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French planning in a former Belgian colony: a critical analysis of the French urban planning missions in post-independence Kinshasa

Luce Beeckmans (UGent)
Author
Organization
Abstract
In 1964, on request of the Congolese government, France sends a ‘Mission Française d’Urbanisme’ (MFU) to Kinshasa. Faced with a rapid and uncoordinated expansion of the city in the years after independence, the Congolese government has to recognize its lack of expertise in the field of urban planning. France sees its chance to ensure its interests in Central and West Africa and seeks to expand the advantageous cooperation programs which are running in its former colonies. In 1967 an initial master plan made by Auguste Arsac is presented. While being a product of the postcolonial era, the French masterplan in many respects follows and expands the proposals of the Belgian postwar colonial planning apparatus: clearly separated satellite cities combined with huge industrial zones, the modernist zoning principals, the anti‐urban attitude and even the expansion of the city to the east, illustrating that in the field of planning Congo’s independence did not engender a radical rupture. Before the MFU even starts thinking about the execution, the plan however seems already outdated by the huge urban growth. In the years after the failure of the first masterplan, a new team of geographers, sociologists and anthropologists develops the ‘Atlas of Kinshasa’, a very prestigious work published in 1975. Although it draws on a socio‐spatial analysis of exceptional depth and involvement, the second masterplan presented in the atlas differs only slightly from the first. Putting large emphasis on infrastructure, proposing among others a huge ring road around the city and a bridge across the Congo River to Brazzaville, the masterplan is monumental, authoritarian and utopian. As such, it fails to respond the needs of the daily consumer of the city, the average Kinois. The implemented activities of the MFU remain limited to punctual interventions in a modernist style. In fact, the city planning apparatus and the masterplans serve only as façade, the government, and president Mobutu in particular, only showing interest in urban interventions that serve his own, personal agenda. Drawing on published material, archival documents from both Belgium and Congo, and fieldwork, this paper will provide a critical analysis of these French urban planning missions in the changed geopolitical context that characterized post‐1960 Congo. It will discuss the masterplans they produced, the models that underscored them and highlight the remarkable continuity of the 1975 proposals in current debates on Kinshasa’s future in relation to the city’s exponential growth that seemingly occurred without guidance from above.

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Chicago
Beeckmans, Luce. 2009. “French Planning in a Former Belgian Colony: a Critical Analysis of the French Urban Planning Missions in Post-independence Kinshasa.” In SAH (Society of Architectural Historians) 62nd Annual Meeting, Abstracts.
APA
Beeckmans, Luce. (2009). French planning in a former Belgian colony: a critical analysis of the French urban planning missions in post-independence Kinshasa. SAH (Society of Architectural Historians) 62nd Annual Meeting, Abstracts. Presented at the SAH (Society of Architectural Historians) 62nd Annual Meeting.
Vancouver
1.
Beeckmans L. French planning in a former Belgian colony: a critical analysis of the French urban planning missions in post-independence Kinshasa. SAH (Society of Architectural Historians) 62nd Annual Meeting, Abstracts. 2009.
MLA
Beeckmans, Luce. “French Planning in a Former Belgian Colony: a Critical Analysis of the French Urban Planning Missions in Post-independence Kinshasa.” SAH (Society of Architectural Historians) 62nd Annual Meeting, Abstracts. 2009. Print.
@inproceedings{4170106,
  abstract     = {In 1964, on request of the Congolese government, France sends a ‘Mission Française d’Urbanisme’ (MFU) to Kinshasa. Faced with a rapid and uncoordinated expansion of the city in the years after independence, the Congolese government has to recognize its lack of expertise in the field of urban planning. France sees its chance to ensure its interests in Central and West Africa and seeks to expand the advantageous cooperation programs which are running in its former colonies. In 1967 an initial master plan made by Auguste Arsac is presented. While being a product of the postcolonial era, the French masterplan in many respects follows and expands the proposals of the Belgian postwar colonial planning apparatus: clearly separated satellite cities combined with huge industrial zones, the modernist zoning principals, the anti‐urban attitude and even the expansion of the city to the east, illustrating that in the field of planning Congo’s independence did not engender a radical rupture. Before the MFU even starts thinking about the execution, the plan however seems already outdated by the huge urban growth. In the years after the failure of the first masterplan, a new team of geographers, sociologists and anthropologists develops the ‘Atlas of Kinshasa’, a very prestigious work published in 1975. Although it draws on a socio‐spatial analysis of exceptional depth and involvement, the second masterplan presented in the atlas differs only slightly from the first. Putting large emphasis on infrastructure, proposing among others a huge ring road around the city and a bridge across the Congo River to Brazzaville, the masterplan is monumental, authoritarian and utopian. As such, it fails to respond the needs of the daily consumer of the city, the average Kinois. The implemented activities of the MFU remain limited to punctual interventions in a modernist style. In fact, the city planning apparatus and the masterplans serve only as façade, the government, and president Mobutu in particular, only showing interest in urban interventions that serve his own, personal agenda. Drawing on published material, archival documents from both Belgium and Congo, and fieldwork, this paper will provide a critical analysis of these French urban planning missions in the changed geopolitical context that characterized post‐1960 Congo. It will discuss the masterplans they produced, the models that underscored them and highlight the remarkable continuity of the 1975 proposals in current debates on Kinshasa’s future in relation to the city’s exponential growth that seemingly occurred without guidance from above.},
  author       = {Beeckmans, Luce},
  booktitle    = {SAH (Society of Architectural Historians) 62nd Annual Meeting, Abstracts},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {Pasadena, Los Angeles, USA},
  title        = {French planning in a former Belgian colony: a critical analysis of the French urban planning missions in post-independence Kinshasa},
  year         = {2009},
}