Story - Henri Paul Ilondo Bompenze

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Life doesn’t have to end. Even after we die. What we do, what we’ve done, will continue after our death.

I’m Congolese, born of Congolese parents. They were poor. They didn’t have the means to send me to college, so my dad gave me two bags of fufu [central African staple food] and two goat heads to sell. He hoped this would help pay for my education.

It was not sufficient, but did shape my future: I got a taste for commerce.
Sadly, he passed away before my business, Gérant de l'Eternel became successful. He saw the start, but wasn’t able to benefit from it. However, his wife and children did, as well as his grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Life continues. He lives on.

Growth of business
You know, in life, god helps us in everything we do. Me, I can’t imagine just doing enough to stay alive, and no more. No. I decided to do commerce, and I respected the profession.

So little by little, I developed my business and called it "Gérant de l'éternel". I started off with some herding, then some growing of vegetables, harvesting, selling. Initially, I was based in the village, and I travelled up and down to trade. But in 1989 I married my wife, and we left the village for the city.

There, we started off by renting a small shop, and going to Brazaville for wares. This went on until 2000, when I went to the Ivory Coast for the first time, and bought my first container. This is when the business truly kicked off.

We now haven’t been renting for more than ten years, and are installed in Kinshasa with several running shops, giving us a steady income importing and exporting. We’re also doing other things that help us in the market, such as the transport business.

These days, we’re active everywhere, sourcing our goods all over Asia and Europe.

Today we have the Congolese Franc, in the past, we had the Zaire, but we’ve always had issues with the conversion rates and devaluation. So you learn to cope; the problem becomes a part of how you work, you get used to it. The Franc isn’t stable, so we fix the prices of our products in US Dollar, and we follow up on its course. The moment there’s a depreciation of the Franc, these changes immediately get implemented by our software. At that moment, it’s just a question of changing the prices and you’re done. That’s one place where the introduction of IT solutions has saved us a lot of time and money!

A new place
We bought this plot of land to build a 5-story building. It cost a lot, but we persisted, as we really wanted to realise this project. The location is ideal, as it is easily accessible from the city by road.

The building will have 5 floors. The bottom floor will have a super market, but there will also be living spaces, offices and a celebration hall. We Congolese, we like our celebrations.

We had a lot of problems with the property, however, as the land was too humid. It was a real swamp! I almost lost hope, but I pulled through in the end. We hadn’t come this far to give up. So, I had some experts come in and drain the ground. God helped us. Now, I don’t think anything can stop us.

I’m proud to say that I managed to provide my children with an education. Not only that, but I was able to send some of them abroad, to China, to continue their studies. They studied there for 6 years, and now work with me.

I feel good about the future. Because that’s what matters. Life doesn’t have to end. Even after we die. What we do, what we’ve done, will continue after our death. We have children. We have grandchildren.

We don’t do things for the short term. We do them for the long term. We want to leave a mark on the world.

Even if I were to live to a hundred years, it wouldn’t be me benefitting from the work. In 20 years, I won’t be needing any of this anymore. But someone will.

We have benefited from the efforts of others. So, it’s our duty to have others benefit from our efforts. That’s the continuity of life.

Henri Paul Ilondo Bompenze (flanked by his son) is the founder and owner of Gérant de l’Eternel, a DRC-based import-export company with several smaller and larger shops in and around Kinshasa. He received a USD 1.5 M loan from African Rivers Fund, an SME investment fund focused on Central and Eastern Africa into which BIO invested USD 5 M in equity.