Life in Kinshasa could prove to be vastly different from other experiences you have of life as an expat. There are few safe opportunities to integrate into the local community, so you could find yourself living in an isolated expat world.
With a population of over 9 million, Kinshasa is the largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Previously known as Zaire, the Democratic Republic of Congo was once a Belgian colony. Kinshasa started life as a trading post, and was named Leopoldville after the Belgian king who took possession of it. It flourished as a port, rubber a particularly valuable export, and expanded still more with the introduction of the railway connecting it to Matadi, a port further down the Congo River beyond the rapids of the Livingstone Falls. However, eventually it became clear that King Leopold’s forces were cruelly exploiting the local population, and in 1908 the Belgian state took responsibility for it out of King Leopold’s hands and it became a Belgian colony. In 1914, a pipeline was built to transport oil from Matadi to Kinshasa and by 1923 Kinshasa had replaced Boma as the capital of the then Belgian Congo.
The country gained its independence in 1960, but since then has been afflicted by unrest and civil war. Although the civil war ended in 2003 there is ongoing conflict within the country and from neighboring countries and Kinshasa has not had the resources to recover fully from the years of war.
Kinshasa is the third largest city in Africa and the second most populous French-speaking city in the world (second only to Paris). Based on current population growth, it is set to overtake Paris in terms of population within five years. Although French is the language of business, education and government, other local languages, including Lingala, are widely spoken in less formal settings.
Kinshasa has a tropical climate, with wet summers and dry winters. The rainy season runs from October through May, with November often having the highest monthly average rainfall. Total annual rainfall is usually around 1500 mm. The average temperature is 25°C, with average highs of 30°C. Temperatures fluctuate relatively little through the year, with average monthly temperatures not varying by more than 5°C.
Most expats in Kinshasa choose to live in the Gombe district. Another area with good quality housing is Ma Campagne in Ngaliema. Although these are the favored areas, you should not expect developed world standards, particularly with regard to facilities and services such as electrical supply, telecommunications and internet services.
Accommodation is advertised at real estate agents, or you may be able to find a place to live by word of mouth. Many landlords or letting agents will expect a deposit of up to three months’ rent. Larger properties may include accommodation for a housekeeper. If you will be working in Kinshasa for an international organization it is advisable to have your employer arrange for your belongings to be bought into the country, as they will know the best means of getting your possessions into the country safely.