Renaming the Congo (or at least its streets)

What’s in a name? Congo Ba Leki reported a few days ago that Mayor Guy Shilton Baendo of Kisangani , once the country’s third largest city (famously depicted in VS Naipaul’s “Bend in the River”), had decided to rename the city’s streets. Not a bad idea, some would say, as many names had not changed since Mobutu, who had a tendency to name streets after himself or his deeds. “Avenue of 24 November” – the day he took power in 1965; “Avenue de Kamanyola” – the village where he allegedly defeated Mai-Mai rebels in the 1960s; and son on.

Of course, the mayor didn’t want so much to change the naming policy, but just to update it. He announced that there were would be streets named after the current governor of the province, Medard Autsai, the president of the provincial assembly and, most humbly, after the mayor himself.

There is a long tradition in Congolese music for shout-outs, or mabanga (stones), that musicians give to politicians and businessmen in return for cash. Contemporary songs are chock full of them, and it’s one of the best ways for the cash-strapped musicians to make some cash. (For Werrason’s new clip and the mabanga in it, see Solo Kinshasa’s blog.) So I have no doubt that this initiative was similarly motivated. How much did it cost Governor Autsai to get his name on one of the main streets in Kisangani?

Fortunately, there was such an outcry that the mayor had to retract. Gangs of youths took to the streets to spray paint the new streets names in protest. So what did the mayor do? He appointed a commission of elders to evaluate the renaming process. Of course, the commission will get per diems and a modest travel budget….