphonique et aussi appeler. A quelque chose malheur est bon, dit-on. Nous étions sur cette route, à bord d’un camion bondé de marchandises, et sur le toit duquel étaient perchés des passagers, balancés ça et là par des mouvements du véhicule. Avec l’état de la route, le camion, un Man type civil, datant de la deuxième guerre mondiale était tombé en panne. En pleine brousse! Nous avions quitté Kinshasa, tôt le matin, dans le but de rouler le plus loin possible dans cette fraîcheur matinale de début juin, afin de permettre au moteur encore frais d’attaquer les redoutables versants de la rivière Mai-Ndombe: 7km

de descente, 7km de côte! Vitesse maximale: 10km/h. Première vitesse recommandée. Freins moteurs sollicités en permanence. Mai-Ndombe, du nom d’une rivière qui traduit sa couleur, “la rivière noire”, à plus d’une centaine de kilomètres à l’Est de Kinshasa, faisait peur. Le site a, par le record d’accidents qui y ont survenu, la triste réputation d’avoir emporté des milliers de vies. Quelque soit l’état du véhicule, dévaler la pente et remonter l’autre versant relève du parcours du combattant tant pour le conducteur que pour l’équipage. Puisque un autre véhicule que l’on croise peut vous pousser à l’accident. Et, parce que la route tortueuse est tracée sur ses 14 km au bord d’un précipice, un accident est toujours fatal. Ainsi, les passagers parcourent cette partie à pied, pour se prémunir de l’irréparable. Les convoyeurs, “Mutshunga”, en luba, “protecteur”, comme on désigne ici les aides chauffeurs aux combinaisons sales et en lambeaux, cales en main, lancent de part et d’autre du véhicule, des cris de guerre et d’encouragement à “Père”, c’est-à-dire, le chauffeur déformé en “Poro”, afin qu’il garde toute sa lucidité. “Malembement, mayele!” ou “Pole pole!”, doucement, et “Moto!”, feu, “kisela”, déformation d’“accélérez!” Ils l’accompagnent ainsi, de même que tous les passagers qui le peuvent, tout au long de l’épreuve. Un chauffeur, quelque soit son âge, est toujours appelé “Père” par rapport à ses assistants. Il leur apprend à conduire et leur laisse le volant sur certaines distances. Mais ce type d’apprentissage est souvent long et laborieux, et il faut faire preuve d’abnégation, comme dans l’armée. Changer des roues dans des conditions peu idoines, sous une forte charge, avec des crics défectueux ou inadaptés, démonter telle pièce défectueuse sans les clés appropriés, rester avec le camion des semaines entières au lieu de la panne, sans provisions et accepter d’être tenu responsable de toute perte d’une pièce du véhicule, tel est le lot quotidien de l’assistant conducteur au long cours! Le site de Mai-Ndombe, comme l’ensemble du parcours jusqu’à Kikwit, est un cimetière pour véhicules. Châssis, blocs-moteurs de toute catégorie, boîtes de vitesse, essieux, axes, ponts, pistons, bielles, charpentes de sièges, ou épaves entières cannibalisées par des “Mutshunga” affamés. Et lorsque le véhicule atteint le sommet du plateau, c’est des ovations, des ouf de soulagement et des “Merci Seigneur” qui retentissent de la part des passagers, pourtant fort éreintés après avoir assisté aux diverses péripéties de l’ascension d’une côte de près de 10%. Il faut alors se reposer, refroidir le moteur. Car, la vraie bataille est devant vous. Celle du sable. Une cuvette sablonneuse entoure la ville de Kenge de part et d’autre, sur près de 100 kms! Et la route la traverse de l’ouest à l’est. Vers 17 heures, tous les passagers reprennent leur place, juchés sur les colis. Ils sont une soixantaine, bardés de vêtements contre le froid car en cette saison sèche, les nuits sont très fraîches. Quelques kilomètres seulement après, arrive la première bande de sable. Les “Mutshunga” se remettent au travail, prenant des troncs d’arbres d’environ 5 m de long et 10 cm de diamètre, qu’ils lâchent à tour de rôle sous les pneus arrière afin d’éviter que le camion ne s’embourbe. La nuit était tombée. Vers deux heures du matin, l’équipage intercepta un bruit suspect dans le mécanisme de transmission. Ils décidèrent de forcer la marche jusqu’à un village situé à 20 km de la nationale n°1: objectif Kingundji. Ce tronçon nous avala environ le reste du temps jusqu’à l’aube. Tous les passagers ou

presque dormaient déjà sur les ballots et colis entassés sur le véhicule. Une forte discussion avait éclaté entre l’équipage et le gérant du camion parce que ce dernier n’avait pas fait le rapport sur l’éventualité d’une panne dans le système de transmission. La pièce, un croisillon, était complètement mis en pièce par l’effort du camion. On n’était pas sûr de trouver la pièce, si petite soit-elle, dans le commerce à Kimi, ce petit village qui ne dort jamais, où les routiers, après avoir vaincu la première bataille du sable, se lâchent comme des chiens sans colliers. Tous les commerces y sont pratiqués, du plus vieux métier du monde à la vente de mazout frelaté chez les “kadhafi” en passant par les quados, ces ateliers artisanaux de réparation de pneumatiques ou ces magasins de pièces de rechange pour véhicules, neuves (reste à savoir, l’emballage d’origine n’étant en rien une garantie) ou d’occasion. Kimi est dit 25 ème commune de Kin la capitale. Personne ne parle plus aucun mot du kikongo. Tous se sont mis au lingala, avec la forte influence des Kinois, des prostitués, des commerçants et des routiers, qui ont “perdu leur ticket de retour” et s’y sont carrément installés. Ses bars fonctionnant à l’aide des groupes électrogènes ne ferment jamais. Un jeune voyageur fut effleuré par l’idée de téléphoner pour demander au propriétaire du véhicule d’envoyer la pièce défectueuse. Sans se douter de ce qu’il pouvait se trouver très loin en dehors du périmètre cellulaire, il sortit son téléphone de son sac, l’alluma et hop, l’icône indiquant le réseau apparut. Il composa le numéro mais comme il se déplaçait vers la brousse pour un besoin naturel, il perdit l’accès au réseau. Il oublia même son besoin et revint sur ses pas. Il essaya à l’endroit qu’il supposait être celui où il avait tenté l’expérience et retomba dessus pile. A un demi-pas, ce n’était plus possible. Il composa le numéro et appela. C’était la découverte ou le miracle. Aucune antenne relais n’était implantée dans un rayon de près de 50 km. Le chef du village clôtura illico le seul lieu du village où il était possible de joindre un correspondant par téléphone portable. Un nouveau commerce vit le jour. Comme dans un dessin animé, des cartes prépayées, des batteries de téléphone furent étalées dans un coin, le type du générateur taxait ceux chargeaient les piles, d’autres louaient des chargeurs, etc. Le gérant de notre camion appela le patron pour lui expliquer la situation. A la fin de l’entretien, un homme l’aborda. Il avait la pièce. Ils marchandèrent et le prix fut trouvé. Juste après avoir touché l’argent, le vendeur fut harcelé par un homme, se disant commissionnaire. Il aurait accouru informer le vendeur du besoin qui était né. On ignore s’il avait finalement été payé. Nous avons retrouvé notre camion qui fut dépanné et avons repris la route vers Kikwit.

La guerre de l’antenne n’aura plus lieu Emmanuel Makila La ruée des opérateurs de téléphonie mobile en RDC a été une source de revenus pour nombre de famille. L’implantation des panneaux publicitaires ainsi que des antennes relais de GSM chez des particuliers faisait partie de la nouvelle manne vers laquelle tous accourraient. Ainsi, pour élargir leur couverture dans la ville de Kinshasa, les opérateurs du mobile demandaient à certaines familles d’accepter leurs antennes dans leurs parcelles. Cela se passait sans difficulté puisque ce n’était pas gratuit. La location de l’emplacement pour l’implantation


de l’antenne revenait à pas moins de US$ 1 000 tandis que mensuellement le bailleur avait droit à US$ 200, pour certains quartiers. Cela incita des convoitises entre voisins, ni plus ni moins à Lemba où une famille usa de moyens machiavéliques pour détourner le marché de chez la famille Shake. Le responsable de la famille, Pierre Shake, la soixantaine révolue, avait demandé un peu de temps pour contacter ses proches qui comptaient des médecins et des électroniciens afin de prendre une décision acceptée par tous. Il ne voulait pas être désigné seul responsable lorsque surviendrait un désagrément. Cela prit du temps. Alors que le directeur technique de l’opérateur s’impatientait, on lui demandait de s’armer de patience, le chef de la famille étant plus que méthodique, malgré ses difficultés financières. Un des fils Shake, n’épousant pas la démarche jugée lente de son père, commença à se plaindre auprès de ses amis. “Père exagère avec sa logique pourrie. Si cela ne dépendait que de moi, ce serait déjà chose faite. Je ne sais pas s’il se rend compte de la crise qui frappe la maison. Je préfère mourir des rayons X, ultraviolets ou gama ou de rayonnement non ionisant que de la faim”, se plaignait-il. Le jeune Jean-Paul Shake avait conçu son petit programme de ce qu’il ferait de sa part d’argent. Il projetait de renouveler sa garde et renouer avec sa copine qui l’avait quitté faute de moyen. Il s’est rappelé la ristourne d’habits qu’il faisait avec des amis qui l’ont écarté pour insolvabilité, lui qui prêtait des habits lorsque son père, alors mécanicien de bord dans une grande société aérienne, faisait deux fois la semaine des navettes entre Kinshasa, Lagos, Jobourg, Paris et Bruxelles, etc. Maintenant, les Shake vivaient une épreuve sans précédent. Papa Shake avait eu, dans l’entre-temps, du harem de femmes qu’il entretenait, plusieurs enfants et leur scolarité lui donnait le tournis. Les plus âgés des enfants ne mangeaient à la maison que le mercredi et le dimanche. Pour les autres jours, c’était la débrouille, le “délestage”. Les filles en âge de puberté étaient tacitement lâchées et pratiquaient le plus infâme de libertinage. Les enfants qu’il avait réussi à envoyer en Europe pour les études étaient tombés dans la frivolité, la drogue et la prison. Papa Shake se repentait de les avoir envoyé en Europe. Les plaintes de Jean-Paul Shake sur les hésitations de son père parvinrent chez les Mokuba, les voisins immédiats. Ces derniers brûlaient de convoitise, se souvenant certes d’un vieux différend avec les Shake qui leur avait coûté un procès perdu. Les Mokuba n’y avaient gagné qu’un complexe d’infériorité dont ils nourrissaient de s’extirper par une vengeance. Ils commencèrent à envisager des scénarii pour devancer leur voisin qui continuait à planer dans les nuages au lieu de saisir l’opportunité. La position de leur parcelle n’était pas éligible mais par défaut, avec une petite commission au directeur technique, l’affaire était conclue. Ils décidèrent de descendre à la direction de la société. Un matin, les Mokuba alignèrent leur garçon qui maîtrisait la langue de Voltaire. Costume bleu, blue-jean et chaussures noires, il se fit accompagné de son adolescente de sœur qui s’était fardée à dessein, vêtue de façon sexy. Ils introduirent une demande d’audience et furent rapidement reçus par le directeur. Envoûté par les charmes de la jeune Carla Mokuba, il se laissa prendre. L’appât de la commission ne fut d’aucun effet. Il n’avait d’yeux que pour la fille. C’était décidé. L’antenne serait implantée chez les Mokuba. Par pure coïncidence, Papa Shake s’était finalement décidé de répondre ce même jour. Lorsqu’il remplissait sa feuille d’audience, des voix qui lui étaient familières se firent entendre. Il se releva. Le directeur technique prenait congé des


Mokuba et ces derniers le remerciaient pour tout. Le directeur sauta dans l’ascenseur pour rejoindre une réunion du comité de direction. La jeune fille remarqua Shake et voulut le saluer mais fut retenu par son frère qui l’amena rapidement vers les escaliers. Pierre Shake ne donna aucun signe de perturbation. Il voulut se courber pour continuer mais la dame de la réception lui expliqua que c’était peine perdue car la réunion pourrait prendre tout l’avant-midi et que généralement à la fin, les membres du comité de gestion ne revenaient pas à leur bureau. “Ce n’est pas grave,” dit-il avec tout son calme. “Puis-je le faire pour demain, au moins,” demanda-t-il. “Non, si c’est pour demain, vous feriez mieux de revenir demain. Et encore que ce n’est pas un jour d’audience. Je vous conseillerai de revenir après demain,” préconisa la dame. “Merci, madame,” fit Shake avant de ramasser son attaché-case, dernier vestige d’un homme distingué et raffiné. Il se rendit alors compte que le marché avait été détourné par “ce ‘chacal’ de Mokuba qui a choisi sa pétasse de fille pour soudoyer le directeur technique”. Il se sentit tout de suite coupable d’avoir raté cette chance pour sa famille d’avoir un revenu certain pour nouer les deux bouts. Les Mokuba avaient loué un taxi avec l’argent dont le directeur les avait gratifié. Arrivés au coin de l’avenue, ils ordonnèrent le conducteur de donner un concert de klaxon pour annoncer leur triomphe. Les autres avait déjà eu vent de la nouvelle par téléphone et se précipitèrent vers les envoyés victorieux. Tous ensemble, ils chantaient et criaient de joie. Le quartier entier était au courant et des avis partagés apparurent parmi l’assistance. La majorité s’indignait de cette offensive. Chez les Shake, c’était le deuil. Jean-Paul fut le premier à s’en prendre aux méthodes de son père. Maman Shake, la première femme mais aussi la dernière à être restée lorsque la pauvreté a envahi son couple, ne manifestait aucun état d’âme. “Calmez vous, tant que Papa ne sera pas de retour, je ne peux rien croire,” déclara-t-elle, alors qu’au dehors le vacarme des Mokuba montait jusqu’à eux. Papa Shake reprenait petit à petit ses esprits. Il attendait de récupérer tous ses moyens pour retourner chez lui lorsqu’il fut abordé par un homme qu’il reconnaissait à peine. “Papa Shake? Ah, quel plaisir de vous revoir! Vraiment Dieu est merveilleux. C’est ma femme qui sera contente aujourd’hui,” jubilait l’homme. “Venez à mon bureau,” lui dit l’homme, en lui tendant la main. Il le suivit dans un vaste bureau meublé à la dimension de cette grande entreprise du monde cellulaire congolais. Il lui fit asseoir sur un énorme fauteuil. Sur le bureau, un lap top, deux combinés de téléphones et une pile de dossiers, des journaux. Le type avait son téléphone collé à l’oreille, tapotait sur le clavier, donnait des ordres, appelait sa secrétaire qui entrait et sortait. Shake se sentait oublié dans le bureau de son mystérieux ami. Il avait creusé ses méninges pour se donner une certaine idée de l’homme mais en pure perte. Qui était cet homme? Aucune idée. Tant pis, se disait-il. Près de 30 minutes s’écoulèrent. Il avait juste fini de siroter le jus qui lui avait été servi par la secrétaire lorsque l’homme l’interpella. “Excuse-moi, Papa. Avec un tel volume de travail, c’est le marathon chaque jour. C’est Dieu qui vous a envoyé. Je me faisais du mauvais sang de ce que je ne peux me détacher une minute pour vous rendre visite un jour à la maison. Comment va Maman, et le petit Jean-Paul? As-tu des nouvelles de Martin?” lui questionna l’homme qui avait quitté sa table pour le vaste canapé beige au milieu de la pièce. Il répondait

à cet homme qui semblait le connaître aussi parfaitement avec un sentiment mitigé. Ils taillèrent bavette sur tout et rien sauf sur l’objet de la visité de Pierre Shake: ils avaient fait connaissance lors d’un voyage Kinshasa-Bruxelles lorsque l’homme, PDG de cette société de téléphonie mobile, allait pour la première fois parfaire ses études en Belgique, comment Papa Shake l’avait logé dans l’hôtel réservé à l’équipage et lui avait rendu tout un tas de services qu’il ne reconnaissait même plus. “Toujours à Lemba, comme m’a confirmé un ami, n’est-ce pas?” lui demanda-t-il avant de glisser sa main dans la poche de sa veste et en sortir une enveloppe. “Merci pour tout,” lui dit-il lorsqu’il l’accompagnait vers la sortie. “Mais…” murmurait Shake. “Non, accepte cette enveloppe. J’ai beaucoup souffert de ne pas pouvoir vous remercier depuis que je suis à Kinshasa. Je sais que vous ne travaillez plus. Fais-moi ce plaisir,” insista le PDG qui ne comprenait pas que son enveloppe, quelque soit son contenu, ne laverait pas l’affront qu’attendait Shake au quartier. Avant de franchir le seuil du bureau, il prit son courage à deux mains et dit: “Et pour l’antenne?”. “Quelle antenne?” lui demanda le PDG. Shake lui expliqua toute l’histoire. Le PDG appela le DT. “Allo, mon cher, comment vous êtes-vous arrangé pour l’implantation de l’antenne chez monsieur Shake à Lemba. Il est ici devant moi,” lui dit-il. Ils conversèrent pendant près de trois longues minutes. “A quand le début des travaux alors?” lui demanda-t-il. “Ok, le plus vite serait le mieux pour décongestionner nos abonnés de ce secteur. Merci,” dit-il en pliant son appareil. Il annonça à Shake que c’était bel et bien sa parcelle qui allait accueillir l’antenne et que les travaux commenceront aussitôt que serait signé le contrat. Il demanda à la sécurité d’apprêter un véhicule pour raccompagner Shake chez lui. Lorsque le véhicule de la société s’arrêta devant chez les Shake, ce fut l’émoi dans le quartier. Le retournement de situation s’annonçait sans cor ni cri. Papa Shake remercia le chauffeur et descendit de la jeep. Il marchait à pas lent vers le portail comme pour confirmer ce que les Mokuba craignaient. Lorsqu’il croisa les regards de son épouse, il arbora un léger sourire. “C’est dans la poche,” fit-il. Des cris de joie fusaient de la maison.

La merveille du nouveau riche Emmanuel Makila Le silence qui s’est subitement installé dans le bus à bord duquel j’ai pris place me fit revenir de mes rêveries. Je voulus le percer pour m’enquérir de la situation. Puisque le conducteur du bus avait même baissé la musique que jouait l’autoradio, je me rendis rapidement compte que probablement quelqu’un prenait un appel. Un homme, la cinquantaine passée, qui venait de découvrir le mode mains-libre, en abusait presque. ‘‘Allo! Rapidement, fait-moi la situation,’’ ordonna-t-il à son correspondant. ‘‘C’est mon comptable’’, indiqua-t-il à un jeune homme assis à sa gauche. Toute oreille, les passagers du bus suivaient le rapport. ‘‘Bon, s’il en est ainsi, qu’il m’appelle à mon nouveau numéro, le zéro cent quatre-vingt et un millions trois cent septante neuf mille deux cent vingt deux,’’ égrena-t-il. Cette façon étrange d’épeler un numéro de téléphone créa une énorme envie d’éclater en rire. On avait vraisemblablement affaire à quelqu’un qui manipulait des gros chiffres.

‘‘Passe-la moi’’, aboya-t-il, après que son interlocuteur lui ait dit que l’une de ses épouses avait récupéré cent dollars. ‘‘Cent dollars! Te rends-tu compte? Cent dollars à toi toute seule. Et les autres, que fais-tu des autres,’’ grogna-t-il. ‘‘C’est ma dernière femme,’’ précisa-t-il au jeune homme à coté de lui. Trois, quatre, cinq minutes s’étaient écoulées dans le bouchon créé avant de s’engager sur l’avenue des Huileries et l’homme continuait sa conversation. La chaleur moite qui régnait dans le bus avait embué les vitres mais, mieux que de la bonne musique dans les embouteillages, la conversation de l’homme devenait de plus en plus intéressante. L’homme parlait sans compter. Aurait-il actionné une de ces options qui lui permet justement de communiquer sans compter ou bénéficiait-il d’un tarif postpaid? ‘‘Passe-moi la caissière,’’ exigea-t-il dans une langue du centre du pays. Il ponctuait ses phrases par ‘‘à vous!’’ ou ‘‘m’avez-vous suivi?’’, montrant qu’il ne s’était pas vraiment départi des pratiques de la phonie, encore à la mode dans les zones minières. La conversation lui prit encore près de cinq minutes. Le jeune homme assis à coté de lui pouffait de rire. Comme pour alimenter l’hilarité étouffée qui reignait à l’interieur du bus, une autre scène prit vie à l’extérieur. Un homme, téléphone coincé entre l’oreille et l’épaule, exhibait de grands gestes tantôt de la main gauche, tantôt de la droite, s’époumonant apparemment à indiquer une adresse physique dans un quartier. Tout autour de lui, on pouvait déchiffrer par terre des numéros d’appel et des croquis tirés pour mieux guider son interlocuteur. Et l’ensemble de ses mouvements avait attiré les regards alentour. Le bus poursuivit sa route mais le dernier épisode ne fit que rajouter aux éclats du jeune homme dont une larme perlait sur la joue. Cela contamina nombre de passagers qui avaient perçu les raisons de son rire fou et déclencha une hilarité générale. Et pour enfoncer le clou, le jeune homme à côte de l’homme fit semblant de ressentir de l’enchantement face à cette ‘‘merveille de la technologie’’. ‘‘Vieux’’, commença-t-il, ‘‘je n’ai jamais vu pareil téléphone! C’est tout simplement merveilleux,’’ ironisa-t-il. ‘‘Peut-on en trouver un semblable ici en ville,’’ le provoqua-t-il. L’homme, un dénommé Jean-Pierre, ne perçu pas le piège et se jeta tête baissée. Ecartant toute modestie, il s’improvisa agent de marketing de la marque de son appareil, coût, pays d’origine, etc., jusqu’à vanter les merveilleuses options de son gadget ‘‘féerique’’ allant de la photo à la caméra, en passant par le bluetooth, du wap, son énorme capacité d’enregistrer, de converser en mode conférence ou double appel, etc. Je me demandais s’il se rendait vraiment compte qu’il avait captivé l’attention de l’assistance comme ces prédicateurs qui prennent d’assaut des bus pour évangéliser en choisissant des thèmes qui parfois remettent en question leur connaissance même de la parole de Dieu. Fort heureusement, Jean-Pierre devait descendre au prochain arrêt. Sans quoi, à l’allure où allaient les choses, on aurait eu droit à quelques VIP de son répertoire. Lorsqu’il demanda à descendre, ni le chauffeur, encore moins son ‘‘receveur’’, ne prêtât attention, sa demande s’étant noyée dans son verbiage. Lorsqu’il mit pied à terre et que le bus démarra, ce fut comme un affranchissement. Une nouvelle crise d’hilarité s’empara des passagers, les uns commentant sur son attitude m’as-tu-vu, les autres spéculant sur son métier. Le téléphone avait procuré sa dose de bonne humeur ce matin-là avant le travail.


The royal defenders or Iyol surround the 125th king of the BaKuba people, Emille Torday, during a portrait session at his residence in Kinshasa. The plume of feathers that the Iyol on the near right wears are given to him when he has successfully carried out an assignment for the king, usually of a difficult or even gruesome nature. The men on either side of the king are two of his royal dressers. On his right is nobleman and royal dresser, Emmanuel Kwete, and on his left is Mboyi Kontshi, royal counsellor and dresser.



Dancers of the Ballet Kuba nap while waiting for the Bakuba king to be dressed. They were to represent the king’s wives during the portrait session. 14

The Iyol, or royal warriors, await the king’s appearance. Left to right: Mikobi, Bope Diadosene, Bope Tshikulu and Mingina Kwete (drummer). 15

The king’s dressers. The vocation to be one of the BaKuba king’s dressers falls upon certain lineages but can also be bestowed on someone recognised as an artist. 16

Left to right: Mboyi Kontshi, counsellor and dresser; Emmanuel Kwete, royal dresser and nobleman; Kwemiu-Bope, cousin and royal dresser; and Mingashanga, nobleman and royal dresser. 17

The National Archive of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kinshasa.

Above: Details of the interiors of the National Archive and Hermelinde Lanza, assistant to the Director General of the National Archives, at her desk. Right: The director general of the National Archive, Antoine Biobe Lumenganeso, right, and Yuma Shaka Matisho, the archive’s administrative director.




The first fully democratic poll in four decades took place in the DRC in July 2006. Far left: A young fire-eater performs at Tata Raphael stadium, Kinshasa, during a rally by presidential candidate Oscar Kashala. He eventually gained four per cent of the vote. Tata Raphael stadium is where the “Rumble in the Jungle” took place between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in 1974. Left: Police arrest a supporter of Tshisekedi Wa Mulumba after they took to the streets on hearing that the “Mandela of Congo” had decided to boycott the polls. Tshisekedi was a minister in Mobutu Seso Seko and the late Laurent Kabila’s regimes, but he was arrested and jailed by both presidents for his opposition to their dictatorial governance. Below: Jean Pierre Bemba’s supporters try to get a better view during his last campaign rally before the elections. Thousands came out to support the deputy president at the Tata Raphael stadium. Bemba is one of the richest men in the Congo. He garnered the second highest number of votes after President Joseph Kabila. He is currently in exile after post-election clashes with government forces.


Supporters of President Joseph Kabila, son of former president Laurent Kabila, who was assassinated in 2001, make way for election vehicles carrying VIPs at a campaign rally in Kinshasa.


Supporters of Jean-Pierre Bemba are restrained by security forces at a rally in Kinshasa.


A child soldier from the UPC militia rides back to his base in Ituri Province, eastern Congo. Children are being used in this conflict by all sides. The leader of the UPC, Thomas Lubanga, is in The Hague in the Netherlands, answering charges that he coordinated the recruitment of child soldiers.


President Joseph Kabila arrives in Bunia town, eastern Congo, just days before the historic elections. He is well supported here, and exit polls later estimated that he gained as much as 90 per cent of the votes in this region.


A religious service being held in a camp for displaced people at Gety, eastern Congo, just days before the elections. They had fled fighting in the region of Tche between government forces and rebels led by Cobra Matata.


Votes being counted in Bunia, eastern Congo. One of the main campaign promises from each of the competing parties was to introduce electricity to all areas.



Election day, Kinshasa, July 2006. Joseph Kabila won with 58 per cent of the national vote. Runner-up was Jean-Pierre Bemba.



Kinshasa, 2008 Left: Views from apartment buildings, and a basketball hoop in a courtyard. Right: The foyer of an apartment building.







Left: Sport shoes for sale, Kinshasa. Above: Vendor’s stalls, Kinshasa.


Two men assist in freeing a bus stuck in mud in the Vitamine quartier of Kinshasa’s Matete commune.

A woman dressed in a pagne cleans putrid mud off her sandals, Mutonge market, Kinshasa. 38


Kinois watch the 2008 African Cup of Nations finals on a sidewalk in Mutonge, Kinshasa.


Roshan Singh, co-manager of the Bellevie hotel, in the dining room with the television tuned to Bollywood soap operas on satellite. After five months, he is eager to return home to New Delhi, India.


Veteran Volkswagen Kombi taxis ply the local routes between the bustling Mutonge market area (left) and the vast slums of Kimbanseke and Ndjili (right).



Mobile phone airtime, cards and ‘flash’ are sold in a street near Place Victoire, Kinshasa. 44

People use the flash system to transfer mobile airtime to friends, relatives and even those needing a sweetener, which can then be converted to cash. 45

Petrol lamps, kindompolo, light up night-time food markets in Mutonge (left) and Kalamu (right). Entire districts of the capital are habitually without power.




The youth of the charismatic Christian and success-oriented Rhema church hold their endof-year party at an upmarket guesthouse in Kinshasa. The party was fun, noisy and continued until first light, but the kids drank only Fanta and Coke, and if there was a moment of sexual frisson, I missed it.


New Year’s Eve at the Bar Montoise, owned by Papy Matombe, a medical doctor. Montoise is a favourite hangout at the Place Commercial in Limete neighbourhood, Kinshasa. The Montoise has an outside rear courtyard and the darkest discothèque I have ever seen, but it is the pavement terrace and bar that draws the regulars. Bar Montoise gets the prize for serving Africa’s coldest beers. The tiny icicles in the Primus washed the sullen, polluted heat right out of my throat. It failed, however, to dislodge the obese intelligence man, I-need-money Roland, who gulped down the beer I bought him so fast that rivulets ran down his face. Right: The Montoise bar girls. Kapi, front in khaki, was a darling, as was the gorgeous Rosette, in purple. Bibiche in the white shirt, and Pelagie, were simply TROUBLE.



The New Year started slowly the next morning. Place Commercial was leaden-footed, but the regulars were already starting to gather at the Bar Montoise.


At the bar, the happiest man in Kinshasa was cleaning the toilets.


2008 began with breakfast at a Limete restaurant decorated with an Eiffel Tower, as a staff member cleaned the terrace windows.


Alain Lompoko, a bureaucrat in the ministry in charge of state enterprises, contemplates one of the capital’s best sandwiches at Le Chantilly, Kinshasa.


The voyeur.


Pictures from the back seat.


Sidewalk, Lubumbashi.


Refreshments for sale, Lubumbashi.


Market alongside the railway line, Lubumbashi.


Known as Elisabethville in colonial times, Lubumbashi is the second biggest city in the DRC and the capital of the copper-rich province of Katanga.


A street vendor displays clothing for sale next to the road.


The streets of Lubumbashi fulfil many functions. They are places to trade, to socialise, to catch up on gossip and to foster intrigue.



Left: Papa Simon Kibangu, grandson to the prophet Kibangu, listens to the prayers and needs of followers at Nkamba New Jerusalem, the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ on Earth. Right: The prison wall in Lubumbashi where church legend has it that God lowered a ladder to the imprisoned Simon Kibangu and called him to His side in Heaven. Kibangu declined, saying there was still work to be done on earth.

Born in 1887, Simon Kimbangu was a Baptist catechist who received a divine vision to preach and heal. In 1921 he healed a sick woman and word of his powers spread rapidly in the lower reaches of the Congo River basin. Thousands flocked to hear him preach. And what he had to say disturbed the church and colonial authorities. He spoke of a spiritual liberation from colonialism, and that he as God’s prophet could unlock the secrets of Christianity that gave the Europeans their wealth and power. The movement grew and took on Messianic and nationalist overtones. The Belgians charged him with sedition and sentenced him to death. This was commuted to life and 120 lashes, and he was imprisoned in Lubumbashi, thousands of kilometres from his headquarters at Nkamba village. Far from snuffing out the movement, it flourished as an underground church led by his wife and then his son. The prophet died in prison in 1951, but Kimbanguism proliferated. There are now some 17 million Kimbanguists worshipping in various sects throughout central Africa, with some one million said to follow the mother church.



Left: Kimbanguists pray before entering the holy pond for a benediction, Nkamba. Above: A bamboo enclosure for women to fast and pray, Nkamba. Right: A worshipper prays fervently during Sunday service in the massive church at Nkamba. The chairs are gifts from followers.


The seemingly interminable Sunday service at Nkamba is not for anyone short on faith. It all begins at nine in the morning inside the cavernous church and progresses outside. Here, the tone is more martial than religious, with thousands marching past the spiritual leader to pay homage.



Kinshasa. Henrietta Esperance (right) and her husband to be Andre Walongo (out of frame) waited several hours at the Ndjili parish of The Church of Jesus Christ on Earth for the arrival of Kimfuta and Nsiala Mami (left) so their combined wedding could commence. 70

The wedding finished in a deep tropical darkness, alleviated by a single paraffin lamp.


Right: The prophet, healer and demonologist, Bishop Jacques Bisombolo of the Eglise Prophetique Vayika, sits below a painting of God’s envoy Simon Kimbangu, shown with his foot on the neck of a Belgian soldier in Kinshasa’s ghetto commune of Kimbanseke. Far right: A Revelatrice of the L’eglise Universalle Des Noirs puts her foot on a toddler brought for healing or protection from witchcraft during the end of year service, Kimbanseke, Kinshasa.

Several different sects arose after the death of Simon Kimbangu in a colonial jail, all claiming him as their spiritual father. These humble churches, usually just a yard shaded by corrugated iron, are among hundreds of off-shoots of the Kimbanguist movement. Many of the sects contest the way that the Prophet’s family created a religious dynasty at Nkamba. To open the session, a pastor prays in each of the four compass directions, asking for power for the black people. North is to the Red people’s power—the Moslems; East is to the Black people represented by Kimbangu, West is to the yellow people, and finally the South is to Jesus Christ and the white man’s power. Key within the church are the powerful female Revelatrices. These women are mediums for the spirits. They prophesy and heal. The senior Revelatrice calls sick members of the community into a rear yard for a healing. Here, she prays and lays hands on them, splashing water in their faces. In the case of a young boy, tears rolling silently out of the corners of his eyes, she simply lays her hands on his head and moves on; his condition and healing a mystery to me, the bemused observer. The Revelatrices retreat into the background when the spiritual leader Kimbondo Nledi Mponda Mpadi, takes over. He has the power to cast out demons, cure the ill and detect witchcraft. The spirit guides him through the throng and chooses those who need healing or exorcism. The prophet doesn’t remember any of the revelations he receives while invaded by the spirit, so an assistant hands him a notebook in which he scrawls symbols that are later interpreted. Then the spirit moves the prophet to the gate of the yard where he and a senior Revelatrice pray wildly, watched silently by non-church members from the street outside.



La SAPE, the society of atmosphere setters and elegant people, are a sub-cult of Congolese who worship at the altar of high fashion, the cult of appearance, and the music star Papa Wemba is their Pope. Despite the poverty that most people suffer under, the Sapeurs manage to buy the most expensive clothes from designers such as Christian Dior, Yamamoto, Gucci, Jean Paul Gaultier and Versace.


The personal sacrifice required to rent such outfits, never mind buy them, does little to deter these ardent fashionistas. It is said that Papa Wembe was horrified at then President Mobutu Seso Seko’s decree that African attire be worn. This subsequently gave birth to the start of the cult that imitates Paris haute couture. The movement spread rapidly, much to the dictator Mobutu’s displeasure, and the habit of hiring porters to carry the Sapeurs across Kinshasa’s notoriously muddy roads, led to run-ins with the authorities.



“It is the Champion, what do you want?� is how Edingwe answers his mobile phone. Congo’s Catch Wrestling champ is deified for his fighting prowess as well as his occult powers. Kinshasa residents say that if a thief steals your phone, Edingwe will magically dial your phone on the palm of his left hand and inform the thief that unless the stolen handset is returned the next day, he will drop dead. Edingwe and his sons, one a wrestler and the other a drummer in a band, at the family ancestral fetish altar.



Catch Congolese wrestlers photographed in the studio at Photo Guy, downtown Kinshasa. Opposite page: Far left, Musungu Mwaku (wrestling persona: Maitre Poisson), and Lukaya Nseka (wrestling persona: Maitre Rafia); bottom centre: Israel Wete (wrestling persona: Dewilco); top centre: Bateka Wayambo (wrestling persona: Nyananzila). This page: Lutete Kitoko (wrestling persona: Musada).


Left: Jypsy Munandi, age 27, training at a Kinshasa gym. Top: Patty Bakabomba, a boxer in the amateur welterweight division, in training at his gym. Bottom: Karlos Kabongo, a boxer in the amateur Super Lightweight division, in training at his gym. 80

A boxer at an open-air gym in Kinshasa winds on bandages ahead of a sparring session. The Congolese champion in the welterweight division also trains here and told of winning a Chinese watch when he became national champ. He complained that it soon ceased to run. 81


Expatriate Belgian mining executives at the Belgian Club, Lubumbashi. Philippe Lambrecht and Roland Diercka took advantage of the public holiday commemorating Patrice Lumumba’s assassination to meet for an irregular game of tennis.



Diggers, the local term used for informal, sometimes illegal miners, in Kolwezi. These miners dig in discarded mine dumps for cobalt, copper and other minerals, which they then sell back to the mining company that holds the concession. Desperation forces them to dig as deep as 20 metres under the surface. There are several deaths a year from tunnels collapsing on these brave men.





Diggers panning for copper tailings downstream from the large-scale industrialised mines, Kolwesi. The tailings are of a particularly high quality, allowing the diggers to earn a good living. One was a university student working long enough to earn the money he needed to continue his studies. 89


Left: Carpenters transport hardwood logs from the forest near Likasi, Katanga, to make furniture. Right: Miners load 300kg of copper tailings they extracted from the river onto a bicycle to take to dealers in Kolwezi town.


A man hauls empty palm oil barrels to be recycled, Kinshasa.


The local ‘lottery’ game in which you buy three rings for 100 Congolese francs and attempt to throw them over the prize you want. The prizes range from corned beef to biscuits, Kabuba.


Bicycle of a charcoal maker on the road between Lubumbashi and Kinsevere. These men are generally unemployed, but during the rainy season the higher price of charcoal makes it worthwhile for them to abandon town life for the itinerant life of the charcoal maker. It takes two days to prepare the wood and then four days for the charcoal to be produced. They load the charcoal on bicycles for the 50 kilometre journey to Lubumbashi where they receive four US dollars a bag.


A vintage MAN truck engine is rebuilt near the black waters of the Mai-Ndombe River, on the road between Kinshasa and Kikwit. The crew had already been stuck at the side of the road for three nights as they had to send someone to buy rings and pistons in Kinshasa.


Above: Mr Tshibwabwa, left, and Bruno Mpengo, both butchers, collecting meat from the abattoir, Kinshasa. Right: Puddles fill the potholes in the streets of Lubumbashi town centre, after a thunderstorm.




Left: Aime, a hairdresser in her salon on the main street of Fungurume. The previous day violence had broken out when trucks were set alight by people from the surrounding countryside. They accused a mining company of only employing town dwellers, thereby preventing them from earning a living. Right: Mukatshung, a cellphone airtime seller, in the mining town of Kakanda.


Porters and vendors at the Selembao taxi rank, Kinshasa.


An elderly man in Masina commune, Quartier 2, Kinshasa, stands close to the blackboard in order to read the arithmetic exercises as he attempts to become numerate.



Cedric (15 years), learned the trade of mending shoes from his father. He doesn’t attend school, since the family needs the money he earns to make ends meet. His stall is in the Golf area of Lubumbashi.


This statue was commissioned by the president of the Lupopo supporters club, Lubumbashi, after they won the Vodacom Challenge two years previously, Sportsman’s. 104

Bar, airtime seller and money-changer’s stall, Kimbanseke, Kinshasa. 105

Kimfuta Mampasi at Boko village outside Mbaza Ngungu which is on the main road between Kinshasa and Matadi. 106

Cecile Lusamba outside a hair salon in Kinshasa where she has just had her hair done. 107


I came across this small settlement on a tiny track about 50 miles away from Kisangani. I had tried to work in villages in the area but it was extremely difficult as crowds would gather and change what was happening in front of me to such an extent that I could not work. I very much wanted to photograph rural communities so I went in search of a small settlement without an audience. These farmers live on the edge of the forest and live entirely off what they grow, trading produce with small traders who pass by their house on the way to the market in Kisangani.



The Congo River Fishermen ply the river, often travelling great distances, in long, narrow pirogues carved from trees hacked from the forest. The barges that travel up and down the broad reaches of this great river are more than 50 years old and are prone to breaking down, leaving travellers stranded for weeks. For many refugees displaced by war, the Congo River provides the only reliable source of food. Fishermen spend hours each day on the river to catch sufficient fish for their extended families. Each fisherman may be responsible for up to twenty people, living in the same household. In the right hand image, a soldier demands a vastly deflated price for fish.


Wagenia fishing village, Kisangani. The villagers of the Wagenias fish by building scaffolding over the Stanley Falls and suspending rows of cone-shaped nets from them. The village name of Wagenia is said to mean “people who talk too much�.


Stanley Falls make the River Congo impassable, so the town of Kisangani, formerly known under Belgian colonial rule as Stanleyville, had to be built as a terminus for a short railroad that carries passengers and freight round the cataracts to the upstream boats and barges.


A ferryman prepares to transport two women who had crossed the river from their village to Kikwit to shop. The fee is 200 Congolese francs. 114

Flotsam on the Congo. 115


Alan Knott-Craig is the founding CEO of the Vodacom Group. The fact that he is an engineer whose right brain sometimes overtakes the left has contributed to Vodacom’s market edge, as well as producing some excellent ornithological pictures. Emmanuel Makila made a name for himself with his incisive pieces. For example, he predicted months in advance that Léon Kengo wa Dondo would be elected senate president, despite his apparent numerical disadvantage. Placide Makashi studied humanities because he believed university would be a good place to hear of the best parties. He became a journalist by mistake because he thought that the journalism school also trained cameramen. He migrated to advertising by stealth, but dreams of dying in journalism. Editor and translator Alex Duval Smith is an international, multi-lingual journalist with roots in several cultures and an attachment to none. She finds mixed-up South Africa a suitably confusing place to live.


Leonie Marinovich. This occasional photographer fine-tuned her natural stealth by being forced to eat Chuckles skelm—while pretending to search the cupboard. Other than their tendency to loot her choccies, Leonie loves Madeline and Luc to bits. She is married to the other Marinovich. (Cover and pages 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 65, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 90, 91, 94, 97, 98, 99, 102, 103 and 104.) Greg Marinovich can’t make up his mind about photography, despite his fame as a substantial lunch photographer. What does it all mean, he ponders, as he struggles to defeat the ferocious toddlers in wrestling bouts. (Pages 1, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 64, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 76, 77, 100, 101, 105 and 106.) Cape Town-based Pieter Hugo developed an interest in things unusual, odd and downright weird. Though perhaps he was always that way. (Pages 18, 30, 31, 36, 37, 74, 75, 78, 79, 80, 96 and 107.) Self-taught Soweto boy Victor Matom has the handshake of a bear. It stood him in good stead on his Congo road trip and should be developed as a negotiating technique. He specialises in social documentary photography. (Pages 81, 92, 93, 95 and 114.) On the Tube to work in London one morning Marcus Bleasdale thought it would be much more interesting to go and take pictures in the Balkans. To say he has a few regrets would be an understatement. But the bank won’t take him back now. (Pages 24, 25, 26, 27, 110 and 111.) Muntu Vilakazi is the only photographer here with a job. He really has to fix that and start taking photography seriously. Based in Johannesburg with the Sunday Times, he recently became a father. (Pages 20, 21, 22, 23, 28 and 29.) Gary Knight is a very expansive Englishman who lives in southern France with his wife, two children, two labradors, a cat and an assortment of wild beasts. He is not averse to lunch. (Pages 32, 33, 34, 35, 108, 109, 112, 113 and 115.)


Mervyn Visagie, Mr Conteh, Gilbert Nkuli, Albert Ekofo, Gaston Maduma, Christo Human, Madam Baba and the Vodacom DRC team. Jean-Claude Eale, Placide Makashi, and Sabine Selemani of CMTC. Gawie Hall, John Linden and Yolanda Berry, Vodacom SA. The G4S folk, Shane Du Plooy, Schalk Uys, Jose Banza. The Vodacom drivers Jean Sunda, Florient, among others, who doubled as fixers, translators and comedians through all those little setbacks. A special mention to Papa Dollar(d) of Nkamba. Jean-Luc and all at Photo Guy, Kinshasa. Also thanks to Garth Walker on design; Silvertone and Réney Warrington on retouching; Graeme Williams for thoughts on picture editing; and Steve Kotze on the title. Dot Field, without whom this would have been neither possible, nor amusing. Vodacom funded this book.


The majestic Congo River traverses regions so diverse they might be in different countries, but those mighty waters linking East Africa to the Atlantic coast unite them. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is made up of about 250 ethnic groups using over 700 languages and dialects. Africa’s Tower of Babel is peopled by energetic and inventive individuals who daily struggle to rise above decades of dictatorial leadership born of colonial horror. How do ordinary people love, live and survive in the extraordinary DRC, a country that is the size of western Europe, which has wealth beyond measure in its natural resources, yet is one of the poorest countries in the world? This book explores how “first world” cellphone technology has seamlessly and positively integrated with “third world” conditions and lives. It raises the question of whether the humble mobile phone has succeeded in fulfilling the DRC’s destiny to be a unified state. In pictures taken by some of the world’s finest photographers, the rich diversity of lives lived in this fascinating, baffling, heart of Africa is explored.

Photographers are Leonie Marinovich; Greg Marinovich (Pulitzer Prize winner); Gary Knight (founder of the agency VII); Pieter Hugo (first prize, World Press Photo, Portraits section, 2006); Marcus Bleasdale (World Press Photo Daily Life, 2006); Muntu Vilakazi; and Victor Matom, (member of the Board of Advisers at Tshwane University of Technology).


Prospects of Babel - New Imagery from the Congo  

This book explores how ordinary people love, live and survive in the extraordinary DRC, a country the size of western Europe, which has weal...