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Monday, 6 August, 2001, 08:25 GMT 09:25 UK
Kinshasa's grave concerns
A cemetery in Kinshasa
Congolese visit graves to mourn, tidy up and repair cemeteries
By Mark Dummett in Kinshasa

Cemeteries across the capital, Kinshasa, echoed with the sound of digging and wailing last week as the third anniversary of the civil war slipped past almost unnoticed.

But the thousands of people who took a day off work to visit the graveyards had not come to bury their war dead.


The effect of the war has only reinforced the country's economic crisis. Even before it started DR Congo did not have the funds to sort out major problems

Chief government auditor
Instead they used the day, a public holiday named Parents Day, to visit the graves of their loved ones, mourn, tidy up and repair the cemeteries.

Like everything else in the city, the local authorities do not have the money to maintain them, and like everywhere else, their bricks and mortar are literally crumbling into the ground.

Far more graves

The three year war has not filled Kinshasa's graveyards with its direct victims, as it has done in eastern DR Congo.

There, the Rwandan and Ugandan backed rebellion has provoked a bloody conflict and a humanitarian crisis leading to the estimated deaths of at least two million.

But, during the same period, although the capital has not witnessed any fighting, there has been a doubling of the number of graveyards.

Charging patients

Kinshasa's impoverished health services have simply failed to cope with the escalating health needs of the population.

Grain seller in Kinshasa
Selling to make ends meet in Kinshasa
Most government revenue is spent on the war, and with the partition of the country, and the departure of foreign investors, Kinshasa's health clinics only survive by charging patients.

It would be wrong however to suggest that Kinshasa's problems started with the war.

For more than 10 years, its businesses, hospitals, schools and roads have been collapsing.

Long economic crisis

Professor Mabi Mulumba is the government's chief auditor. Before that he was finance minister then prime minister under late president Mobutu.

Werra Son Congolese musician
Werra Son keeps music scene alive
"The effect of the war has only reinforced the country's economic crisis," he says.

"Even before it started DR Congo did not have the funds to really sort out its major problems."

One way Kinshasa's residents try to survive this long economic crisis is to set up in business. Most are in tiny shops and kiosks and vendors pack the city's crowded streets.

Raphael runs one such kiosk. He is a security guard at a church, but he says his salary is not enough.

"I sell cigarettes here at my kiosk so that I can get enough money for a taxi home. There are thousands of little shops like mine because the government doesn't provide us with enough work," he says.

Raphael, like most people in Kinshasa do not talk much about the war, instead they are too busy making ends meet.

Dancing

And when they are not, they are probably dancing.

Kinshasa's music scene continues to thrive, as a new generation of musicians such as Werra Son and JB Mina take over from Kofi Olomide and Papa Wembe.

Radja Kula Congolese dancer
Radja Kula's boasts of over 6,000 dance moves
Their dancers' latest moves are copied by everyone from street kids to government ministers when the city unwinds in the evenings and weekends.

All the dances originate from one man, Radja Kula, who claims to have thought up 6,600 different dance moves.

The war has not stopped Radja Kula from working, just as it has not killed off Kinshasa's joie de vivre.

But as the capital's cemeteries fill up with the indirect victims of the conflict, so Radja Kula, has for the first time run out of ideas.

"Since the war began, it is not possible to be inspired. There are people dying in the country. It is just not possible, it is not possible."

See also:

06 Aug 01 | Africa
UK minister to push Congo peace
21 Jun 01 | Africa
In pictures: Historic Congo trip
30 May 01 | Africa
UN optimistic over Congo
20 Apr 01 | Africa
Congo rebels allow UN to deploy
28 Feb 01 | Africa
Troops withdraw from DR Congo
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