Belgian filmmaker shows DR Congo mining business

5th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

Thierry Michel turns his lens on his adopted homeland, where an uncompromising economic war is waging.

OUAGADOUGOU - Belgian filmmaker Thierry Michel, who won accolades for his 2005 documentary "Mobutu: King of Zaire," has premiered his latest work "Katanga Business" at the FESPACO film festival in Ouagadougou.

For this documentary Michel turned his lens on his adopted homeland Democratic Republic of Congo -- and the economic battle being waged between multinational companies from Asia and North America for its vast natural resources.

Presented for the first time at the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on Tuesday night, the documentary shows Katanga, one of DR Congo's richest provinces in terms of minerals, as European, American an Chinese businesses compete for multi-million dollar mining deals.

"We concentrated on the global economy which is central to what is happening in Katanga, a province which holds strategic mineral deposits crucial for the development of Western and Asian economies, where an uncompromising economic war is waging," Michel told AFP after the first public screening of his film.

"(It is) a war between the big multinational companies but also between the different continents -- Asia and North-America -- and a social war for the Africans who are also trying to get their hands on a piece of the wealth of the land of their forefathers."

Michel shows a cast of characters that seem to come straight from fiction.

Among the accidental stars is Belgian George Forrest, nicknamed "The Viceroy." Forrest runs the family business, a Katanga mine that his father founded in 1922. The industrial patriarch of Katanga, Forrest is also one of the DR Congo's biggest employers with 80,000 people working for him.

Next to the old hand, Michel shows the new arrival. Canadian Paul Fortin, hired by the World Bank and the Congolese government in 2005 to save state-owned Gecamines -- which mines cobalt, copper and zinc -- from bankruptcy.

Not happy with his British and Canadian partners, Fortin turns to China and particularly Mister Min, or "the 17-billion dollar-man" as the director calls him.

The most important Chinese businessman in the DR Congo, Mister Min has just signed the "deal of the century" with Fortin for Gecamines.

He promises to invest nine billion dollars to revive the ailing business, rebuilding roads, railways and hospitals in return for access to the resources.

However the mineworkers Michel interviews, already suffering because of delays in the payment of their salaries, don't seem very convinced by the Chinese promises.

To round off the cast there is Katanga's answer to Silvio Berlusconi, Moise Katumbi, a businessman-turned-governor of the province.

After amassing a fortune in the mining business, Katumbi now owns the country's biggest football club Mazembe and his own television station. A charismatic populist, Michel shows that the governor is caught between his desire to revive the province's economy by bringing in foreign investment and improving conditions for the thousands of poor miners who make up the bulk of his electorate.

"Katanga business" opens in theatres in France and Belgium in the coming weeks. In addition Michel, who has lived in DR Congo for the past decade, told AFP that he would sacrifice his holiday to show the film there "province for province" and "town for town."


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