History of Kananga

Published on 9th January 2007

Kananga, formerly known as Luluabourg, is the capital of the Lulua province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With a population of 1,130,100 (2004), Kananga lies near the Lulua River - a tributary of the Kasai River and the Ilebo – Lubumbashi railway. It is located at 5°53.82′S 22°26.93′E. It is an important commercial and administrative centre.

The city was founded in 1884 by the German explorer Hermann von Wissmann. He established a station in the area around present-day Kananga, on the left-bank of the Lulua river which was named Malandji. A name suggested by his 400 carriers, who were from the city of Malanje in Angola. Later on, with the construction of the railway on the other bank of the river, the station was moved, and the Lulua train station gave its name to the new town, namely Luluabourg. The coming of the railroad led to Kananga growing rapidly in the early 20th cent. Many Luba people settled there and became economically dominant over the indigenous Lulua people.

Locally, Kananga is known as Kananga-Malandji, or even Kananga-Malandji wa Nshinga. Nshinga, or cables, stands for the large high-voltage cables of the Inga-Shaba project, that cross the skies of Kananga, and that link Kolwezi and the southern Katanga Province to the Inga Dam in Congo Central. 

In 1960 (after Congo achieved its independence) a decision was made that the new state would move the location of its capital from Kinshasa to Kananga (then Luluabourg), due to its central location. However, due to multiple political setbacks, and particularly the secession attempt by Albert Kalonji and his South Kasai, this decision was never implemented. When the central government reconquered South Kasai (a secessionist region in the area of eastern Congo) in 1962, Luluabourg became the capital of the new Kasai-Occidental province. 

In 1966, in a move to reclaim the "authenticity" of Congolese identity, Mobutu Sese Seko renamed a number of cities and towns that bore European names. Leopoldville became Kinshasa, and Luluabourg became Kananga. Under the 2006 constitution, the DRC was divided in 25 provinces, and one national Capital city (Kinshasa). Kananga became the capital of the Lulua Province.



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