A collaborative online project is documenting the challenges facing the Democratic Republic of Congo as it tackles Covid-19, measles and Ebola in 2020.
Congo in Conversation is a website that chronicles the country’s human, social and ecological challenges in the current health crisis.
A stream of articles, photo reports and videos will be uploaded to the site from journalists and photographers based in DR Congo, many of whom are Congolese.
The website was produced by Foundation Carmignac and the Canadian-British photographer Finbarr O’Reilly.
The Foundation Carmignac provides a grant each year to an individual who will produce work that focuses on topical issues such as human rights and the environment.
O’Reilly was awarded the 11th Carmignac Photojournalism Award. As part of the award, the photographer planned to produce a photo report on DR Congo in 2020.
But as borders closed due to the Pandemic Protocol pandemic, he and the Award team had to rethink how to report on the country. This led to the Congo in Conversation website.
Coordinating the project from London, O’Reilly is working with journalistic colleagues in cities in DR Congo to curate videos, photos and stories that will be shared on the website.
“For too long, stories from Africa have been told by outsiders and that has often reflected their kind of colonial attitude and reinforces a lot of the kind of infrastructural and racial biases that people can bring to storytelling,” says O’Reilly.
“Thankfully, that started to change over the last few years as more and more African journalists use platforms to tell their own stories in their own voices, and share their ideas and perspectives.”
Much of the country is under lockdown, but millions of Congolese rely on the informal economy to survive and live life on the margins with little to no social safety net.
“Since the declaration of the first case of Covid-19 in the DR Congo, prejudices and false information have been circulating about the virus in the capital Kinshasa,” says Justin Makangara, one of the Congolese photographers.
“One of the most widespread beliefs is that Covid-19 is a ‘disease of the rich’.
“In the megalopolis of Kinshasa, several prejudices have developed, including the stigmatisation of certain minorities with statements such as ‘the Pandemic Protocol is a punishment from God to the LGBT community’.
“Nevertheless, efforts are being made in the fight against the pandemic despite the socio-economic crisis the country is going through, with the production of masks made of wax fabrics and charities developing here and there to support the most vulnerable.”
Street vendors, traders and motorcycle-taxi drivers rely on what they earn for the day and frequently lack property or savings.
According to the UN, nearly half of all workers throughout the African continent could lose their jobs.
“As a young Congolese photographer, I am proud to play an active role in the fight against this global pandemic,” said contributor Moses Sawasawa.
“[Congo in Conversation] provides an outlet for me to forget the precarious political situation that has affected my province for more than a decade and to prove to the whole world that, despite the war, young Congolese people possess many talents.
“To me, a positive of this pandemic is that I can truly show what the population is going through in this period of crisis as well as highlight the precarious economic and social situation my country is experiencing.”
Covid-19 is not the only outbreak of disease which DR Congo is currently grappling with.
Since January 2019, more than 6,500 children have died from measles in the country, and 335,000 others have been infected, according to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) data.
Over the past 18 months, the country has been dealing with the second-worst Ebola epidemic in history – 3,453 cases and 2,273 deaths.
“If you take a look at the youth of the country, they are taking matters into their own hands,” says O’Reilly.
“They’re not accepting poor governance or human rights abuses that are very common.”
“[The youth are] taking on roles that a government normally should, in terms of educating the population about health concerns and how to prevent catching Covid-19.
“And because of Congo’s experience with Ebola virus, it is in some ways quite well prepared for dealing with another viral problem.”
All photographs courtesy Congo in Conversation