Life & Death in the Congo

 Read dispatches from the Congo: 

-          Fragile State
-          Hope for Salvation
-          Just Dying for the Elections
-       Disarming the Masses
Like its history under Belgium colonial rule, Congo’s existence since independence in 1960 has been a tortured one. In contrast to other countries, the sprawling, green heart of the African continent, comparable in size to Western Europe and Africa's third largest nation, has enjoyed little or at best, very modest progress and development. Although the ruinous wars of the late twentieth century which sucked in the armies of nine separate nations and cost the lives of over 4 million Congolese mostly through hunger and disease have now abated, various armed groups and militias in the east of the country continue to pose a threat to the stability of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Such groups, including dissident rebel movements opposed to the government 3,000km in Kinshasa and those in neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda, continue to operate freely in the remote lawless jungle regions. All vying for control of the abundant natural resources the country is blessed – some would argue cursed – with. A now 18,000 strong United Nations peacekeeping force under the acronym MONUC has since 2003 attempted to bring a semblance of order and sanity to the region, but has struggled to reign in the numerous belligerent groups.

In 2006 when these images were taken in the month leading up to Congo’s first presidential elections in over four decades, persistent fighting between the newly formed Congolese Army, militias and remnants of the rebel groups which toppled Mobutu's reign in 1997, continued to displace people in their tens of thousands. The small town of Geti, 60km south-east of Bunia, the administrative capital of Ituri District in north east Congo, had recently been retaken from militia forces by the Congolese Army. Yet the town's population quickly swelled to almost 50,000 people who were fleeing fighting in other parts of Ituri. With the support of MONUC forces the Congolese Army were engaged in operations to return order to the provinces of Ituri, North and South Kivu and Katanga ahead of the elections. It proved a difficult task.