Inspiration and Review: Katanga Business

Just watched Katanga Business by Thierry Michel a complex social, economic, political investigative documentary which weaves back in forth between main players in the mineral-rich Katanga province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including politicians, Chinese emissaries with their fat wallets and distinctively abrupt style of business, Belgian industrial holdovers from an era of colonial horse shows in the tropics, corrupt customs officials who work short hours, downtrodden artisanal diggers and union organizers who get dispersed by Samurai looking riot police, western "angel" investors and executives called in to revitalize an up and down industry.

Unlike his American contemporary, Michael Moore, who is also an effective witness of our time, Michel, a Belgian with a particular affection for the Congo, does not shove a premise or his own gloating down a viewer's throats, preferring long scenes with lots of natural sound to show a character's flaws and twitches especially in times of pomp, ceremony, negotiation or presentation, giving them the necessary time to bury themselves in their own humanity.

The viewer is left as a witness of mad globalization as it unravels starring a reverse Obama, half-Jewish Italian-Congolese businessman turned governator Moise Katumbi, Katanga's second big Moise, after the first (Moise Tsjombe) who declared Katanga's brief independence in 1960 before Congo's post-independence President Patrice Lumumba's tragic CIA-abetted assassination, and the Mobutu era that followed, where as the movie points out mineral riches were used to buy the Western-backed dictator's castles in France.

This new Moise though plays many cards, his previous company now "owned" by his wife may not undergo the same strenuous rules of fairness he imposes on all the other players, and he is also behind current President and "son" of a former rebel turned leader, Joseph Kabila, whose own strategies on a larger scale may leave much to be desired in terms of human rights. Like Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, Katumbi mixes populism with a hand in many activities, including helping to rebuild Congo's greatest soccer club, TP Mazembe, which this year won another African Champions League.

But in Katanga it seems as globalization hurtles along, that the situation is complex, and not as dismal as it used to be. That a movie can be so nuanced without much of a storyline beyond fits and starts of main actors while at the same time fascinating and full of intellectual and sensory delight is a tribute to the master Michel is.

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