In this rather strange year, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take part in the live screening of Downstream to Kinshasa at Pathé Tuschinski. As one of the 19 master films selection of IDFA 2020, Dieudo Hamadi, the director of Downstream to Kinshasa, did not disappoint the audience by its powerful manifestation of the struggles of the powerless in the state of Congo.
Thousands are killed and yet no justice has been done for the victims of the Six-Day War between Rwanda and Uganda in 2000. In the ensuing 18 years of the atrocity, the victims sought help from the Congolese government, however, nothing has been achieved.
The film followed the group of survivors, traveling downstream along the Congo River from Kisangani to Kinshasa, the capital of the country to seek help. The selection of the participants of the journey has become a hassle – who should go and who should not. Amidst the tempests along the journey, who could ever expect someone, who is mutilated, to even take care of themselves?
They cried, screamed, and shouted at each other.
The “boat trip” to Kinshasa appears to me to be a rather shocking and agonistic experience. In the midst of the storms and surges, the travelers had conflicts with other strangers. They cried, screamed, and shouted at each other, but all out of depression and annoyance.
The victims went to Kinshasa as they thought that a face-to-face encounter with the members of parliament could change the injudicious minds of the bureau. It turns out that it was just a pipedream, a dream that has been shattered, restored, and demolished violently over and over again. Hypocritically, the ridicule is how the local United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) showed zero interest in their case and “surprisingly” commanded them to “seek asylum” from their government, as if they have not.
After the failure of persuading the national parliament members to help them to voice out, the victims vented their desperate wills and demands out of the UNHCR. However, everything ended with the laughters of the conceited men in suits and the indifferent armed securities.
The Lost Memory of Congolese
Collective identities have been a focus of Dieudo Hamadi’s work. Downstream to Kinshasa is Hamadi’s newest documentary following his previous success. The director, who was born and raised in the third-largest city in Democratic Republic of Congo – Kisangani, is dedicated to work on the theme of collective identities and memories of the Kisanganiese, following his antecedent work – National Diploma (2014), Mama Colonel (2017) and Kinshasa Makambo (2018).
When Hamadi was asked why he would work on such a theme, he imperturbably assured that the warfare is something the Congolese have forgotten, consciously or subconsciously. However, the agony should never be forgotten, and Congolese people are to hold themselves to the account of the lost memory. Otherwise, there are no other ways the victims could ever resort to.
The Noah Ark to Oblivion
You may wonder why I used the term “The Noah Ark to Oblivion”, there is in fact a simple answer – the journey was a false hope.
In the year 2018, Félix Tshisekedi, an oppositional presidential candidate, was elected to be the succeeding president of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hopes were brought up and the protagonists hailed the new leader of the nation. This could be the ultimate light at the end of the tunnel. However, it is conceivable that, still, nothing has been changed since 2000, where it all began.
The screening ended with a sense of sorrow and vexation when Hamadi revealed the finale of the story. The hegemony, the filthy coalition between nations’ leaders and their endless cravings for resources, are the only things that are stopping the people from receiving fair compensation and obtaining the rudimentary rights to gain back their dignity.
What they desire is simple, yet, difficult.