This Is Congo Review
The various European nations that were able to build the foundation of their commerce off the back of Africa during colonial times continue to rob the continent blind despite the independence now afforded to each country. Photographer Daniel McCabe pitches us into the heart of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in his first documentary, This Is Congo, attempting to explain the ongoing war in Africa’s second largest country and the colonialist roots that enabled it to explode in the first place.
McCabe positions himself on the front line of the war, taking in the views of the National Army of President Joseph Kabila, the March 23 Movement (referred to as M23 in the film) and the ordinary people caught up in the middle of the conflict. It covers the years between 2012 and 2016, as the struggle between the two sides intensified.
Accusations of corruption within Kabila’s government and the misdirection of wealth generated from the country’s vast natural resources (which is estimated to be worth around 23 trillion dollars - equivalent to the GDP of Europe and the United States combined) drives the M23’s sense of injustice, while American, Asian and European multinational companies continue to make vast sums from the mineral mines and oil wells.
Poverty can be seen right across the region and we hear the stories of a tailor by the name of Hakiza – who has now fled six wars – and Bibiane, known locally as Mama Romance, an illegal mineral stones dealer who sells to buyers in bordering Rwanda and Kenya. They offer a brief snapshot of what daily life is like for many in DRC although McCabe seems more interested in affording time to the two opposing armed forces. As a result he never establishes an emotional narrative which makes it harder to connect with their voices, distancing us from a seemingly never-ending struggle to survive.
Colonel Mamadou is a charismatic leader within the National Army who doesn’t seem concerned about discussing his role in the conflict and does so with plenty of bravado. McCabe also manages to speak with Sultani Makenga, leader of the M23, although not much of note comes out of the interview. Once again McCabe isn't able to get under the skin of either men to reveal any sort of honest reaction, emotional state or sight of personality that might set them apart from their uniforms and duties.
The New Imperialism period, between 1881 and 1914, ended with 90% of the African continent under European rule and the film is interspersed with some key moments from the region's past that have served to destabilise DCR for the past 150 years. They are light on detail but serve as a history 101 of sorts and may prove effective for those learning about the current state of the country for the first time.
There is certainly value in taking the time to watch This Is Congo which, despite failing to make the most of the access at its disposal, shows the stark contrast that exists between the beautiful scenery found across the country and the ugly pursuit of greed and destruction which is sadly so typical of mankind.