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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Congo Inc.

In Koli Jean Bofane

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To purchase Congo Inc.

Title: Congo Inc.
Author: In Koli Jean Bofane
Genre: Novel
Written: 2014 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 196 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Congo Inc. - US
Congo Inc. - UK
Congo Inc. - Canada
Congo Inc. - Canada (French)
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Congo Inc. - France
Congo Inc. - Italia
  • Bismarck's Testament
  • French title: Congo Inc.
  • Translated by Marjolijn de Jager
  • With a Foreword by Dominic Thomas

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Our Assessment:

B+ : colorful, rich Congo palette

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express A 23/5/2014 François Busnel
Publishers Weekly . 13/11/2017 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Attention, grand livre ! Voici -- enfin --le roman vrai de la mondialisation. Une farce ubuesque, hénaurme, drôle, cassante, effrayante. (...) La réussite de ce roman tient à l'alternance, parfaitement maîtrisée par l'auteur, du rire et des larmes. Chronique bouffonne, désopilante et décapante, Congo Inc. se change soudain en tragédie moderne, serre la gorge et vous fiche la chair de poule." - François Busnel, L'Express

  • "The difficult style and painful depictions will put off some readers, but this scalding indictment of Western interference in Africa should give proponents of pell-mell progress pause." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The main character in Congo Inc. is Isookanga Lolango Djokisa. He is an Ekonda -- a Pygmy -- but stands out because his unknown father wasn't, and so he wound up: "a good ten centimeters taller than the tallest Ekonda". In his mid-twenties, Isookanga lives in a village deep in the Congo countryside but has grand ambitions: "I'm an internationalist who aspires to become a globalizer". Under the screen name Congo Bololo he's an avid player of the massively multiplayer online role-playing game Raging Trade -- which, with its ruthless contest to exploit natural resources, is "the recommended game for any internationalist wanting to know how to get into the business world".
       Isookanga leaves his backwoods village and ventures to the big city, the teeming DRC capital, Kinshasa. Not easily fazed, he goes with the flow when he arrives, certain that he'll find opportunity. He befriends the teenage Shasha, called 'La Jactance' -- "the Haughty One" --, a leader among the shégués, the street kids of Kinshasa. The diminutive Isookanga is about their size, but of course much older, but they take him in as one of their own -- and he proves his mettle as a negotiator when one of them is killed by the authorities and they run riot.
       Isookanga also befriends Zhang Xia, abandoned in Kinshasa by his business partner after a failed venture and now unable to return home to China. Isookanga suggests an improvement to the packaging of his water-business -- enhancing the flavor of the packets he sells, and branding them as Swiss -- and that proves reasonably successful.
       Others who feature in the story include Kiro Bizimugu, a former brutal warlord who wreaked havoc as Commander Kobra Zulu, who has been given a cushy position as CEO of the Office of Conservation of Salonga National Park as part of the pacification process; Waldermar Mirnas, a MONUSCO (United Nations Mission for the Stabilization of the Democratic Republic of Congo) officer, who regularly calls upon Shasha to service him; the reverend leading the Church of Divine Multiplication, who devises a grand Ponzi scheme (and is the person Kiro Bizimugu's wife ultimately turns to to escape the husband who had scooped her up during his marauding, massacring time); and various street kids.
       The story does not focus solely on Isookanga, but also on these other actors, including slices from their pasts and how they got to where they are now, such as Shasha's harrowing, heartbreaking escape with her brothers that led her to Kinshasa. The reach extends to Zhang Xia's wife, hoping for his return, and the Chinese authorities' quite different impression of what he has been up to.
       Among the storylines is that of Kiro Bizimugu's ambitions to exploit the natural resources of the park whose conservation he is meant to be overseeing. He dreams of annoying nature wiped out of the way:

Kiro dreamed of a Congo made peaceful by napalm, where all that needed to be done was to exploit the riches of the subsoil.
       Isookanga continues to play at Raging Trade too -- a game that appears ever-closer to real life, as Kiro sees a potential partner in the young man and Zhang Xia turns out to have a computer disc with valuable information about the mineral wealth in the countryside, waiting to be exploited .....
       The individual stories appear to have fairly limited overlap at first, but Bofane brings them together nicely in the novel's resolutions, when various characters find their pasts, and some of their recent (mis)deeds, catching up with them. Nicely paced, the stories work themselves out neatly -- and horribly: it's not exactly happy ends all around.
       Congo Inc. doesn't shy away from horrors: while Isookanga lives quite safely, even on the streets, many of those he encounters have suffered or been responsible for the unspeakable. Bofane offers more than glimpses of these: when he notes that: "Each rebel group had its own technique to mutilate a woman's genitalia" he also goes on to describe them. If present-day Kinshasa is largely a safer-seeming space -- the one shooting, early on, is almost simply an unfortunate accident -- Bofane does have two of the characters get their violent comeuppance by the end -- quite shocking turns, really, because they aren't expected in a story where most of the violence has been left behind, in time and more distant place.
       Fundamental to the novel is the idea of 'Congo Inc.', the valuable resources that the country is practically overflowing with and that, from the rubber of Belgian Congo-times to the uranium vital to building atomic bombs to the essential minerals and metals which so much modern technology depends have made Congo Inc. the: "accredited supplier of internationalism". The focus is on recent history -- roughly from the Rwandan genocide, and its destabilizing effect on the Congo on -- but Bofane repeatedly points to the foundations of this in the past, with the root cause in the imperialist carve-up of the continent (hence also the book's subtitle, Bismarck's Testament).
       The vibrancy of the country is also captured: "At least in Congo anything was possible" -- but the endless possibilities are both for good and bad .....
       Isookanga's village-elder uncle comes to warn his nephew that, back home: "Something's happening in the ecosystem, Isookanga. Parameters are in the process of changing radically", and the young future chief does return home -- though without abandoning his internationalist ambitions. The two philosophies -- one grounded in the traditional, and leery of the encroachment of even just the radio antenna installed in the village, the other looking towards integrating with the global economy and culture -- look set to continue to clash, but Bofane leaves the story open-ended enough that it's unclear which will prevail. Despite the flashes of unimaginable violence and grim experiences, there's a sense of hopefulness throughout, and also in the conclusion, as well.
       Congo Inc. is vivid in its description -- in some places arguably disturbingly so -- and gives a great sense of the city, and the country's recent history, and what the population has had to deal with. It's also well plotted, a novel that brings together various lives and stories in both realistic and unexpected ways. Bofane does skim over this and that, but there's considerable depth, and profound reflection, too.
       An impressive work of the heart of contemporary Africa, and an excellent introduction to the vast country, culture, and history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

       [Note: In his Foreword Dominic Thomas writes that: "The DRC is one of the largest and most densely populated countries in the world". The DRC is indeed huge (at over 2.3 million square kilometres the eleventh largest country in the world), and it is one the most populous (16th, worldwide), but it is most definitely not densely populated (except of course, in urban areas): at Wikipedia, for example, it only ranks 183rd of 241 countries and territories, i.e. it is, in fact, among the more sparsely populated countries in the world. Parts of Africa are, indeed, densely populated (such as the Nile Delta), but on the whole, and despite a still rapidly increasing population, it remains an astonishingly empty continent.]

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 March 2018

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Congo Inc.: Reviews: In Koli Jean Bofane: Other books by In Koli Jean Bofane under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and about Africa
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       In Koli Jean Bofane was born in 1954, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and currently lives in Belgium.

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© 2018-2022 the complete review

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