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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 November, 2004, 14:15 GMT
Kinshasa begins clean-up
By Patrice Chitera
BBC, Kinshasa

Once one of Africa's cleanest and loveliest cities, Kinshasa used to be called Kin-La-Belle.

Kinshasa from the air
Kinshasa was once a jewel in Africa's crown
But with the collapse of public services, people started calling DR Congo's showcase capital - Kin-La-Poubelle - or Kinshasa, the dustbin.

But all that may change.

The city's new mayor, Jean Kimbunda, is leading a clean-up operation aimed at restoring the riverside city's former beauty.

Stagnant water

But the project is not without challenges.

One of Kinshasa's dirtiest neighbourhoods is Place Victoire.

It is a big crossroads, from where thousands of people take taxis to all parts of the city.

People come here and defecate but no one complains
Kinshasa resident in Place Victoire

It is also home to ramshackle shops, cheap hotels, unpainted bars, as well as piles of uncollected rubbish.

With the collapse of many public services since 1990, gutters along the streets are also full of rubbish and stagnant water.

Rubbish now clogs up the streets
Place Victoire resembles many Kinshasa districts, to the point that many residents cannot hide their disgust.

"Look, everywhere rubbish, sewage, defecations," says one resident.

"People come here and defecate but no one complains - we became animals."


Mayor Kimbunda has for the past three weeks been leading a clean-up operation.

Trucks are destroying shops and stalls set up on unauthorised sites.

Rubbish is being removed and gutters are being cleared.

How can the governor remove our containers where we earn our living?
Patrick, a mobile phone repairer
"The operation is a good idea. Before Kinshasa was a beautiful city, but now it is very dirty," said Michelin.

"Tractors have been operating in all areas. I hope the mayor will continue," said another.

Kinshasa, however, is a city where unemployment is high, and, as a result, not every resident is concerned with keeping the city clean.

Some people who have lost their containers or small businesses which they had set up on unauthorised sites.

"How can the governor remove our containers where we earn our living?" asks Patrick, a mobile phone repairer.

"[The mayor] should leave those containers. If he wants to clean the city he has to give us jobs first."

Previous mayors have embarked on similar clean-up campaigns, which never got very far.

Mayor's pledge

But Mayor Kimbunda thinks he will succeed where others have failed.

Congolese man
Neglect has taken its toll in Kinshasa
"We launched this operation and we're certainly going to succeed.

"On the one hand, this city has experienced significant population growth but on the other hand, the rehabilitation of infrastructures has stopped."

Foreign embassies have given their support to the clean-up.

The United Nations mission has provided the campaign with $40m.

But the mayor's opponents are not convinced he will succeed.

"It's one thing to remove rubbish, but you have also to insure it doesn't return," Alafuelele Kalala, an MP, said.

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