The Life of the Super Rich in Central Africa

The Life of the Super Rich in Central Africa: Between Luxury and Misery

DW (2021)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the 600 millionaires in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The majority of DRC residents on less than two euros a day. Even miners (including 40,000 children) who work in the lucrative coltan mines earn only 5 euros a day.

The film profiles three specific multimillionaires: a rock star, the former rebel leader who currently owns the largest coltan* mine (and serves as a member of parliament) and a prophet who cures people with miracle juice made from gasoline and lemon juice.

The main reason so many DRC residents live in abject poverty is extreme corruption. Mobuto Sese Seko, brutal dictator between 1965 and 1997 (when DRC was called Zaire), embezzled four billion euros from the government prior to being ousted by rebel forces. Joseph Kabila, president of DRC between 2001 and 2019, embezzled three million euros. In 2021, DRC is number one on the list of the 20 most corrupt countries.

Tax evasion also continues to be a major problem, leaving the current government starved for funding to improve infrastructure. Most rural roads are unpaved, electrical outages are common and less than one-fifth of the population have access to electricity.

Owing to the fragile September 2020 ceasefire (enforced by 16,000 UN peacekeepers), many former DRC expatriates have returned to take the country’s limited middle class jobs. The filmmakers profile a couple who earn a total of $3,500 a month (100 times the country’s average salary) working as bankers. One third of their income goes to pay rent in a luxurious Western-style high security enclave.


*Coltan is refined to produce tantalum, a rare metal essential in cellphone technology.

TV3 Tackles Income Inequality

Video

income inequality

The American Pubic Broadcasting Service used to have fabulous, hard hitting documentaries when PBS first got going in the 1970s. Fast forward to 2013, and all the documentaries that seriously challenge the political establishment have all but vanished from free-to-air TV (except, perhaps, for Frontline and Bill Moyers’ specials).

 Although it first aired on commercial TV, the New Zealand documentary Mind the Gap reminds me a lot of the PBS documentaries I used to watch on Friday night in the late seventies. It dissects the alarming rate at which New Zealand’s wealthy elite are sucking up wealth from our working class families.

While New Zealand’s political and economic dynamics are somewhat different from those of the US, there are common factors at play. Moreover the New Zealand economy is somewhat easier to unpack. In addition to being smaller, for the most part it’s uncomplicated by taxpayer funded corporate subsidies.

Zombie Economics

Mind the Gap is highly critical of “neoliberalism” (I don’t think I’ve ever heard that word on American TV), which the program refers to as zombie economics. The presenter also briefly interviews John Quiggins, the author of the 2012 book Zombie Economics.

Neoliberalism is the technical term for Reaganomics and the New Zealand version Rogernomics. Mind the Gap describes, in gory detail, how Roger Douglas’s neoliberal reforms of the 1980s virtually destroyed New Zealand’s economy. It did so mainly by destroying this country’s manufacturing sector and offshoring the majority of our manufacturing jobs.

The documentary offers a number of potential solutions to New Zealand’s current “trickle up” economy. In my mind, all would go a long way towards ending America’s growing income divide.

Suggestions offered include a financial transaction on banks (aka the Robin Hood Tax), a fairer tax policy and a clampdown on tax evasion, an end to aggressive privatization of public resources, and more cooperatives and “social enterprises” (corporations formed for the good of society rather than profit).

Enjoy.

*”Mind the Gap” is an expression borrowed from the British tube (subway) system.

photo credit: Stewf via photopin cc