Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Congolese: Returning home and building a dream

By Daisy Carrington and Dianne McCarthy, CNN
updated 6:41 AM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has found itself in the middle of a construction boom over the past decade. The economy has also been given a jolt by the entrepreneurial spirit of Congolese returning home from abroad. Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has found itself in the middle of a construction boom over the past decade. The economy has also been given a jolt by the entrepreneurial spirit of Congolese returning home from abroad.
HIDE CAPTION
Kinshasa rising
Kinshasa rising
Kinshasa rising
Kinshasa rising
<<
<
1
2
3
4
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic of Congo, is experiencing a construction boom
  • Many Congolese are returning from abroad to build businesses at home
  • Local entrepreneurs say their hard work is starting to pay off

Every week, Inside Africa takes its viewers on a journey across Africa, exploring the true diversity and depth of different cultures, countries and regions.

Kinshasa, DRC (CNN) -- Kinshasa hasn't had an easy time of it. A decade ago, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo was a broken city, ravaged by years of war and infighting. Of late, however, Kinshasa has witnessed a resurgence, with many expatriated Congolese returning to build a new city.

"When I came back, people thought I was crazy. "[They would ask], 'why would you go into a country where there is war? Where nothing is working? Why not stay in the States and make your life?'" says Joss Ilunga Dijimba, who returned to Kinshasa in 1996 after studying in America. Today, Dijimba runs his own eponymous business, manufacturing plastic bottles for the pharmaceutical industry.

"In the USA, everything has been done -- everything. In Congo, there is still a way to make things right. I am a Congolese. If I'm not going to make it, who's going to?"

In agreement is Olivier Ndombasi, who always planned on building his fortune in his homeland. Like his elder brothers, he studied abroad in the hope of bringing back knowledge that could improve the family business: groceries. His father's small store has now turned into a supermarket franchise called Peloustore, with four locations and more on the way.

From war to booming metropolis

"It's very exciting to be able to do things in a new environment, and do things you didn't think you'd be able to do," says Ndombasi.

"The challenge is great, but it's very exciting."

Read: The island build from coral

Many agree that there are obstacles, but returnees often cite the exhilaration of starting with a clean slate.

"Come to Kinshasa, you unlearn what you thought you knew. You take your MBA book, your business plan, put it in your pocket and start from scratch," says Alain Yav, who 12 years ago founded Pygma Group, a holding company that has interests in communication and construction. Pygma also produces one of the country's most popular television shows: Beauty Queen.

Though the journey has been long, and there are still large portions of the country's population living below the poverty line (70.5% in 2011, according African Economic Outlook), Yav says Kinshasa is starting to reap economic benefits.

It's very exciting to be able to do things in a new environment
Olivier Ndombasi, Peloustore

"When you are working really hard, at some time, you stop believing. But I think we are lucky, because we are seeing it's progressing. Not just us, not just our company, not just our industry, but we are seeing things move forward in every direction," he says.

To prove the point, Kinshasa also seems to be experiencing a construction boom. Buildings are going up at a ferocious rate. One of the largest -- and most controversial -- projects is La Cite du Fleuve (River City), a floating-island complex that is expected to include thousands of flats, hotels and shopping centers.

"Everywhere [you look], you can see new buildings and lots of construction," says Didier M'Pambia, who set up Optimum, one of the larger PR firms in the city. M'Pambia also publishes Optimum Magazine, a glossy pan-African business quarterly aimed at giving the Congolese diaspora information about their home country.

"It's not a Congolese magazine; it's a magazine at the same level of other magazines produced in the United States, Europe or South Africa," says M'Pambia.

"We don't have to be ashamed that we are in Africa. You have to be proud to be Africa and to show your personality. As Congolese, we have to be the first people involved in our development," he says.



Read: The island build from coral

Read: Africa's most exciting architects

Read: Artists journey across 'invisible borders'

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:20 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
To save the rhinos, one charity is moving them out of South Africa, where poaching is at an all time high.
updated 11:42 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
mediterranean monk seal
Many of Africa's animals are facing extinction. Is it too late for them? Our interactive looks at the many challenges to survival.
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
No one knows what causes "fairy circles" in Namibia's desert. A new study, however, may have solved the mystery.
updated 5:57 AM EDT, Mon August 11, 2014
Known as the 'warm heart of Africa', Malawi has friendly locals, good weather, and a new-found safari industry (minus the crowds).
updated 6:54 AM EDT, Thu April 3, 2014
A picture shows the Rwenzori mountain range on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo on March 8, 2014. At 5,109 metres (16,763 feet), Mount Stanley's jagged peak is the third highest mountain in Africa, topped only by Mount Kenya and Tanzania's iconic Kilimanjaro.
The 'African Alps' are melting, and it may be too late. Now may be your last chance to see the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains.
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
The Hadza are one of the oldest people on Earth. Today, they battle for land, and continued survival.
updated 10:38 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
One company thinks so. They're investing in insect farms in Ghana and Kenya. Could bugs build an industry and curb malnutrition?
updated 6:17 AM EST, Wed January 29, 2014
The ruined town of Great Zimbabwe is part of a kingdom that flourished almost 1,000 years ago, and a bridge to the past.
updated 6:20 AM EDT, Fri March 21, 2014
Morocco is famous for its historic cities and rugged landscape. But it's becoming known as a surfer's paradise.
updated 5:27 AM EST, Thu March 6, 2014
A photographer took to an ultra-light aircraft to capture Botswana's savannah from above. The results are amazing.
updated 12:37 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
Vintage helicopters, ziplines, private flying safaris offer new, spectacular views of wildlife and rugged terrain.
updated 6:16 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
Makoko Floating School
A new wave of African architects are creating remarkable buildings in the continent, and beyond.
updated 10:15 AM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
A huge spiral in the Sahara had Google Earth users baffled by what it could be. So what exactly is it?
updated 6:50 AM EDT, Thu May 8, 2014
Unhappy with Liberia's image on the Internet, a photographer decided to present his own view, using GIFs.
updated 8:59 AM EDT, Fri April 25, 2014
IBM asked Africans to photograph the continent's greatest innovations and challenges. The results are breathtaking.
Each week Inside Africa highlights the true diversity of the continent as seen through the mediums of art, music, travel and literature.
ADVERTISEMENT