With some world attention now being focused on the Congo and the flare-up of its conflicts, my first thought is to dive back in to the remarkable long-term work VII photographer Marcus Bleasdale has done there. In my mind, this really is his story. He has been imploring us to look at what is happening there for years. He is who I owe my awareness to. Look at any of these (1, 2, 3, 4) stories for Bleasdale’s body of work from the Congo. The fourth for example, titled 4,000,000, is a powerful overview of a conflict that has killed over 4,000,000 people. Here is Bleasdale’s description from that essay on VII, which I think is a year or two old:
The conflict in eastern Congo, arguably the murkiest and deadliest on earth, has been in large part about natural resources. The war began in 1998, when Uganda and Rwanda, ostensibly chasing after the genocidal Interhamwe, crossed the Congolese border. Immediately, they began to fight for control of Congo’s minerals.
Almost from the first few months, resources were helping to define military strategy. Rwandan-backed rebels laid siege to mining towns for gold, diamonds, coltan (for laptops and mobile phones) and more recently cassiterite (used in making tin), among others. Soon, Ugandan-backed rebels did the same. While some of the minerals have high-tech uses, looting Congo’s resources is nothing new. It follows a pattern that goes back to King Leopold; in those days it was rubber and ivory. Now, the goods have changed, but the methods and reasons have not. Right now, according to the International Rescue Committee, 1,250 people are dying in Congo every day. The number is so overwhelming it renders itself almost inconceivable. Since the war began, according to IRC, more than 4 million people have died. For every person who dies violently, 62 more die of completely avoidable causes: diarrhea, malnutrition, malaria, to name a few.
Checking VII right now I see two new Africa piece from him, including the pertinent “Hutu Tutsi Never Again?”, about the former Rwandan factions spilling in to the Congo (more or less, it seems, the underlying issue in the current news), and the beautiful and chilling “Somalia Exodus” about the world’s largest refugee camp located just across the border in Kenya.
This is another example of where we can turn to photojournalism first to find out important things about ‘breaking’ international stories. Because of photographers like Bleasdale who have committed to a particular story and region for a long period of time we have a record, profound documentation, of the development of a story over time. While I am turning to the New York Times for the day-to-day on this story, I am going first to Bleasdale for a longer term perspective and insight. On this story at very least, photojournalism is providing me with the most important information. In times where few photographers are expert in regions and stories, instead covering too many places (in too little depth) or too large of ‘ideas’, it is refreshing and empowering to see Marcus Bleasdale contribute so fully and deeply to this story that is just emerging as an international concern. Cheers to Marcus for doing important work that is coming to the fore at the most critical time.