Reinventing Order in the Congo

How People Respond to State Failure in Kinshasa

Edited by Theodore Trefon


Kinshasa is sub-Saharan Africa‘s second largest city. The seven million Congolese who live there have a rich reputation for the courageous and innovative ways in which they survive in a harsh urban environment. They have created new social institutions, practices, networks and ways of living to deal with the collapse of public provision and a malfunctioning political system.

This book describes how ordinary people, in the absence of formal sector jobs, hustle for a modest living; the famous ‘bargaining‘ system ordinary Kinois have developed; and how they access food, water supplies, health and education. The NGO-ization of service provision is analysed, as is the quite rare incidence of urban riots. The contributors also look at popular discourses, including street rumor, witchcraft, and attitudes to ‘big men‘ such as musicians and preachers. This is urban sociology at its best - richly empirical, unjargonized, descriptive of the lives of ordinary people, and weaving into its analysis how they see and experience life.

Author Bio

Dr Theodore Trefon was educated at Boston University. He is an independent researcher and consultant currently based at the Free University of Brussels. He is also President of the Brussels Centre of African Studies.


'This book will stand as a major contribution to the social science literature on the Congo, and also a model for looking at African urban life from the standpoint of the victims of state mismanagement.'
Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, Oslo Governance Centre

'This is a pioneering work whose relevance extends well beyond the confines of Kinshasa, and applies not only to Africa, but also to other so-called "developing" areas.'
Edouard Bustin, Boston University

'Their work is a superb contribution to our understanding of the informal economy of sub-Saharan Africa‘s second largest city.'
Rene Lemarchand, University of Florida

'The contributors provide multiple perspectives through which to theorize African urbanization.'
African Studies Review


Publication Date: 1 December 2004
234 pages

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781842774915
eBook ePub: 9781848137677
eBook PDF: 9781848131125
eBook Kindle: 9781780327150
Library Edition: 9781842774908

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