Kinshasa is the capital and largest city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With a population of about 4.5 million, it is also one of the largest cities in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a city of sharp contrasts, with posh residential and commercial areas, two universities, and sprawling slums coexisting side by side.
Kinshasa is located along the southern bank of the Congo River, directly opposite the city of Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of the Congo. It was founded as a trading post by Henry Morton Stanley in 1881 and named Léopoldville in honor of King Léopold II of Belgium, who ruled the vast territory that is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The post flourished as the last navigable port along the Congo River before Livingston Falls: at first, all goods reaching Léopoldville would have to be carried by porter to the port of Matadi along the coast. The completion of a railroad in 1898 provided a viable means of transportation along the river's lower reaches and sparked the rapid development of Kinshasa. By 1920, the city was elevated to capital of the Belgian Congo, replacing the seaside town of Boma.
In 1965 Mobutu Sese Seko seized power in the Congo in his second coup and initiated a policy of "Africanizing" the names of people and places in the country. In 1966 Léopoldville was renamed Kinshasa for a village that once stood near the site. The city grew rapidly under Mobutu, drawing people from across the country who came in search of their fortunes or to escape ethnic strife elsewhere. This inevitably brought about a change to the city's ethnic and linguistic composition as well. Although it is situated in territory that traditionally belongs to the Bakongo people, the lingua franca in Kinshasa today is not Kikongo but Lingala.
Kinshasa suffered greatly due to Mobutu's excesses and the civil war that led to his downfall. Nevertheless, it is still a major cultural and intellectual center, with a flourishing community of musicians and artists. It is also the country's major industrial center, processing many of the natural products brought from the interior. The city has recently had to fend off rioting soldiers who were protesting the government's inability to pay them.