Dem. Rep. of Congo



“Most of the city’s residents are officially jobless and must hustle and improvise to survive.”


in this capital of 10,000,000 (with another half million “joining” each year) where electrical power is uncertain after dark…


How does one survive in such chaos?



[For MORE use the DOOR.]



First we need to stop thinking like a westerner…or do we?  Chaos is extreme disorder according to the way we expect things to be. But what if a people reorder their expectations when “business as usual” seems like no business at all?  The Congolese in their “Democratic Republic” have created a “city of frenzied entrepreneurship where everyone is a salesman of whatever merchandise comes along.” And that includes world-recognized art and music.

For the capital of this 2nd largest (in population) country in Africa, and perhaps the most malnourished population in the world, Robert Draper, of National Geographic¹ writes:

“I sought out a local author who once wrote of his native city, ‘Kinshasa is a city where students do not study, workers do not work, ministers do not administrate.‘ The author’s name is Lye M. Yoka. He is general director of the National Institute of the Arts, and he grinned as I read this quote back to him. ‘The strength of Kinshasa can be found in two places,’ he told me. ‘The first is the melting pot: You find a mixture of all the tribes, and there is no friction between local tribes in the capital city.’ There were wars between military leaders,’ he said, but ‘tribal communities never suffered civil war.’

“The second source of the city’s strength, he went on, is its ‘great creativity and improvisation. To the outsider the perception is chaos. For me it is not chaos at all. We’ve developed an informal system. And within this informal system, there’s an organization. We use what we have, and we negotiate everything.

“Yoka was, of course, describing the very nature of artistic sensibility. ‘Artists notoriously do not rely on government,’ he said. ‘Their artistic activity becomes a way of withstanding their daily crisis, and also a means of dreaming. The bottom line is that passion has two meanings. It means to suffer, and it means enthusiasm.

“This is Kinshasa, city of art, where [at night by lantern light²] travail is muse.”

In my science fiction where the electrical power grid has been destroyed by EMP from the ground up, I’ve thought a great deal about how such tragedy would affect our modern life. The TV dramas that have tried to build on such a radical event just don’t get it. The human mind (which we’ve said much about) can, sooner than many realize, wrap around dramatic new circumstances and bring new order to a “frenzy” of readjustment.

The September National Geographic, in this  colorful illustrated essay, shows how many modern humans can rise up and make do with so little.


¹ Robert Draper, “Behold the Artist,” as part of “Kinshasa, Urban Pulse of the Congo,” National Geographic (Sept. 2013). Draper’s essay is the source of the indented information.

² Not part of the quote, but shown in an included pictorial illustration.



Author: John Knapp