10 August 2016

Les Rapides in Djoué, just outside Brazzaville, is a nice spot for picnicking, catching fish, washing clothes, and bathing in the shallows nearby.

French Africa at its peak
The Republic of the Congo is often called "Congo-Brazzaville" to distinguish it from its larger neighbor with a similar official name but often called "Congo-Kinshasa."

Congo-Brazzaville was the southernmost tip of the vast French colonial empire in Africa and the French language remains entrenched here.

Sadly, this is yet another African country with immense natural wealth (including considerable oil) that is mired in poverty from corruption, cronyism, and sclerotic statism.

Since I'll be going on a rural wildlife trek in the neighboring Congo (DRC), I decided to focus on the urban life of Brazzaville in this Congo.

Britain's Foreign Office said Brazzaville (but not its adjoining province) has been peaceful and relatively safe since the violence and deaths last April following the "re-election" of the autocrat-kleptocrat ruler for three decades.

Two students at the painting school – Ecole de Peinture de Poto-Poto.
On display were some large impressive contemporary paintings too.

Markets of Poto-Poto focused on dry goods.

The big Marché Total in Bacongo was filled with foods.

Beautiful Basilique St. Anne.
Congo-inspired architectural elements include the basilica’s unusually sharp arches.
(I don't believe the balloons added to the charm.)

Left: Stature of Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, (antislavery) French explorer of the region.
Middle: Nabemba Tower, a round, concave skyscraper dominating the skyline.
Right: Monument to Marien Ngouabi, a disastrous (but still honored) long-time Marxist ruler.

One afternoon I recruited receptionist Chancelle from Mikhael’s Hotel to help translate for taxi driver Eric (who turned out to speak more English than she did).
Anyway we had fun. Stopping here for a mid-afternoon espresso.
And, yes, maybe I should study French.

Stylish women arriving for a wedding.

Brazzaville sapeurs!
(Photo left: From a good WSJ article. Photo right: From here.)
Brazzaville's most famous fashionistas are not its colorfully garbed women, but it's sapeurs ― working class men who dress with great style.

I read that sape is colloquial French for “dressing with class.” And the word “sapeur” is a new French African word that refers to a man dressed with elegance.

I'd wanted to see them in person ever since watching this Guinness commercial.

My worst mistake in Brazzaville was not knowing that sapeurs only go all out on Saturday evening and Sunday. My departure flight was midday Saturday and I had to miss them.

Tripadvisor lists the Musee National as second most noteworthy thing to see (after the Basilica) in Brazzaville. So I searched for it, repeatedly.

Taxi drivers and others pointed me to this place. It may or may not now be – or ever have been – the national museum. Opinions differed.

Update (discovered online): A small structure by the Brazza statue may have been the National Museum. So maybe I did happen to visit it after all.

 Along the corniche, you can look one mile away across the Congo River and see the massive city of Kinshasa, capital of the other Congo (DRC). With over six million people, Kinshasa is the third largest city in Africa behind Lagos and Cairo. Kinshasa is about six times larger than Brazzaville (which only tops one million).

Depending on how you label adjacent Vatican City and Rome, the two Congos have the closest capital cities in the world.

The conventional wisdom online is that taking the ferry to Kinshasa is a nightmare of immigration red tape, lines, and chaos. I opted out

My next destination is indeed Congo-Kinshasa but to its far eastern mountains.