Private Project

Children of Congo Listen!

Kinshasa, once called 'la belle' (the beautiful) and now referred to as 'la poubelle' (the trash), is the third fastest growing city in Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo's capital center of power and wealth. From Belgian Colonialism to the reign of Mobutu to the current battle for resources, the D.R.C has been defined by poverty, systemic corruption and war. Careers in politics are the quickest way to riches and many aspire just to be close to political leaders. Jean-Lucien Bussa, a politician and elected member of the parliament -- a group whose way of life is rarely documented -- strives to gain the support of his poor, rural constituents while pursuing his own individualistic ambitions. More than just a legislator, elected officials in the DRC are expected to assume the powers and responsibilities of traditional chiefs. Like most of us, he says he would like to see his country develop and for his constituents to find a better life. But his actions tell a different story. Lacking a program or a budget Bussa proves his worth to the community by providing for his constituents' daily needs and in return, they vote for him. Bana Congo Oyez! (Children of Congo, listen!) delves into the everyday reality of a dysfunctional leadership, a glimpse into the relationship between voters and elected representatives. Bussa's story is a microcosm of direct democracy applied to the developing world. In a state corroded by systemic corruption, do we expect democracy to work any other way?

  • Natacha Ikoli
  • Patrick Flynn
    Elusive Justice
  • Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt
    Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel
  • Brenden Hubbard
    Curfew, Cul-de-sac, Before I Disappear
  • Project Title (Original Language):
    Bana Congo Oyez!
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 10 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    January 31, 2019
  • Production Budget:
    100,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    Congo, the Democratic Republic of the
  • Country of Filming:
    Congo, the Democratic Republic of the
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
    March 27, 2019
    European Premiere
    Official Selection Docu World
Director Biography - Natacha Ikoli, Patrick Flynn

Born in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Natacha grew up in Paris, France. She studied Cinema and Performing Arts before continuing her undergraduate education at the London South Bank University where she earned a B.A. in Media and Video production. From 2006 and 2010, Natacha worked as a video editor and producer at the UNICEF office in New York. Her interest for documentary film and video arts drew her to explore the story of the middle class in the DRC. Natacha also creates video installation pieces. Her most recent installation is titled MyBodyMyself; an immersive installation that has received support from the Brooklyn Arts Council. Natacha's interest for color theory and color science in video took her to working on many projects as a video colorist. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Director Statement

Common cultural associations with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) include “Heart of Darkness”, “Rumble in the Jungle”, “Rape Capital of the World” and “Blood Diamonds”. One quarter the size of the USA, nestled in the heart of central Africa, the DRC’s 66 million people are blessed with untold riches in their soil. Founded as the personal property of Belgian King Leopold II, the long history of natural resource exploitation continues today as multinational companies extract millions of dollars worth of minerals, oil and timber while repeated wars and an ongoing humanitarian emergency ravage the population.

On June 30th 1960, after a long, brutal struggle, the Belgian Congo became the Republic of Congo. While the French New Wave filmmakers were liberating the language of cinema and American civil rights workers were fighting for racial equality, in Africa, colonial empires were crumbling. Led by Patrice Lumumba, a former postal clerk, Congolese independence was marked by chaos and violence. Soon after taking power, Lumumba was assassinated by mercenaries sent by the Belgian government and endorsed by Washington.

Over the years, the DRC has steadily fallen to the bottom of all statistical measures for development. In 2011, it was declared the poorest country in the world.

Kinshasa (Kin), the DRC’s capital, is home to 8.4 million people and a highly centralized state bureaucracy. Despite the failure of the Congolese government to provide roads, healthcare or security for its people, state service is reliably lucrative employment. Competition for elected positions is overwhelming. In 2011, 18,555 candidates ran for 500 parliamentary seats. Elected representatives receive a salary but are also entitled to claim a place at the top of a complex social hierarchy that resembles traditional tribal structures.

Each level of the hierarchy, from the president to the village chief, is entitled to absolute authority, able to take full advantage of the resources available. In a place where there is almost no functioning judiciary or law enforcement, there aren’t many checks and balances. Leaders have complete jurisdiction in their territory, whether it’s the country (President), a province (Governor), a district (Member of Parliament), a town (Mayor) or a village (traditional chief). This hierarchy extends into a patriarchal family structure where fathers have absolute authority.

Power comes in two ways in the DRC, through violence and terror as seen in the East of the country in the figure of warlords such as Laurent Nkunda. Or, as Bana Congo Oyez! reveals, by navigating the political sphere where leaders are elected in a system that is aspiring to be democratic. Citizens support representatives based on ethnicity, geographical origin or generosity; rarely ideology. In order to ensure their constituents support, politicians at all levels are expected to fulfill the role of judge, banker and chief. No problem is too small to bring to the chief’s attention. Business disputes, domestic squabbles, broken kitchen appliances all vie for the attention of leaders who balance adjudicating these issues with the demands of legislating. At the end of the day, it comes down to money, the politicians have it, and the people want it. Problems are solved by passing money from the hands of those in power to the hands of those who are destitute.

But the chiefs in power have to be careful not to bleed themselves dry. The demands of constituents are compelling and never ending. And part of having power in the DRC is projecting an image of wealth. Cars, clothes, houses and mistresses are an important component of maintaining a grip on power. And while being seen giving away money is essential, it’s also important not to give too much. To sustain power, a successful politician must make sure that they keep their constituents wanting more.

The stories of poverty violence and corruption that dominate the headlines about the DRC – and about Africa in general—might lead one to despair. On the surface, much of the continent and the developing world are hopeless. Citizens of the developed world ask themselves, how can we spend billions of dollars on foreign assistance, humanitarian aid and private charity and still see so much suffering year in and year out?

Bana Congo Oyez! is the story of one politician- Jean-Lucien Bussa- a Member of Parliament (MP) who represents the poorest region of the poorest country in the world. The film explores the complicated social dynamics between the leaders of the DRC and their constituents. By observing Bussa’s ambitious hustle, the audience sees why the DRC continues to dwell at the bottom of most measures of development. But Bussa is a sympathetic character. He is committed idealist who has real ideas for reform and wants to see his community advance. But he is also a perfect mirror of the failure of leadership in the DRC. An idealist anti-hero ensnared in a corrupt system with no choice but to play along. And play along he does. He survives and thrives, often at the expense of those he serves.

With over 15 years of experience in broadcast television, human rights media and having covered the armed conflict and refugee crisis in Eastern Congo for UN organizations, Natacha Ikoli and co-director Patrick Flynn have first hand knowledge of the devastation and poverty that has resulted from what is known as “Africa’s World War”. They believe, that to understand the true depth of the crisis in the DRC, it is important to look not only at those who are in desperate need but also listen to those who are poised to overcome the challenges posed by war, corruption, economic exploitation and poor governance.

What we’ve witnessed in the field confirms our belief that the stories told about the developing world are incomplete. Not everyone in Africa is a poor, uneducated farmer. Not every politician is a corrupt dictator or idealistic martyr. Not every problem in Africa originates from colonialism, slavery or European subterfuge. There are Africans who are capable, motivated and well placed to lead their own countries out of the cycle of despair. Outsiders can offer resources and partnership, but to be successful, both sides have to acknowledge the complex social dynamics that are barriers to development. Bana Congo Oyez! starts a conversation that will both enlighten and entertain.