Author profile: In Koli Jean Bofane – Witch’s brew
The forest is at the heart of In Koli Jean Bofane’s novel Congo Inc., subtitled Le Testament de Bismarck (Bismarck’s will).
Not just any forest though, but the forest that men shamelessly violate to extract the riches clasped between its centuries-old roots.
it explains why I have a completely different view on all the history between blacks and whites
But the pygmy Isookanga – “a globalist who aspires to become a globaliser” – doesn’t care. He hates hunting monkeys or gathering plants from the forest floor for his old uncle Lomama.
What Isookanga likes is the brutal and unbridled capitalism of the internet strategy gameRaging Trade.
“As his virtual avatar Congo Bololo, Isookanga wants it all: minerals, petrol, water, land. Everything is ripe for the taking. In order to reach his goals, he advocates war and all its corollaries: bombings, ethnic cleansing, population displacement, slavery.”
Through this litany of violence and oppression Bofane shows his sense of humour and horror.
Bofane was born in 1954 in Équateur Province. His mother left his father to marry a Belgian settler.
“To some degree, it explains why I have a completely different view on all the history between blacks and whites”, he explains.
As a child, he lived on his step-father’s coffee plantation where he watched horror movies for the first time.
A line spoken by a child in one of those films – “You are next” – stayed with him until it inspired him to create a child-witch character in Congo Inc.
The horror, as Kurtz from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness put it, began quite early for Bofane.
“In 1960, we lost everything and almost got killed,” he explains. A quick escape to Belgium was the beginning of several return trips.
In 1974, at 20 years old, he began studying for a degree in communications in Paris.
Evasively, he also hints at “a tumultous life, gun in hand”. At some point he was “incarcerated” somewhere in Europe under a false name. “To escape this stupidity, I left this place,” he says.
The chosen destination was obvious: Kinshasa. He worked in the advertising sector and, in 1991, founded Les Publications de l’Exocet, a publishing house mainly dedicated to comic books and political satire.
“[They] sold like hot cakes, until the day I published Dernier Sandruma na Kinshasa, an account of the 1991 looting. The army started arresting vendors, but none of them denounced me,” recalls Bofane.
Having sent his children to Belgium, Bofane took up arms to defend his quarter of Kinshasa in the 1993 looting with a Ninja batallion possessing a single Belgian assault rifle.
On arriving in Belgium as an undocumented migrant, he worked odd jobs: construction worker, bouncer in a nightclub and in the voluntary sector.
After achieving his first literary success with a children’s story in 1996, he published his first novel, Mathématiques Congolaises, in 2008.
His aim was to “give the Congolese people back their dignity” by denouncing “oppressive systems”.
“You are next!”
Bofane’s writing is a skilful combination of political erudition, cruel irony and a delight in words.
Through several well-chosen characters, Congo Inc. brews up a heady mix of the themes that run through the history of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): the pillage of natural resources, gang rape, the craziness of Kinshasa, the ingenuity of shégués (street children), the abuses committed by neighbouring countries, the sexual lives of ‘expats,’ the failings of non-governmental organisations and international agencies, etc.
Connecting the local and the global, Bofane reminds readers that the Shinkolobwe mine in Katanga provided uranium for the nuclear bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.
In this maelstrom of powerful images, a child from a horror film tirelessly repeats: “Yo waa nnex!”
In Bofane the DRC has found a voice strong enough to describe its excesses. ●