The two African cities don’t have much in common, apart from a history of civil war but moves are afoot to bring them closer together.
The world’s closest capitals, Brazzaville and Kinshasa, regard each other with some suspicion across the wide, brown expanse of the Congo River. Separated by 3km of water, the two cities have developed very differently. Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo, has maintained many colonial trappings, having the atmosphere of a provincial French town dozing in the tropical heat. Kinshasa on the other hand is the chaotic home to 10 million souls and cultural heart of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a seething, febrile place famous for its music, nightlife and sporadic violence.
Both Congos have known civil war, with traders taking advantage of conflict-induced shortages on either side of the river, opportunistically shuttling goods in the rusting, overcrowded ferries plying the crossing. On occasion in the 1990s, the two countries even traded fire, launching rockets at each other across the water.
Relations have improved, but the crossing is still not for the fainthearted. Safety concerns aside, the “beaches” in each city, where boats dock, are a whirl of semi-legal officials demanding taxes, payments and bribes before you stumble out in the sweltering heat, lighter of wallet but clutching your documents. There is talk of building a road and rail bridge to connect the two cities but these kinds of projects usually take years to realise, if they happen at all.
For now, the crossing is an exhilarating experience but also a stark reminder of the difficulties Africans face in moving people and goods across borders.