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Feeding the DRC’s Bookworms

When Alpha Ramazani takes holiday trips to Brussels in Belgium, it’s usually not all pay and no work. The 33-year old Congolese sets out to obtain dozens of kilos of extra luggage crammed with the latest big-name novels, self-help books, biographies and other literary works to bring back to his bookstore in the capital city Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ramazani shares the challenging transportation process, “For one thing, it’s an eight-hour flight. Preparing all that, it’s really a personal investment. Especially over there when I arrive, it’s a bit complicated at customs.” Book Express, the tiny 30-square-metre shop, located on a street with bustling bars and pavement terraces that Ramazani opened in Kinshasa, his home town, in 2019 after working at a bookshop in Brussels. Despite the extra cost and hassle that this so-called labour of love takes to haul the books back to his shop in the DRC, the books are sold at roughly the same price as in Europe. Figures that can often be many times higher than the average daily income — as a book that typically sells in Kinshasa for the rough equivalent of 17 euros amounts to nearly half of the DRC’s average per capita wage, which is around 35 euros per month.