|Country||Democratic Republic of the Congo|
|• Mayor||Jean Paul Ntambwe Kasanzu|
|• Total||135.12 km2 (52.17 sq mi)|
|Elevation||549 m (1,801 ft)|
|• Density||12,000/km2 (32,000/sq mi)|
Mbuji-Mayi (formerly Bakwanga) serves as the capital city of Kasai-Oriental Province in the south-central Democratic Republic of Congo. It is the third largest city in the country, following the capital Kinshasa and second largest city Lubumbashi but ahead of Kisangani and Kananga, though the exact population is not known. Estimates ranged from a 2010 CIA Factbook estimated population of 1,480,000  to as many as 3,500,000 estimated by the United Nations in 2008.
Mbuji-Mayi lies in Luba country on the Sankuru River. The name Mbuji-Mayi comes from the local language, Tshiluba, and translates as "Goat-Water," a name deriving from the great number of goats in the region and the city's location on the Sankuru, making it a prime watering spot. Despite its large population, the city remains remote, having little connection to surrounding provinces or to Kinshasa and Lubumbashi. Air travel is provided through the Mbuji Mayi Airport.
The region where the city of Mbuji-Mayi now stands was once a cluster of villages on land owned by the Bakwanga clan. Diamonds were first discovered in the area as early as 1907, but the true value of the find was not recognised until 1913. Following the discovery, a mining camp designed to house miners and company officials of the Societé minière de Bakwanga (MIBA) was developed in the area.
The young city, known at the time as Bakwanga, grew quickly but around strict planning by MIBA, which divided the community into labor camps, mining areas and living quarters. The city's growth was not explosive, and planning was done with the needs of the mining company in mind , not the development of the region as a general population centre.
In fact, fearing theft of the company's diamond resources, the MIBA actively discouraged building in the region and closely monitored who went in and out of the region. Every person in the region needed a permit allowing them to be there, and registration at a command post that monitored the population, which made indefinite residence in the area almost impossible to establish. There was limited economic activity besides the company-run mining, with even limited agriculture, and the city's population remained low, at approximately 39,830 by the late 1950s.
As the city grew, more and more infrastructure needs required investment in roads, public works and hospitals. While several primary schools were developed for workers, until independence, there was no higher education available for the native population.
The area around Mbuji-Mayi is one of the richest sources of mineral wealth in the world. In the 1950s, it was estimated that the Mbuji-Mayi area had the world's most important industrial diamond desposits, containing at least 300 million karats of diamonds. The city was literally constructed on top of the diamond deposits, and while the city's reputation as a company town under tight control of Belgian economic interests meant it was neat and orderly, it also meant that the city's buildings and homes, including those of top MIBA executives, were sometimes demolished to access the diamonds.
In the earlier years, most of the diamonds mined in the area came from one large MIBA-controlled mine on the city's outskirts, but diamonds could also be easily found in the area's streams and waterways, making it possible for anyone to collect them.
Mbuji-Mayi grew rapidly upon Congolese independence in 1960 with the immigration of members of the Luba ethnic group from different parts of the country.
Shortly after independence, Albert Kalonji, a Luba tribal chief, declared himself ruler of the secessionist Mining State of South Kasai on Aug. 8, 1960 and established the city, still known as Bakwanga, as his capital. In April 1961, Kalonji declared himself as emperor of the region in a traditional tribal ceremony and then returned to Bakwanga, where he was "carried through crowds of chanting, singing and cheering Balubas," and dancing continued outside his royal palace there for four days.
The celebrating was shortlived, as the central government Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC) troops took control of the town and arrested Kalonji, by December 1961. After an escape from the jail in which he was being held, he briefly re-established his government. A second assault on the independent state was launched in the summer of 1962, with ANC government troops fighting poorly armed tribesmen outside of the city. Kalonji was captured, again, on Oct. 4, 1962, when central Congolese troops retook Bakwanga, effectively ending the region's independence.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Zaïre and Mobutu paid little attention to Mbuji-Mayi, offering almost no money to build roads, schools or hospitals.
In the political vacuum, MIBA stepped in. In the place of the federal government, MIBA invested heavily in the region by repairing roads, paying soldiers and supplying water and electricity to the city from its own power station. The company set up a social fund of $5 to $6 million a year, roughly 8 percent of its annual budget. This money went to repair infrastructure and to fund a new university.
The investments and ita position as largest employer made Jonas Mukamba Kadiata Nzemba the chief executive officer of MIBA one of the most powerful men in the region, and the de facto governor of Mbuji-Mayi. Nzemba, who was appointed by Mobutu in 1986, was considered one of the more powerful players in Mobutu's political party, the Mouvement Populaire pour le Revolution (MPR), but he also called himself a "brother" of Étienne Tshisekedi, a popular local political figure and Mobutu's most significant political opposition.
Nzemba is credited with creating the Conference pour le Developpement Economique de Kasai Oriental (CDEKO), a regional economic development group in the early 1990s. Nzemba also backed the creation of the University of Kasai, which was jointly sponsored by MIBA and the local Catholic Church, and which became the home base of CDEKO. The new organization spearheaded economic growth in Mbuji-Mayi, helped support the development of new agricultural and beer industry expansion around the city and launched Wetrafa, a locally-owned airline.
Mobutu's willingness to let Nzemba control the province through MIBA came at a price, as Nzemba may have skimmed as much as $1.5 to $2 million a month to send to Mobutu's personal bank accounts.
Although Nzemba and MIBA's largesse helped Mbuji-Mayi maintain some semblance of infrastructure and social services, at least by the standards of Zaïre, the city still struggled. Electricity was spotty, the university was broken down and the road system disintegrated with the rain. Outside of the sector of the city controlled by MIBA, the road network was virtually nonexistent, and in 1991, the entire city had only about 19.7 km of paved roads, all in poor condition. The state-run power plant went out of service in 1990, with an 11.8 mW hydroelectric plant run by MIBA as the only source of electricity, but frequent power outages led residents to other sources of heat and light, mainly wood and charcoal leading to widespread deforestation in the area.
As the First Congo War broke out, Nzemba initially sided with Mobutu against the rebels led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila, but as Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL or ADFLC) approached the city, Nzemba quickly switched sides.
When the city fell to the rebels on April 4, 1997, looting by both sides took a toll on the city, particularly MIBA's mining operations. Nzemba was also summoned to Goma to speak with Kabila, who held him for several days, prompting his family to purchase advertising in newspapers publicising their concerns for his safety. Nzemba was released shortly after, but MIBA began making "voluntary contributions" to Kabila's war otally, an estimated $5.5 million in 1997 and 1998.
Culture and economy
Diamond mining and smuggling
As a commercial center, Mbuji-Mayi handles most diamond mining, panning, and production in the Congo. Societé minière de Bakwanga and Diamant International are the major diamond producers in the area.
The city had always been a major source of the world's diamonds and that did not change after independence, nor did the age-old tradition of diamond smuggling. But after independence, that ability of the government to control the diamond smuggling quickly eroded and diamond smuggling dramatically increased. The black market quickly eclipsed the official business, and in 1963, MIBA officially recorded producing 1.4 million karats of diamonds, while smugglers exported between 4 million and 6 million more karats.
The city lacks much of the organization and classic European architecture that other major cities in the DRC inherited from the Belgian colonists. Journalist Michela Wrong, described Mbuji-Mayi as "a curiously soulless settlement, with no tangible centre ... It is purely functional conurbation, dedicated to making money, with little left over for less focused activities."  Even today, much of the city revolves around the Avenue Inga, where diamond and mineral buyers have set up shop and the city's main business remains the diamond trade.
|Climate data for Mbuji-Mayi|
|Average high °C (°F)||30.4
|Daily mean °C (°F)||25.2
|Average low °C (°F)||20.1
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||150
|Source: Climate-Data.org, altitude: 614m|
- "CIA The World Factbook". CIA. Retrieved May 30, 2011.
- UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (Feb 25, 2008), "Congo-Kinshasa; Neglect, Deaths in Prison Condemned", Africa News
- Wrong, Michela (2002), "5", In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo, HarperCollins, ISBN 0-06-093443-3
- United Nations Centre for Human Settlements The Management of Secondary Cities in Sub-Saharan Africa. UN-Habitat, 1991, p. 125.
- United Nations Centre for Human Settlements The Management of Secondary Cities in Sub-Saharan Africa. UN-Habitat, 1991, p. 126.
- United Nations Centre for Human Settlements The Management of Secondary Cities in Sub-Saharan Africa. UN-Habitat, 1991, p. 129.
- Lukas, J. Anthony (March 7, 1963). "Gem Smuggling On The Rise In Congo". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
- "Balubas Hail Kalonji As Their King". The Washington Post Times Herald (Washington). 10 April 1961. pp. A9.
- "Congo Troops Capture Kalonji, Crush Army". The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles). 3 October 1962. p. 14.
- "The diamond city". The Economist (London). 15 March 1997. pp. 42–43.
- United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network for the Great Lakes (21 March 1997). "Zaïre: IRIN Briefing Part VI: Kasai, 3/21/97". University of Pennsylvania - African Studies Center. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
- "Who's Who No. 129 - Jonas M. Kadiata Nzemba". Africa Mining Intelligence (Indigo Publications). 29 March 2006. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
- United Nations Centre for Human Settlements The Management of Secondary Cities in Sub-Saharan Africa. UN-Habitat, 1991, p. 133.
- Misser, F (2000). "Democratic Republic of the Congo: Kabila turns diamonds to dust". African Business (London: IC Publications). pp. 31–32.
- United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks (17 April 1997). "IRIN Emergency Update No.152 on the Great Lakes".
- "War turns commercial". The Economist. 22 October 1998. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
- "Climate: Mbuji-Mayi - Climate graph, Temperature graph, Climate table". Climate-Data.org. Retrieved 17 September 2013.
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