Camp Zaire: A piece of Congo in Kigali

Camp Zaire is a quarter in Gikondo; Kicukiro District. This area derives its name from the big number of Congolese nationals residing here. It is believed that this area got its name in 1971 when the country and even the huge Congo River were renamed Zaire by former President Joseph-Désiré Mobutu who didn’t only change the name of the country but his name as well.
The writer with Mzee Ssuna
The writer with Mzee Ssuna

Camp Zaire is a quarter in Gikondo; Kicukiro District. This area derives its name from the big number of Congolese nationals residing here. It is believed that this area got its name in 1971 when the country and even the huge Congo River were renamed Zaire by former President Joseph-Désiré Mobutu who didn’t only change the name of the country but his name as well.

Mobutu renamed himself Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga  loosely translated as ‘The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and firm will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake’.

In 1997 General Laurent Kabila took over power of Zaire and changed it’s name to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a name it held prior to 1971 but Camp Zaire remained just that.

When a big number of Congo nationals came to Rwanda looking for greener pastures, in the early 60’s, Mr. Suuna Aaron, a casual labourer who was by then a young man in his late 20’s was one of them. He bought a piece of land in Gikondo, married and started a family.

Later he was joined by other country men in the same area and in just four years, the place was packed with Congolese families. Suuna recalls when the late Mobutu came to visit Rwanda, President Habyarimana who was his close friend went to Camp Zaire from Kanombe airport, stopped and had a word with his ‘subjects’.

Half a century later, Camp Zaire is still home to many Congolese families. Today when you step into the areas, for a minute there is a Congolese vibe to the place. As you pass an elder’s house, the sound of 70’s music by the likes of Franco Luambo Makiyadi, Tabu Ley Rochereau, Kanda Bongman or Pepe Kale’s fills the air.

Most songs from the Democratic Republic of the Congo are sung in the “Lingala” dialect, mainly because it is the dialect which is most spoken in the country. The young ones in the area listen to the likes of Wenge Musica, J.B. Mpiana and Werrason and Fally Ipupa.

Here, you can see, hear, feel and smell Congo because they are holding onto their culture and traditions. Everything screams Congo, from food to the way they dress to their accent.

It’s amazing to hear children who were born and raised here speak fluent Lingala and French. Many families eat Rwandese food but no matter how many years go by, they can never stop eating Isombe ( cassava leaves )  usually served with  cassava bread.  Each person takes a handful of the dough staple and mixes it with some sauce to form a ball.

Mzee Suuna, the founder of this area, is still around with his wife and they were blessed with ten children. Most of his age mates died or went back home, but for Mzee Suuna, Rwanda is his home.

“Peace, security and freedom are all a human being can ask for and we have it here. I’ve educated all my children and now they are respectable people. I’m old and waiting for the day I will join my ancestors, but I’m a happy man,” said Sunna.

 

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