Residents of Bandal and Lemba, two districts of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, have both laid claim to the nickname of Congo’s “Little Paris.” The rivalry may seem odd but it has had surprisingly positive effects: it has sparked a competition to beautify both neighbourhoods to make them even more similar to the ‘City of Lights’.
On one side of the dispute is Bandalungwa (shortened to Bandal), a district of northwest Kinshasa made up of about 200,000 residents. On the other is side is Lemba, population 350,000, located closer to the centre of the capital.
Though there are only about 10 kilometres separating them, the two districts have made social media their battleground. Between March and April, residents supporting either Bandal or Lemba created scores of Facebook pages filled with photos aimed at showing how their home was most similar to the French capital.
Bandal residents focused on the lively and more luxurious sides of their district, comparing their landmarks to Paris’ Champs Élysées and other monuments.
Lemba supporters, on the other hand, have focused on how their buildings look more like those in Paris. Their Lemete tower is often compared to the Eiffel Tower, and Unikin, the biggest university in Kinshasa, is, according to supporters, the Congolese equivalent to the Sorbonne.
“For now, it’s still good-natured, but that could change”
Not a day goes by that I don’t hear people talking about this rivalry in the street, in the media or at work. Behind this current dispute, there’s a historic rivalry between the two district: the University of Kinshasa is in Lemba and so it’s often seen as the home of the Congolese intelligentsia. Bandal, on the other hand, is known for its clubs and cabarets. People think of Bandal residents as partiers, less erudite but also less inhibited.
With this ‘Little Paris’ debate, residents are feeding into this rivalry. Sometimes, it becomes a little ridiculous – there are journalists who playing up this rivalry to create a buzz.
For now, it remains a good-natured debate on social media, but I think this rivalry could degenerate it kindles real tensions. [Editor’s Note: FRANCE 24 contacted members of the Facebook pages “Bandal c’est Paris” and “Lemba c’est Paris” who confirmed that fights between rival gangs living in the two towns often stem from arguments about which district is more like Paris.]
“People say ‘we are Paris, so our streets should be as clean as the French capital’”
The famous Congolese singer JB M’Piana is at the root of this rivalry. In December 2013, he had to cancel a concert that he was going to give at the famous Zénith Theatre in Paris at the last minute because of threats from the “combattants,” a group of Congolese expats bitterly opposed to Congolese president Joseph Kabila. The combattants reportedly accused M’Piana of regularly performing for Kabila.
He ended up performing in Bandal, where he said to the crowd “My concert in Paris was cancelled but it doesn’t matter because Bandal is Paris anyway!” What’s funny is that most of the squabbling young people who live in the two districts don’t actually know this story. They’re just following a fad.
But there are also really positive aspects to this rivalry: people say “we are Paris so our streets should be as clean as the French capital.” People have gotten together to clean the streets and to paint rundown houses so that they look more like Parisian buildings. This rivalry pushes residents to find create ways to beautify their neighbourhood, even if they have very limited incomes.
Lemba and Bandal aren’t the only Kinshasa districts claiming to resemble a world capital. Residents of Lingwala, home to the People’s Palace, the seat of the Congolese parliament, recently launched a Facebook page called “Lingwala is Washington.”
Post written with FRANCE 24 Observers journalist Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron).