On 1-3 April 2014 two related but separate conferences were held at the Grand Hôtel in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC):

  • “Convening the Africa LEDS Partnership” was held on April 1st as a natural progression of the LEDS Global Partnership and LEDS regional partnerships in Asia and Latin America.
  • “Pathways to Green Growth in Africa” hosted by the Green Growth Knowledge Platform took place on April 2nd and 3rd and aimed to facilitate knowledge exchange and foster synergies across the region on green growth approaches and practices.

I represented the Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA) at these events to explore further networking opportunities for SARUA’s planned research clusters and capacity development networks with other regional and global organisations and partners – you can read my previous blog post on the Capacity Development Programme for Climate Change here.

Downtown Kinshasa close to the Marché Central

Downtown Kinshasa close to the Marché Central

As many participants pointed out, Africa needs to leapfrog traditional energy development pathways to greener options, as what has happened with mobile telecommunications, without compromising on the imperative for human development. This last point is a sensitive one, with some people at the conference arguing that African countries are not the major contributors of carbon dioxide emissions and should not be expected to unfairly reduce emissions which could hamper progress toward accelerated development. The general consensus is, however, that rapid urbanisation in Africa also needs innovative energy solutions.

The DRC is not yet politically stable, with extensive fighting between the government and rebel factions ongoing and, cities like Goma has been in a state of flux for a number of years, in particular since 2012. The USA State Department’s updated April 2014 travel warning further states that “Kinshasa has a critical crime threat level…” and advises against travel in the city after dark.

The famous Stade Tata Rafaël where the Rumble in the Jungle took place in 1974

The famous Stade Tata Rafaël where the Rumble in the Jungle took place in 1974

Kinshasa is a city facing many challenges, in particular in terms of human development and infrastructure, and not everyone I met was optimistic about the country’s future, like the young man next to me on the plane who was returning after 6 years only to sort out his father’s estate, before joining his brother in the USA. There are, however, many people I met who are positive and entrepreneurial in the face of adversity. It is a city famed for its music and has in recent years attracted a lot of attention for releases by artists like Baloji and the bands on the Belgian record label Crammed Discs which include Kasai Allstars, who I saw perform at Roskilde Festival in 2011, Konono n°1 and Staff Benda Bilili.

Shak Shakito playing in the Grand Hôtel

Shak Shakito playing in the Grand Hôtel

Being a big fan of these Congolese bands, I wondered how I would find out where the Kinois (people of Kinshasa) go for live music. Such an opportunity presented itself when, at the conference cocktail function, I started watching some session musicians hired for the evening. The one performer immediately stood out for the quality of his compositions, his musical ability and the energy of his performance, so I walked up after the band’s set and introduced myself to Shak Shakito. It turned out that not only had Shak, a music teacher, already released an album and played in France, but he was more than willing to take a few of us to see some live music the following evening after the conference closing.

Me and Shak Shakito, Kinshasa April 2014

Me and Shak Shakito, Kinshasa April 2014

The next evening was quite an experience. Not only did our group from South Africa, Kenya and Zambia visit a venue we would otherwise not have found as tourists, but we also saw a local musical legend, Jean Goubald play an album release show, with him and Shak ending the evening off by playing a few songs together.

Jean Goubald and Shak Shakito performing together

Jean Goubald and Shak Shakito performing together

It is nowhere easy to make a living as a musician, and maybe even more so in Kinshasa where only a few bands manage to make an international breakthrough, so it is inspiring to see how the love of music makes people everywhere persevere – it might be hard work, but not playing is not an option.