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Inside a life of conflict in This Is Congo

Brilliant documentary that was shot over six years lays bare an ongoing humanitarian disaster

24 May, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

This is Congo – ‘brave and thoughtful film-making’

THIS IS CONGO
Directed by Daniel McCabe
Certificate 12a
☆☆☆☆☆

THE Democratic Republic of Congo is a beautiful, mineral rich country that has seen 20 years of devastating conflict between the government and a number of armed rebel groups.

This brilliant documentary, shot over six years and with interviews with a wide range of people who live there, lays bare the ongoing humanitarian disaster.

McCabe carefully, and without prejudice, lays out the history of the country, taking us from the disastrous, murderous exploitation led by King Leopold II of Belgium, who saw the country as his personal fiefdom to plunder and enslave, to the regime of Colonel Mobutu and then on to the present day.

Mobutu, at first, oversaw a period of investment and a rise in living standards. But the film describes how (after changing the country’s name to Zaire) he began to exploit its natural resources for his own and his supporters’ benefit – forcing investors to flee and overseeing an economic disaster.

We meet mineral dealer Mama Romance, who buys rocks from people scouring mountainsides and then sells them on. We meet a thoughtful Colonel Kasongo – not his real name – in the government army, who speaks frankly about the war that rages and why such violence continues. His voice is changed and he is cast in shadow. He says: “Congo’s leaders have no real patriotic sense and we are destined for misery, forever.

“Our country has no system of governance, our army disorganised, with soldiers leaving to join rebel groups.”

We watch the troubles the UN faces to react quickly to attacks on cities such as Goma, and the huge struggle of helping those in need. The leading rebel group, M23, is made up of former officers who at first wanted to rejoin the army and be assured of better pay and conditions. Its leader, Colonel Makenda, was once a high-rank­ing officer in the government army. Government soldier Colonel Ndala is featured as he leads troops against the M23 and we watch as his soldiers go into bloody battle.

All this is juxtaposed with heartbreaking images of rockets being fired into the sky as small children huddle with their parents in ditches, the fathers and mothers trying to cover their ears to protect them from the noise. The fear is so horribly real.

Add to this scenes of beatings, shootings and brutality, the constant crackle of gunfire and news reports provide a soundtrack. We go into refugee camps, where children wait to collect drops of water from a leaking tanker, where aid is distributed in a disorganised manner and chaos reigns.

SE Finer’s seminal book The Man on Horseback, which speaks of a colonial legacy in sub-Saharan Africa, rings true here. This is a nation whose traditions had been scorched by years of colonialism, which then left a strong civil service and army – the tools foreign powers needed to dominate other nations – in place. It leaves a non-democratic legacy that has caused constant, extreme misery for innocent people.

This is brave and thoughtful film-making. It will make you weep for the state of the human race.

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