Mbuji-Mayi (formerly Bakwanga) serves as the capital 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. The city is the DRC's third-largest, though the exact population isn't 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.

Capital city

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 short-lived, as Congolese troops took control of the town and arrested Kalonji, by December 1961. After an escape from the jail where he was being held and re-established his government, briefly. A second assault on the independent state was launched in the summer of 1962, with heavily armed central Congolese government troops fighting poorly armed tribesman outside of the city. Kalonji was captured, again, on Oct. 4, 1962, when central Congolese troops retook Bakwanga, effectively ending the region's independence.

Culture and economy

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 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.

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