Mbandaka, formerly known as
Coquilhatville or Coquilhatstad
(named after Camille-Aim√©
Coquilhat), is a city on the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, lying near the confluence of the Congo and Ruki
Rivers. The capital of the Equateur Province, it is home to an
airport and is linked by ferry to Kinshasa and Boende.
city's population is approximately (2004).
It was founded in 1883 by Henry
with the name of "Equateur". In fact the Town
Hall is about 6.6 kilometers north of the Geographic Equator
Line. Stanley placed a large "Equator Stone"
near the river bank south of the city to mark the point where he
believed the Equator to cross the river. It remains there today.
Due to its symbolic location close to the equator and the Congo
River there were early plans to locate the capital of the Congo
Free State in Mbandaka. Although plans were made they were never
realized and thus remained solely on the drawing board. These plans
included an infrastructure for an estimated population of 100,000
people, a train station, a Catholic cathedral, a governors
residence and a palace for future visits of Leopold II
In 1886, at the beginning of their colonial rule, the Belgians
changed the city's name to "Coquilhatville" and in 1966 the name
was again changed by the new independent government to "Mbandaka"
to honor a prominent local leader. During the colonial time in 1938
works started on a bridge over the Congo River connecting Mbandaka
with the French Congo. Work was abandoned at the outbreak of WWII
and today only the foundations of the bridge pillars remain. In the
1930s several other projects were started by the Belgian colonial
administration, including several factories and a new city hall.
The city was completed only after the war in 1947 and was at that
time with a height of 39 meter the tallest building in the Belgian
Congo. On top of the city hall was a statue of Leopold II
. The city hall was
destroyed by a fire in 1963.
Years of war and neglect have taken a heavy toll on the city
infrastructure, with no electricity or running water in large
sectors of the city. Most of the streets and avenues of the city
are dirt roads.
Hundreds of people (mainly Hutu
and children) in the city were massacred on May 13, 1997 near the
end of the First Congo Civil
Mbandaka is largely populated by people of the Mongo ethnic group,
although people from many different regions live in the city. The
main languages spoken in Mbandaka are Lingala
. A large research center for Central
African history is at the Catholic Mission station.
Mbandaka is the home of the world's first project of Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity's founder Millard
served as missionary with the Disciples of Christ
Church in Mbandaka
from 1973-76. The housing project Fuller started in Mbandaka in
1973 became the original project of Habitat for Humanity when
Fuller founded Habitat upon his return to the United States.
One of the finest botanical gardens representing central Africa is
at nearby Eala. The Botanic Garden of Eala (founded in 1900)
contains the flora richness of Central Africa with between 4,000
and 5,000 species. It covers approximately 370 hectares
with special collections (125 ha), forest
(190 ha), marsh (50 ha) and savanna "Euobe" (7 ha). The garden is
neglected and unfenced and there is illegal logging. The last
catalogue was published in 1924.