Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Photographer's View of Daily Life in Lubumbashi

A Stroll through our Neighborhood in Lubumbashi

Back in April 2012 a friend--Michael McBride from Alaska who lives in Utah in the winter months--and myself first came to Lubumbashi as part of a team to assist the Frankfurt Zoological Society Conservation Project.  At that time we wrote three BLOG posts (see #1, #2, and #3) that explain what we’re doing here and provide an introduction to Lubumbashi (see also the brief photo album on my Facebook page from the first ten days around the city in April 2012). 

During the last few days I've been back in town after a wonderful trip up-country near Kundelungu NP (at Lukafu Mission) for a planning workshop--see post HERE.  In between mapping work at the FZS office I’ve had the opportunity to wander around our neighborhood (on the weekends and on a holiday--which they have many of) to get a better sense of everyday life in this vibrant African city.  I will add to this post later, but for now here are a few photos and comments on my observations.

The role of religion in today’s Congo and Africa in general:

Many social science researchers have written about the rapid rise of charismatic Protestant and even Muslim sects in Africa--even the growth of the phenomenon of the Urban Mega Church.  These are quite common now all over East and Central Africa; I’ve personally seen it in the DRC, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and in South Africa.  In essence, the place-to-be now on Sunday (and Saturday for the Seventh-day Adventists) is to be part of an active church group whether in a formal church structure or not.  I walked around three blocks in our neighborhood last Sunday in Lubumbashi and saw at least five churches from large ones (under temporary tabernacle sheds) to regular ones in traditional churches buildings. to really informal meetings in people’s homes and even at a Cyber Cafe!  All the people attending were “dressed to the nine’s” and music was loud, rhythmic, and vibrant!  In fact every night from our office I’m lulled (or driven) to sleep by a Pentecostal group across the street and I'm woken up in the morning by church bells of the Cathedral in the distance (not well attended by the way) and the Muslim call to prayer from a mosque. 

During informal discussions with some of the FZS staff I find radically differing views about how this aspect of modern Congolese society works or whether it is “good or bad”.  Some see it as a waste of money and social/political energy (the old “opiate of the masses” per Lenin) while others are ardent participants in their own respective congregations believing that it brings consolation and even opportunities for advancement not available via government or business.  By the number of very high-level government and business leaders (in their fancy cars) attending these churches, it appears that religion is the new way of showing whether you’re in the “in-crowd”--literally part of the “chosen”!  Some of the traditional churches such as Baptists, Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventists, Salvation Army, and Catholics are also active--but it is quite clear that the new religious energy animating African society (DRC) are the “charismatic” churches--particularly the Pentecostals and related off-shoots including some very “home-grown” groups and unusual transplants, e.g Baha’i!  

Below are a few photos from my stroll around on Sunday with comments; I hope you enjoy what I was seeing and hearing.  This is a very crucial aspect of modern African society--for better or worse!  And, by the way, it is often today the biggest form of North-South interaction--that is “people-to-people” contact.  Several church-goers I talked to refer to links they have with churches in the US, Europe or elsewhere.  And, many of these groups are involved in important outreach and social development that reaches way beyond dealing with spiritual needs.  It has obviously become a crucial part of modern African culture and society!

A Large Charismatic Congregation in Lubumbashi

 A Megachurch meets in a shed in Lubumbashi & Spills onto Sidewalk

Note Special Name & Tagline - "Message for the End of Time"

Church-goers at end of Meeting in their "Sunday Best"

Entry to Baha'i Library and Congregation 
 Sign on the more Traditional Baptist Church 
A Local "Home-Grown" Christian Church that has also Formed  as a
Political Party and even has its own Cyber-Cafe
The Baptist Church in a more traditional Setting & Structure
Another local Charismatic Pentecostal Group meeting in a yard behind a small local shop

Small Business in Today’s Lubumbashi and Up-country:

Another aspect of African society which has always amazed and fascinated me is the creativity and entrepreneurship shown by small business-people and vendors to provide basic services to neighborhood people in very quaint and even crude structures, often emblazoned with colorful names/signs that reflects a very active sense of folk art and whimsy that is great for the photographer like me!  Of course, even more colorful is the traditional African market--I will try to send some examples later--this again is a sign of a very active commercial life.  

But for this blog post I’ll focus on what is the African version of the 7-ELEVEN in the typical mid-level suburb of Lubumbashi.  I find it quit amusing and even amazing what you can buy in these little stores!  For example, my local phone’s SIM card had broken--I was able to get a new one for less than one US$ in five minutes.  And on every corner was a “money changer” (under an umbrella) who could provide exchange of currency.  And of course, even in villages in the bush one can see this creative/marketing acumen at work!  I’ve included a few photos of that as well from recent trips up-country.

A Local Art Vendor (and Poached Sable Antelope Horns)
For Sale along the Sidewalk near Downtown

 A Village Vendor along the Highway to Upemba in Bunkeya

 Chez Papa Narcisse Restaurant--the "Incomparable"!!--in Kiubo

ICCN Guards waiting by a Village Store in Kiubo

The African "7-Eleven" around the corner from our Office

 The local Bakery

 Another Food Mart

A Place to Buy Phone Cards, Cigarettes, and other Items


Robert (GeoBob) Ford, Lubumbashi, August 2, 2102


  1. Hello GeoBob, Are you still in Lubumbashi? I am coming to live there for awhile in January. It would be super helpful to connect with someone there.

  2. Yes, do contact our colleagues at FZS (see summary blog posts and links to FZS staff in Lubumbashi. They are great people to know. My best in your own travels...