Society Magazine

Meet Dr. Benjamin Kabwe, Freelance Digital Archivist of Kinshasa Roadworks

Posted on the 13 June 2013 by Aengw @alexengwete

Meet Dr. Benjamin Kabwe, freelance digital archivist of Kinshasa roadworks

Meet Dr. Benjamin Kabwe, freelance digital archivist of Kinshasa roadworks

(PHOTO 1: Dr. Benjamin Kabwe takes photos of workers painting pedestrian crosswalk marks on the newly-Chinese-repaired Oshwe Avenue in Matonge, Kinshasa. The three-storied building under construction in the background belongs to soukous star Koffi Olomide)

(PHOTO 2: Dr. Kabwe poses for my iPhone at the same location. He's just put back in the bag he's zipping up a Samsung tablet containing some of the hundreds of thousands of photos and videos of Kinshasa roadworks he's been accumulating over the years)

***

I stumbled upon Dr. Benjamin Kabwe in the mid-morning of Saturday, June 8, in the Matonge quarter of Kalamu Commune.

Matonge, the hub of Kinshasa, is these days "occupied," as it were, by the Chinese. 

Well, Chinese road workers, that is.

Dr. Kabwe was behind his tripod-mounted Nikon camera, photographing a live event: the painting, by Congolese workers, of pedestrian crossings.

This was happening on Oshwe Avenue, newly-rebuilt by the Chinese, like a host of other streets that intersect with or radiate from the historic "Couloir Madiakoko" main street that saw the emergence to stardom of Papa Wemba, Koffi Olomide, and other big names of Congolese music.

I was standing on Couloir Madiakoko that mid-morning, watching with fascination Dr. Kabwe take shot after shot of the roadwork in progress.

I thought I was watching a Kinshasa photojournalist at work. 

I was therefore somewhat thrown off balance when Dr. Kabwe told me he is an anesthesiologist at Kinshasa University Clinics as well as a professor at the medical school of Université de Kinshasa. A career spanning 35 years!

He was a freelance amateur photographer and videographer, he informed me.

He further told me he was in the midst of a one-man massive project of setting up a digital museum and archives of the roadworks in Kinshasa over the years.

His digital archives already have in their holdings 400,000 photographs and 26,000 videos! 

Parts of this digital trove are being stored in a Samsung tablet, of which Dr. Kabwe gave me a fascinating preview.

"Do you realize that there have been over 26 bridges recently repaired or built in Kinshasa;,and yet no one knows about it?" he wondered in amazement.

Dr. Kabwe is a soft-spoken and outgoing man who is consumed by his hobby--and his keen and raw passion would also draw you in it without fail.

His passion for photography is not new, as I learned when I asked people on campus about him.

One female administrator at Kinshasa University fondly recalled Dr. Kabwe as kindly taking pictures of her newborn baby shortly after childbirth though he was only one in the team of several doctors during the particularly difficult C-section delivery.

She also added that at the time Dr. Kabwe used to don a thick Afro hairdo!

This passion of photography came in handy in one lifelong professional pursuit of Dr. Kabwe: his line of research on road accidents and traumas.

And from there to a genuine documentary interest in roadworks, it only took a small step in the right direction--as the saying goes...

***PHOTOS by Alex Engwete


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