Presenting "I Am Congo", a groundbreaking video series featuring five amazing people living their lives amid the deadliest war in the world.
When you think of the Congo, do you think of courage, change and beauty? Or do you think of war, corruption and conflict? ‘I Am Congo’ is a video series following five incredible people living in the region, who help shed some light on the real Congo. They tell their stories with honesty, hope and most importantly, in their own words.
Their stories challenge our perceptions of Congo as war-torn and helpless but they also don’t paint an unrealistically rosy image. Instead, you get more truthful stories, told by some of the inspirational people living there. Among them is Denise Siwatula, a survivor of a volcanic eruption who escaped with one thing, her law text book. Dominique Bikaba, a conservationist, who works tirelessly to protect endangered gorillas affected by conflict. For more, watch the trailer.
The Congo has experienced violent civil wars and militia conflicts but as this series shows ordinary people can and are making a difference even within this context. The films are produced by Raise Hope for Congo, an Enough Project campaign. Raise Hope for Congo explain their goal as trying, “to introduce more people to the Congo and empower them with solutions to help end the conflict there. Those already familiar with the Congo will see it in a new light.”
“I Am Congo” is launching today (May 1st) and you can watch all five films in the series. Tell us what you think!
Mugabe and the White African is a story of courage in the face of a seemingly insurmountable adversary – President Mugabe, faith and belief. It is the story of an African whose skin colour just happened to be ‘white’; it is the story of Mike Campbell, his wife, daughter and son-in-law... and their fight against the worst kind of racism, dictatorship, injustice and human rights violation.
The documentary begins with Mike preparing to go to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal, a human rights court, to challenge President Mugabe’s decision to forcefully take his farmland from him. He appears composed in spite of the knowledge that the Tribunal’s decision will either mean losing everything he and his family have worked hard for or success against a dictator – the latter being the unlikely outcome.
Mike Campbell and his family moved to Zimbabwe in the 70s where he purchased a parcel of land with a bank loan; a loan that took twenty odd years to pay back. And for over 3 decades Mike and his family with the help of his son-in-law Ben Freeth turned this parcel of land into a flourishing farm and games reserve, Mount Carmel.
The farm employed over 500 local people who lived and worked on the farm. Ben’s wife, Mike’s daughter, ran a linen business on the farm where the women and girls worked; each woman having between 4 to 5 children. Life was good until things took a turn for the worse when Robert Mugabe became President and began his Land Reform policy - forcing white farmers off their farmlands.
Prior to this Land Reform, the majority of the choice agricultural lands were owned by white commercial farmers leaving the drought-prone regions for black farmers. This situation resulted during the colonial times when black farmers were forced off the lands in favour of colonists. According to the 2002 BBC report, about 4400 white farmers owned 32% of farmlands in Zimbabwe while about 1 million poor black farmers cultivated 38%. This disparity and apparent injustice left bad blood between the white farmers and the black peasant farmers - exploited by Mugabe to sustain his political aspirations.
In a bid to gain popularity and sustain his presidency President Mugabe fast tracked the Land Reform policy In 2000, promising to take back farmlands from white farmers and redistribute to their rightful owners; black farmers – any wonder why many Zimbabweans voted for him?
Although it’s been reported that land was redistributed to the farmers, the majority was given to top government officials, Mugabe’s relatives and judges - who were clueless about farming or managing farmlands.
Farmlands that were once flourishing have been left fallow producing little or nothing for export crippling Zimbabwe’s agricultural economy. Aside from a downturn in agricultural economy, the black farmers and their families who worked on these farmlands, including Mike’s farmland, have been left without jobs and housing as many of them were beaten and driven off the land like their employers.
It’s documentaries such as ‘Mugabe and the White African’ that give people a visual insight into the real issues in Zimbabwe. I was appalled not only by the abject disregard for the law displayed by Mugabe and his thugs (the war veterans and lawyers) but also by the extent at which rights were violated. Mike, his wife and Ben Freeth were forced out of their home, threatened and beaten – what sort of monster beats up elderly people? – And had their basic right to life and security, freedom from torture and inhuman treatment and ownership of property violated.
The court hearing was deliberately postponed many times by Mugabe’s lawyers for unreasonable reasons, showing how little regard they had for the proceedings and their confidence that they can get away with anything. However, by some divine intervention Mike and his family finally got the justice they deserved:
“The tribunal condemned the seizures as “racist” and theft on a grand scale. The farmers could keep their land, it ruled, because the redistribution programme was discriminatory and was not being implemented according to the rule of law.”-The Guardian, 2011
As a Nigerian I know how difficult it can be to win against governments in Africa, particularly one which is authoritarian and corrupt..
Despite the tribunal’s ruling the farm, including the homes of their workers, was burnt to the ground. In spite of this Mike before his death earlier this year put in an application with SADC along with Luke Tembani, a black farmer who was also driven off his farmland, to ensure it continued its function after the member Heads of State requested the Tribunal be suspended.
I salute Mike Campbell and stand firmly behind Ben Freeth and other African Activists as should Africans of all race, colour and creed as they continually risk their lives to expose Human rights violations in Africa and challenge corrupt and authoritarian African leaders such as Mugabe.
Ralph Fiennes plays an English diplomat who is sent to work in Kenya, Africa. His wife, played by Rachel Weisz is a human rights activist and determined campaigner for justice... murdered when she stumbles quite accidentally upon a political scandal and decides to make it her mission to bring this to light.
It’s the story of The Constant Gardener – a film that combines the adventure chase format with some uncomfortable questions about western companies operating in Africa.
The film begins when a large pharmaceutical company is found to be testing a new drug for people suffering from tuberculosis. Using the most vulnerable communities in Kenya as test subjects, it follows a scandal to the highest levels of the British government when side effects and consent are ignored and Fiennes wife, a dedicated health worker is murdered because of what she knows.
Filmed largely within the slums of Kibera and Loiyangalali, the communities where she works are desperate for medical care and vulnerable within their society - making them easy prey to big corporates like the pharmaceutical giant featuring in the story. It is suggested that the government of Kenya would have been bribed in order to agree to these trials. The story highlights that this type of testing can be beneficial to drugs companies as it saves them time developing a secure formula for a drug early on, they can simply fly the drug overseas, test it, manipulate the findings of the trials (by excluding those who have suffered negative side effects) and sell the drug on to the Western world at a later stage when the testing is complete.
These huge and powerful organisations are highly unlikely to face legal action from those trialling the medication as these people can often not afford lawyers, are less likely to given an understanding of their rights and are deemed as easily expendable.
The Constant Gardener focuses on how the courage and determination of a number of people to uncover the truth and publicise these immoral and illegal drugs trials can raise awareness of the sacrifices made for our medication in the West.
The plot isn’t directly based on a true story... but derives its message from a number of similar real-life cases of pharmaceutical companies trialling products on people living in the third world. In one case in 1996, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer apparently gave children in Nigeria a new and untested drug called ‘Trovan’ which aimed to treat meningitis when the disease quickly became wide-spread in that part of the continent. Allegations were made that these children suffered from long-term joint pain believed to have been a result of the drug they were given - which were swiftly denied.
Interights are one organisation that works to protect the importance of human rights by strengthening partnerships and transparency in regional and legal entities across the globe – making human rights accessible in developing countries where they are often overlooked. You can also support Transparency International who work to tackle corruption across the globe by making governments and businesses more open, monitor resource trade and advocate for greater accountability. The Constant Gardener was released in 2005 and is available on DVD.
Meet Dudu. With his positive drive and wisecracking antics, he is probably one of the main reasons for seeing Africa United. A film that inspires us with a soulful and upbeat view of Africa as a mismatched band of children embark on a road trip 3,000 miles from the tiny hill country of Rwanda to the World Cup in South Africa. A film that shows us how to make a world class football from a condom.
This is not a film about football. It’s a film about community- the places the children visit and the journey they take, but most importantly it is the bond between the five that overcomes the obstacles they face and the differences between them. From different countries, backgrounds and classes – including a runaway, a child soldier and an orphan of the genocide, the group un-ashamedly parallel the message for a united Africa. A message for ‘Ubuntu’, a phrase that means ‘community’ in several Southern African countries, but specifically refers to the importance of working with others and kindness in Kinyarwanda (Rwandan).
Metaphors in the film are barely disguised but carry some valid comments for development – and while the majority of the 90 minutes is aimed at a younger and uninitiated audience, it wouldn’t hurt many of us in the sector to learn from it. Dudu, the film’s charismatic narrator embodies much of the journey’s sentiment while staying decidedly bouncy throughout, wearing an oversized jacket that symbolises his street wise maturity, while remaining effectively ‘cute’ as the youngest of the five.
Through the childrens’ journey, the film touches briefly on some of the difficulties that communities in Rwanda, the DR. Congo, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa face without offsetting the fantastically positive energy of the characters, subtly hinting at the effects of the Rwandan genocide, the abduction and use of child soldiers, sex workers, HIV and lack of access to basic services.
Issues that the children both acknowledge and work around in the film; enforcing the -admittedly obvious- point that African communities are vibrant, full of energy and most of all, able. Truths that are hard to find in films about Africa.
The journey itself is narrated simultaneously by the incorporation of colourful animations illustrating a story about overcoming conflict, by bringing people together with football. Oh and just in case you missed it, the film is about making the impossible, possible:
While the film tends to verge on fantasy with the group miraculously passing from country to country with few interruptions, it provides a reflection of East and South African society that is refreshingly authentic. In similar trend to Slumdog Millionaire, the film deliberately integrated local people and customs into the filming process, casting almost exclusively from Rwanda and Uganda where Rwandan producer Eric Kabera helped combine shoots from three countries with some incredible African music and uniquely African perspective.
Ultimately this is a movie that you can get excited about. You can watch it with the kids and you can enjoy it without a huge emotional investment in Africa’s so called ‘problems’.. and you should, because Africa is full of vibrant, generous, intelligent and capable communities that rarely get such an open platform to express themselves.
Do the children make it to South Africa in time for the World Cup? And how do they deal with the constant phone-calls from Fabrice’s mum? Watch the film and find out - I’m off to book some tickets to Rwanda.
A Small Act is the inspiring true story of how a small monthly donation from Hilde Back, a Jewish refugee living in Sweden, enabled bright but poor Kenyan student Chris Mburu to attend secondary school. He went on to study at Harvard and became a human rights lawyer for the United Nations, eventually setting up his own scholarship fund for Kenyan children in Hilde Back’s name, continuing the help that his benefactor provided.
The film combines Hilde and Chris’s story with the story of the new generation of pupils at Mukubu Primary School, particularly following the lives of the top three students – Kimani, Ruth and Caroline, who are preparing for their national KCPE exams. The results of these exams determine whether the students are eligible for a Hilde Back Education Fund Scholarship to attend secondary school. The film follows the children’s hard work, anticipation, disappointment and happiness throughout the exam period – stages which all former students can relate to!
The consequences of disappointing results, however, are far more severe for these pupils. For the vast majority of the pupils at Mukubu Primary, failing to obtain a scholarship rules out the possibility of attending secondary school. This means that many of these students, particularly girls, fall into what Chris’s cousin Jane, calls “the same vicious cycle of poverty”.
The film poignantly captures the chronic disappointment of those left behind, and raises the question of what will follow the attainment of the second Millennium Development Goal – achieving universal primary education. Is the next step ensuring secondary education for all?
Startling links between the lives of Chris and Hilde Back make this story even more powerful. As a Jewish child, Hilde was forced to flee the genocide in Nazi Germany and start a new life in Sweden. Her parents, however, were not so lucky and perished under the Nazis. Chris, her beneficiary, now fights this kind of genocide in his job as a human rights lawyer.
The strongest message in the film, however, is the need for and the possible effect of a small act. The incredible story of Hilde and Chris clearly demonstrates the real-life ripple effect of a single act of kindness and inspires us to make similar gestures in our own lives.
The numerous children who have not been selected for a scholarship remind us at the end of the film that there is a chronic need for many more small gestures on the part of those who are able to do something. In the words of Chris Mburu:
“You have to do something. You have to say, ‘I know that I cannot provide support, relief and help to all the suffering that is around me. But I want to do one thing; I want to take one action that will work towards relieving that situation.”
Each of us can do something; each of us can make a small gesture – and it’s not just about financial donations. This is what we at the Global Poverty Project are all about: we have written extensively about what each of us can do, what small gesture we can make, in order to make a difference and do our bit in the fight against extreme poverty.
Imagine the ripple effect if each of us made one small act today.
A Small Act was released on DVD on 20 June 2011. You can view the trailer here.