The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been in constant conflict for the last 20 years. One of the wealthiest nations in Africa, it's three times the size of Texas. But even with its vast resources, most of its people live in poverty, and even their homes aren't stable as more than 50 rebel groups (and even the country's own military) fight amongst themselves, destroying entire villages and disrupting their lives.
This Is Congo sheds a light on this seemingly endless struggle, one that hasn't gotten as much attention as the celebrity-led campaigns in places like Darfur and neighboring Uganda.
Spending time with everyone from soldiers – in both the National Army and rebel factions – as well as village elders, smugglers and refugees, director Daniel McCabe gives a wide variety of Congolese time to share their stories, all of which are miserable.
While these stories give the audience a deeper understanding of the conflict and lives affected, it can't help but feel like an endless tour of misery. It's death and destruction for 90 straight minutes, with no subjects offering many answers or much hope for the future of the war-torn region. It's well-made but depressing as hell.
But one of its strengths is that it doesn't let the audience off the hook either. It's easy to look at the problems of a country like the DRC and feel pity but not feel responsible either. But This Is Congo wisely includes brief history lessons showing how the country ended up in the predicament it is today. Part of it rests at the feet of incompetent, corrupt leadership. But it also belongs at countries like the U.S., who made a fortune off the country's many mineral deposits while the Congolese people got nothing.
The film ends with a plea for unity for the Congolese, even though they've been abused by the selfish interests of neighboring countries, ignored by the United Nations and slaughtered by their own countrymen. While there's still some hope, it's going to take more than that since their president canceled elections and essentially declared himself the country's dictator. The suggestion is that the saga of suffering will continue.
***This is Congo made its New York premiere as part of NYC DOC.