It has now been more than a year since I left DR Congo – I can’t quite believe it! Where has the time gone? Sun, French and spontaneous camping trips in the bush have been swiftly replaced with drizzle, marketing speak and pizza and prosecco nights. London has swept me up in its bustle and if I’m honest with myself I have only occasionally looked back at my previous expat African life and wondered how much of an effect it’s had on my outlook now. Recently however I was catapulted back into the world of cassava, pagne and gorillas when I was invited to a screening of a documentary about Congo at the London School of Economics.
The award-winning documentary was called ‘When Elephants Fight’ and was created and directed by American filmmaker Mike Ramsdell, in order to highlight the conflicts that have arisen around Congo’s vast minerals resources (such as gold, cobalt and coltan) which are mined for use in everyday electronics such as mobile phones throughout the world.
You can watch the trailer here:
Congo is home to vast amounts of these minerals (for example a fifth of the world’s coltan) but instead of using the wealth generated by these resources to support the country and its immense population, the revenue has been side-lined into funding rebel groups and years of war in the DRC, leaving those who work in the mines and the surrounding community in dire poverty and little hope for a fairer, safer future. The documentary’s message about this complex issue was actually a simple one. The way electronic companies source minerals from Congo won’t change unless we, the consumers of products that the minerals go into, demand transparency about where the minerals come from. Only if big companies realise that consumers care where their products are sourced will they put the effort in to find out how their minerals are procured and improve the supply chain and stop the exploitation of a country.
Now I know we’re not all lobbyists and you may be sat there thinking, I’m only one person, what difference can I make? That’s what I loved about this initiative. All you have to do is watch the film. And the great thing about this one is that it’s free!
To get the film you can contact the documentary team and they’ll send it directly to you. All they ask in return is that you tell them how many people come to your viewing – that way that can keep track of how many people they are reaching with their work – super useful when putting pressure on the people and organisations that can help change the situation in Congo.
Because one thing I realised when I came back from Congo was, that despite it being a huge part of my life, most people in the UK are completely unaware of the country – some people don’t even know where it is and a select few think it was made up country for the advert about the children’s fruit juice drink ‘Um Bongo’.
Now I don’t want to go all philosophical on you but the past year has certainly given me this time to reflect on my Congo experience. The advantages of eternal sunshine and a more equal work/life balance definitely outweigh the negatives of being far from home in a country where the language isn’t one you speak well. For me Congo will always be the home of incredible fashion, amazing music and inspiring people with a limitless desire to change their country. Unfortunately the change that I witnessed during my two years there was frustratingly slow and the dichotomy between myself and the poverty that surrounded me sometimes cause me stress that I couldn’t define at the time, but now I understand was a complete disbelief in how a government can desert their people so profoundly.
I hope that documentaries like this help change the situation in Congo. The state of the world at the moment has certainly questioned my belief in democracy and what it can bring, and it seems everyone on a global scale is unhappy with the status quo. Let’s not forget countries like Congo for whom many people can’t even vote or don’t have anyone to represent them and their needs, particularly women. Even if this film and this blog reaches a few people I’ll be satisfied.