At the beginning of This is Congo a solider says that according to God’s will growing up in the Congo is paradise, but according to man’s will it is misery. The Congo is indeed a beautiful country and this can clearly be seen in the luscious green landscapes of director Daniel McCabe’s documentary.
Conflict has engulfed The Congo for more than 20 years with rebel forces constantly at war with the government. Of the 50 rebel groups that can be found across the country M23 is the largest and in 2012 set sights on capturing the city of Goma. Resisting them is the army under order from President Joseph Kabila. Particular focus is given to Colonel Mamadou, a young officer powered by bravery and unflinching patriotism.
Despite the unrest, the Congolese have a great affection for their country that is visible in each interview and landscape shot. It is a love that is deeply rooted but without a just cause to support. The army fight to protect the Congo from the rebels while the rebels claim that they are fighting against the corruption of a government who have become rich off the suffering of others.
It is hard to know who to root for which is exactly the feeling of the Congolese. Who is there to support when the government does not provide water and electricity and the rebels drive you from your home? Outside forces have long tried to push Congo in different directions. Following the end of colonial rule, both the USA and Russia tried to influence the country. Ultimately this only resulted in dictatorial rule under Mobutu Sese Seko. Today Uganda and Kwanda support the rebels in an attempt to undermine the Congolese government.
Meanwhile, the conflicts have displaced whole communities, with one camp housing 60,000 people, and the potential riches of the Congo’s vast minerals resources are largely going overseas and are not addressing the issues that the country faces. One labourer observes that they pay their taxes but have no infrastructure to show for it.
Alongside the conflict there are citizens trying to get on with their lives. Children go to school, people try to make a living, and couples get married all with war waging on in the background. Much like the work of Asghar Farhadi, which shows normal people living their lives in the unrest of Iran, McCabe is able to contextualise the fighting beside activities that we are all familiar with. We do not only see inside the army camps but also within the rebel stronghold, the displacement camps, and the cities.
No one force or perspective defines the documentary and even though it may tell a story that is familiar from new reports and articles, it has rarely been told in such a meditative and poetic manner. No easy answers are given and we are left pondering the same questions the Congo has been for generations.