Gang crime threatens the future of Congo's capital

Wed Jun 19, 2013 8:43am EDT
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By Jonny Hogg

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Once the leafy art-deco jewel of the Belgian Congo and later the buzzing cultural heart of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko's Zaire, Kinshasa has become a playground for violent gangs sowing fear and transforming swathes of the city into "no-go" zones.

The well-organized and ruthless "kuluna", whose name derives from the Portuguese for infantry column, prey on residents with machetes, stones or iron bars under the noses of the city's corrupt and ineffectual police, activists say.

Harriet Senga watched a gang of men strike her 19-year-old neighbor with a machete and rape her in broad daylight as she collected water from a muddy stream.

When Senga tried to intervene, the men chased her through the creek. By the time the police arrived, the attackers were long gone.

"Authorities have got to start taking the gang problem seriously," the 32-year-old said. "Even if criminals are robbing and killing, police never intervene till they have left."

Youth poverty and unemployment are fuelling criminality in Congo's teeming capital, threatening government efforts to overhaul the decrepit city and attract investment.

Authorities recognize urgent action is needed to stop gang violence in the city of 10 million spiraling out of control.

According to the United Nations, Kinshasa is the fastest growing city in Africa, expected to hit 12.7 million people by 2020.   Continued...

A homeless child begs along a street in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in capital Kinshasa June 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jonny Hogg