“The people always win.”
Thirty-one-year-old Ben is one of the leaders of a civil society movement campaigning for democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In a country where the president, Joseph Kabila, has sought to cling to power by any means necessary, exceeding the term limits stipulated by the constitution and violently repressing any hint of popular protest, his is a dangerous position to be in.
So when Ben discovers that he is wanted by his country’s national security services, he heads to the United States, where he seeks asylum. But when his visa is rejected, he must return to the DRC. There, he is reunited with his friends and fellow leaders of the civil society movement – Christian and Jean-Marie, who were, until recently, languishing in a government prison.
Together, they must decide how to oppose a president who refuses to relinquish power. Will they join forces with the traditional opposition party? Is it too late for dialogue? Should they resign themselves to a popular uprising and the risk of a bloodbath?
Back to Kinshasa follows the three activists as they brave the possibility of bullets, prison and exile in their fight for the future of their country.
By Dieudo Hamadi
In a few days’ time, the people of the DRC will elect a new president.
They will be voting in the first election in the history of the DRC where an incumbent president is not running for re-election.
That president, Joseph Kabila, has been in power for more than 17 years. Congolese media outlets would have you believe that the fact that he is not running this time around is proof that he is a man of his word.
But the reality is that this election, which has, in fact, been postponed many times, is the result of the enormous sacrifices made by young, often anonymous Congolese activists who have spent the past few years campaigning for political change – and risking their lives in the process.
It all started in 2011, when President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, was elected to serve a second term in a vote marred by massive electoral fraud. As soon as the results were announced, protesters took to the streets. But they were met by violent repression.
These demonstrators, most of them young, were quelled, but they didn’t give up. Assisted by the Congolese diaspora and galvanised by the Tunisian, Senegalese and Burkinabe Springs, they created information and training networks for political activism. These networks spread across the country – in complete secrecy.
One day, the history of the Congo won't be written in the United Nations, in Washington, Paris or Brussels but in the streets of Mbandaka, Kinshasa, Kisangani … It will be a story of glory and dignity.
Then, in January 2015, a little more than a year before the next elections were due to be held, the authorities made official Kabila’s wish to stay in power come true, despite the fact that constitutional term limits forbade it.
The streets burned. This time, the repression, as strong as ever, failed to stop the protests.
For the first time, the Congolese authorities became aware of the existence of the country’s youth movements – and their scale. They realised, with dismay, just how great a threat they posed to those in power.
As soon as the tension on the streets calmed down, the government fought back. It declared the youth movements illegal. It described their leaders, in particular, as terrorists on national television. It systematically hunted them down, kidnapped them and jailed them.
Those who managed to escape the authorities had no choice but to flee the country or hide in the most remote villages. Such has been the fate of the young Congolese who have aspired to democracy in the DRC.
In 2016, the world’s cameras descended upon our country, ready to capture the expected chaos. I wanted to take my camera, too, to film the young men and women who would be on the receiving end of it; those fighting for their future. I wanted to show their courage, to pay tribute to them and to tell their stories.
In this country, there have always been men and women who have stood up against injustice. Whether during slavery, colonisation or dictatorship, they have fought – and sometimes paid with their lives. But almost all of them have been forgotten.
As a filmmaker, I wanted to use film to immortalise this generation’s fight for dignity and freedom and their sacrifices for a ‘new Congo’.
This film aims to be a work of memory. I want the next generation to be able to remember those who are willing to lose everything so that they might regain mastery of their own destinies. I want to tell the stories of those ‘ordinary heroes’. When you have the skills and tools to bear witness to a tragedy, you cannot stay silent.
Back to Kinshasa was filmed two years ago. It takes us back to the daily challenges faced by young Congolese during a troubled and violent time in the DRC, to a time when change via the ballot box seemed impossible.
As the Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba once said: “One day, the history of the Congo won’t be written in the United Nations, in Washington, Paris or Brussels but in the streets of Mbandaka, Kinshasa, Kisangani … It will be a story of glory and dignity.”