The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the third largest country in Africa, spanning approximately the size of Western Europe and comprised mostly of impenetrable jungle. With only 300 miles of paved roads, it contains more natural resources than most countries on the planet and includes the world’s largest deposits of gold, copper, oil, war zone mined “blood” diamonds, and the uranium that fueled the invention of nuclear weapons. The DRC is also a war-ravaged country with a tumultuous history. Home to corrupt government officials, armed rebel groups, greedy commercial interests, and barbaric human rights abuses, it is one of the poorest countries in the world, where diseases such as cholera, typhoid, malaria, and AIDS are just part of daily life. Incidentally, the laptop you are reading this on is fabricated from the country’s rich supply of columbite–tantalite or “Coltan,” being mined by the civilian victims of war, many of whom are children working for illegal militant groups as forced labor.
A heavy subject for an artist’s blog I created for and about artists, musicians, and filmmakers. This post is no exception; it concerns fellow artists, however, it also explores more than the nature of creativity. It is about the realization that the freedoms we take for granted, such as the inspiration to create, the availability of materials we use on a daily basis, and the free will to pursue these endeavors are, for some, just a dream that will remain nothing more, unless we open our eyes and hearts.
Daniel McCabe is one person who is not only creating art, but actively lending a hand to call attention to the issues many of us remain in the dark about. Daniel is a commercial photographer and filmmaker from upstate New York, who holds a BFA in Photography and Film from Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. He began his photo-journalistic career documenting prison life in Honduras. Branching out further to more controversial projects, he covered the post-election violence in Kenya, the AIDS epidemic in South Africa, and Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake.
He is also a writer, director, cinematographer, and activist, who along with his brother Michael McCabe, and a team of talented individuals including Geoff McLean, Horeb Bulambo, Alyse Ardell Spiegel, Karol Martesko-Fenster and Brendan Lynch, has produced a documentary entitled, “This Is Congo.” In 2010, Daniel received AOL’s groundbreaking innovator grant, 25 for 25, for this project that addresses in depth the ongoing “conflict mineral” wars of Eastern Congo.
When most people think of the Congo, they think of ivory trafficking and blood diamonds. The region was brought to recent mass audience attention on an episode of CNN’s “Parts Unknown,” the creation of chef/author and world traveler, Anthony Bourdain, whose satirical commentary, extraordinary film footage, and healthy respect for The Ramones never fails to make me smile. Unfortunately, the episode I am referring to, which brought to mind Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” as it described the struggles of this contentious part of the world, did not make me smile, it made me angry.
Mineral mining in the Congo is mainly controlled by one of a number of armed groups operating in eastern DRC, the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a vestige of the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, a group that is on the US State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Two other groups, the M23 and Mai Mai also battle for control of the country’s abundant natural resources.
McCabe visited Congo in 2008 as a photojournalist covering an uprising led by warlord, Laurent Nkunda. Looking beyond the war-torn region he was immediately taken by the beauty of the land that lies at the base of a smoldering volcano, and the amazing strength and resiliency of the Congolese people, so much so that for the past 3 years he and his team have infiltrated these battle zones, at times risking their lives to research, document, and film this region for their documentary.
“This Is Congo” transports you directly into the remote mountains of Eastern Congo, where you will meet these miners and war victims and discover how conflict minerals are smuggled out of the country and illegally sold on the international market to foreign buyers, from where they are refined and processed into consumer products. Offering multiple perspectives from both the aggressors and victims, the documentary takes you into the lives of these people, circumventing the media blackouts that keep us in the dark, and uncovering not only the truth about what is really happening in Congo, but also who the key players and organizations are that are engaged with helping these victims, including groups such as “Doctors Without Borders” and “Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI).”
This fascinating film, due to be released later this fall, describes the actions that need to be taken to overcome these challenges, including government reform, rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure, and demilitarization of the mining industry. It also exposes the sad reality of the relationship between the products most of us use daily, and the human cost involved.
I realize it is not feasible to remedy every injustice in the world, but if we keep mindful of the fact that many people giving whatever they are able, even in small amounts, can and will make a difference in the lives of many. Below are links where you can help support the efforts of these humanitarian filmmakers and where you can donate to ECI and Doctors Without Borders. I urge you to give whatever you can and spread the word on social media. Daniel has told me that “every drop counts.”
The next time you convince yourself war is good for business, consider if that is true, then Africa should have the world’s best economy.
Below are some links provided by Daniel for more about this subject:
↪ FractureDatlas.org Public Charity: Support This Is Congo
↪ Get Involved: (This Is Congo on Twitter)
↪ NY Times Op-Doc: Congo-The_Road-To-Ruin