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Kinshasa? Where’s that?!

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Democratic Republic of Congo
Map showing Kinshasa, DR Congo
Map showing Kinshasa, DR Congo

That was the reaction I got from friends and family from my generation when I told people I was going to work in Kinshasa for two months with DFID DRC. People from older generations asked me, ‘Is that the country that used to be Zaire?’ Needless to say, no one in my circle of friends and family (including myself) had much knowledge about Kinshasa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. So now, besides the challenge of living in a foreign country for two months and working in a different office I had the additional challenge of learning all I could about the DRC.

I am a Sudanese working with DFID Sudan as a programme officer. My work involves management of projects in the Security, Governance and Development team and helping to deliver on DFID Sudan’s commitment to support implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the longest-running civil war in Africa.

My temporary post in DRC will entail the same work I do in Sudan, but in the Natural Resource Governance and Growth team in DFID DRC. When I first heard it, the team name sounded exciting to me: Natural Resources Governance & Growth. How thrilling to be working on a sector that is very new to me and to be a part of delivering DFID DRC’s commitments in this area.  I was already sure that DFID DRC was going to give me more than I would ever take from it in terms of knowledge and experience.

Part of the discovery of how little I knew about the DRC, this country I had committed to staying in for two months, was the realisation that I would not be able to survive without even the most basic French which, like my knowledge of DRC, was almost non-existent. So a crash-course in French in my last six weeks in Khartoum was my next challenge. I really didn’t grasp how important learning French would be to me until my first morning in the DFID office in DRC. The all staff meeting was at nine am and I sat down all happy and excited about my new job. Then I realised that the meeting would be conducted in French and I said to myself, ‘Oh oh, girl you’d better get your act together and learn more of this language while you’re here!’ Needless to say this is still a work in progress, bonne chance to me!

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  1. Comment by Diane posted on

    Hi Sarra,

    We are all very happy to have you whithin our Team and I hope you will spend a fructuous and funny time in DRC.
    Please tell your friend and familly that Kinshasa is not so far from Sudan we are sharing borders ...

    About french don't worry It will come with time and when you will go back to Sudan you can start teaching French to your relatives.

    P.S. : Don't leave Kinshasa before testing the grilled goat and chicken at beau marche or Bandal area...

  2. Comment by Zihindula Mulegwa posted on


    Welcome to Africa third largest country. Actually as our late President Mobutu Sese Seko kuku Ngbendu used to say, it is actually the largest country in Africa, because the two bigger have deserts. There is no desert in the DRC.

    There is nothing you forgot to put in your blog, which is that although you can not speak French very well, almost everyone in the DRC can speak English in addition to our own official language (french) along with Swahili. Lingala, Tshiluba and Kikongo.

    By the time you leave the DRC, you will have discovered that we are the most hospitable people in the world. We are a proud people attached to our country, which despite past hardships, our common denominator is the love of Congo.

    Enjoy your time here, and try to go to the eastern part of this country to dicover additional beauty of this country. There you can see mountain gorillas, each tilapia from lake Kivu, eat straberries from the mountains of Kabare, enjoy juicy mangoes from Uvira, visit the Nyiragongo and so on and so forth. If you visit the Inga damn in the west, you will have the best source of electricity in Africa. Get also a chance to visit our parliament, and watch a football game here in the capital at our Stade de Martyrs.

    Any way welcome home!

  3. Comment by Laura posted on

    So glad you're surviving! But the staff meeting was in FRENCH???

    Carry on keeping us updated - preferably in English or Arabic, though...


  4. Comment by Katembo posted on

    Hey Sara,

    As a congolese, I used to work also in Kinshasa sometimes before moving to the US. Here in the US we have those kind of questions everyday: Where is Kinshasa?, where is the Congo?, oh! is there where people die every seconds? and so forth...

    It is sometimes frustrating to see how we, in the deepest Africa overwelmed with extreme poverty, those poor school without any book thought us the geography and history of every country and region of the world in secondary school. After my secondary school I could locate any country of the word (any country) and give the capital city, the climate and the basics of its economic situation. But sadly in many rich countries, where students had access to infrastructure and technology are not able to say if Africa is a continent or a country.

    I am sure you got to know Congolese people, and you loved it. It is an amazing country with great potential and wonderful people. Some of your meetings should be in english though and some others, when you have to meet with stakeholders, you will have to get your french back on track. Thank you for sharing your experience with others and also giving us (Congolese) a feedback.



  5. Comment by nada posted on


    great to learn that u are having fun there.....enjoy it while it last....

  6. Comment by Mike posted on

    I realy do not know why should they conduct the meeting in french while as i know every one in the DRC did have a English lesson for atleast 3 years if the person has completed his matric.
    However a second chance should be given to you as it is our values to well come everyone they should get you an interpreter
    I can see how many people with degree and b-Com in english in the street of Kinshasa doing nothing one of them could add values to our country and give you a special wellcome,
    I am a congoleese and i beleive english shouldn't be a chalange for me nor other congoleese who did go to school
    However i congratulate you for visiting my country and testing on the honey of DRC
    You wellcome again, please tell very one that we are just a special people who have respect to others and wellcome every one home
    Let the tourist and invester be wellcome to the DRC
    We love you

  7. Comment by Laura posted on


    It's very interesting to read about your experience. I am planning to go to DR Congo, to learn French and travel for 6 months. I work in human rights and development and can't think of a better place to be! However, there is very little information regarding learning French in DR Congo. So I was wondering if you have seen any French Schools for foreigners that you could recommend.

    Thanks and good luck!

  8. Comment by Danielle posted on

    Hi, I enjoyed reading about your experience, although I know it was awhile ago at this point. I am also planning to go to DRC to study and work on my French this summer. I am a PhD student in sociology and peace studies and this will be the very earliest phase of my field work. I, too am wondering if you (or Laura, who might be in DRC now?) have any advice on French schools. Thank you!