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Katanga Business

Title Katanga   Business
Director(s) Thierry Michel
Date released (year) 2009
Production company  
Length 120mins
Location DRC
Keywords/tags Mining, toxic   waste, natural resources, violence
Link to film   (in French)
Synopsis The Congolese province of Katanga is a major supplier   of the world’s gold, copper, and uranium, but precious little of the profit   trickles down to the ordinary folk who live and work there, and multinational   competition has intensified lately with the arrival of Indian and Chinese   interests. Directed by Thierry Michel, this Belgian documentary provides an engrossing   take on neocolonial economics and some of angriest muckraking to hit the   screen since Darwin’s Nightmare (2004), the drama heightened by   larger-than-life personalities on every side of the complex political   equation. In French with subtitles.


Reviews/discussion From PictureNose:

‘Big man’

Gerald Loftus looks at corruption in the Congo…

To lead the mineral-rich Congolese province of   Katanga, you don’t have to be named Moïse. But Moïse Katumbi, the current   governor and “star” of Katanga Business, and Moïse Tshombe, the leader who   tried to break away from newly-independent Congo in 1960, have the French   version of the name “Moses” in common. And this – the ground they rule(d) is   the source of international competition, a contemporary scramble for Africa   over precious cobalt, coltan, tungsten, and plain old copper.

Like the hero of Chinua Achebe’s novel, A Man of   the People, Governor Katumbi is a ‘Big Man’, the kind of African   leader who, as long as he continues to distribute largess to his people,   remains popular. He’s the guy – you guessed it – in the black cowboy hat on   the poster. Katumbi is a sort of reverse Obama; his father was a Jewish exile   from Hitler’s Europe who took refuge and thrived in then Belgian Congo.

Belgian documentary film maker Thierry Michel’s   latest work, recently released in Belgium and France, is a “sort of economic   parable via an industrial saga”, according to the director. Michel knows the   Congo (DRC) well; he’s been making films there on and off for the past 17   years, and shot Katanga Business over five separate trips. Note to self: must   go and rent DVDs of his other Congo films; one of the latest was Mobutu,   King of Zaire (1999).

For francophones, the film’s official website   offers an interview with Michel, where he gives credit to Governor Katumbi   for being a “modernist, extracting agreements from international mining   companies to develop the province’s agriculture,” but at the same time calls   him “an ambivalent figure, a capitalist/populist mix of Silvio Berlusconi and   Hugo Chavez.” Colette Braeckman, Africa correspondent of Le Soir, paints a   lively portrait of the man’s ambiguities here.

In an extensive interview with Fabienne Bradfer of Le Soir,   Thierry Michel expands on his fascinating Governorator:

“He’s a wealthy businessman, who governs like he runs his businesses   (like Berlusconi, he too has TV station and football club). He was elected   because he was very rich; for the Congolese, being rich means he’s less   likely to try to enrich himself and therefore better able to govern the   province. He’s visionary, charismatic, and a communicator.”

But Katanga Business is not a biopic of a provincial   African governor, photogenic as he is. It’s about globalization, capitalism,   and economic colonialism. Thierry Michel turns Chinese wildcat investors,   Belgian holdover industrialists, and Canadian “pension fund” investors into a   rich mix, but none are caricatured as they might be in a Michael Moore film on   similar ground.

The most dignified players – though some of them are   reduced to begging for handouts from “papa” the governor – are the Congolese   miners. Creuseurs or diggers, they try their best to maintain discipline   (it’s their byword) in set-piece confrontations with politicians, employers,   and police. The odds are always against them – anyone would be intimidated by   the armored, helmeted, and masked Congolese police, bearing down on the   workers with tear gas, batons, and bullets.

Hemmed in between Chinese and Western investors,   cajoled by politicians in suits or cudgeled by police looking like Samurai   warriors, the barefooted miners have only one choice: work, for whatever   pittance their masters deign to hand out. The word “slavery” is used more   than once – not by the narrator, but by the men who provide the world what it   needs to keep its mobile phones charged.

In places from Katanga to Kazakhstan,   “business” (often pronounced beeznis with a leering grin), is synonymous with   corruption, exploitation, and destruction. It’s a long way from nostalgic Main Street notions of private   enterprise. In other words, a timely film, one that presents lessons beyond   Lumbumbashi.


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