Ross Kemp in the Congo
Nb. There are some graphic details in this episode.
So this was a heavy duty episode.
Taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Where Ross starts out from the capital, Doha. There are no commercial flights into or out of the DRC Ross explains, so he has to take military aircraft and a helicopter.
The Congo appears to be lightly patrolled by the forces of the United Nations (U.N) the Congo’s own Police force with machine guns who walk around the streets and markets of the capital and a confusing array and number of independent militias.
The fact that there were no commercial flights in or out was not a good sign. Right from the beginning of the episode. I found myself repeatedly thinking throughout this episode as i have done in some others: that Ross and his team must have some very good fixers, contacts and organization behind their team.
Not just in the fact of getting clearance to fly on military aircraft and helicopters and an escort by the United Nations (UN) but that walking around some of these areas with a great big camera held by the unseen man behind Ross may well be seen as invasive, rude, judgemental or just plain provocative. By the people who live there. We have no idea what their take on Ross and the camera crew could be.
Judging by the extremely glum and stony faces of many of the people filmed here. Including the children, some of whom crossed their arms defensively, and stared, I did start to wonder.
All in all, it did not seem to be a very welcoming place. Except for the Minister of Justice who greeted Ross warmly with an official welcome to the prison and seemed a little downcast when Ross didn’t respond in kind.
By then you see, Ross had already met the Doctor of the Hospital in Pazui which was full of hundreds of women who lived there now. All the women had been either mutilated raped or gang raped. Or all three. One woman had no hands from the wrists down. They had been chopped off. Other unspeakable things had been done to their insides. Acts that one couldn’t even imagine. Yet someone had thought them up. So the women had to have corrective surgery. As did some babies too.
So this is why Ross was already really rather mad before he greeted the Minister of Justice who seemed rather proud to show Ross round the prison. Yet the minister steadfastly avoided allowing or identifying, to Ross, the actual culprits of the afore mentioned crimes. Instead allowing a sole interview with a photogenic youth who was guilty of rape and had been imprisoned for life. However this case was not one carried out en masse, as a member of a militia.
The prison yard was stuffed full of inmates and there were no prison guards. Ross was seated down amongst all the men. The inmates greeted Ross with a special ululating song and a bit of a dance. This traditional African welcome. as Ross described it, was repeated by the avowedly murdering and reportedly gang-raping militia Ross went to meet later. Some of whom looked less than enthusiastic at doing the dance. It was all most odd and uncomfortable.
The few women in the militia could be seen casting sideways glances to each other and each other’s slowly clapping hands. Like, how much longer are we gonna have to do this then? Likewise some of the militia men.
Presumably this dancing business,, whilst possibly well meant and maybe even a hark back to happier halcyon days, in this instance seemed designed to fill in some very uncomfortable explanations and to hopefully shut up the visitor, Ross. From asking those uncomfortable questions.
Because it became clear that nobody was telling the truth. The situation was about as clear as mud. Even though Ross, as always, was very well informed as to the history of the area and the conflicts thereof.
I was somewhat helped by having read a long and complex article recently describing the recent history of the Congo and its link with the Rwandan genocide. However, like Ross, i became more confused and surprised at the linking of old enemies with each other into independent militias, the continuing and inexplicable attacks on villages and the practice of gang rape. These crimes were denied outright by the militia questioned by Ross.
Then there was the local Police in the DRC. The Police forces in some of the other countries that Ross Kemp has visited in the Extreme World series have described their pay as too low.
(Nb.we also learn that a high number of Police get killed in those other countries)
A Journalist explains to Ross that the local Police did not get paid much in the Congo either and therefore the practice of:
“blessings” being received by the Police was commonplace.
“Blessings!” replied Ross somewhat sarcastically to the Journalist who explained this to him, who was wearing a blue England football shirt i felt, especially for his meeting with Ross:
“We call these bribes”!.
Ross had not been in a smiling mood ever since his visit to the hospital.
Then there was the U.N, currently being captained by an Indian officer which was interesting because I hadn’t known India was in the United Nations, who policed the area. The UN forces kindly offered or rather insisted on escorting Ross to one of his destinations in their big armoured car with machine guns. I think. However the U.N insisted on taking up the rear:
“In case anything happened”.
“The rear?” queried Ross:
“not the front?! I would really rather prefer it if you were in the front?”!
he rather uselessly stated. Uselessly because the UN were not open to suggestions on this point. I am no military expert however logistically it seemed to me firing large guns from behind someone you’re ostensibly protecting might theoretically hit them too. But what do i know. Ross seemed to think so too however.
Unless people were prone to attacking from behind in the Congo? If so then surely they would just switch to the front, seeing the large UN armoured car? i give up.
So it went on. Ross’s visit that is and his search for a man who had been involved in the crimes perpetrated on the women in the hospital. Eventually Ross was granted such an interview on the agreement to leave the location and identity of the man undisclosed or shown. It soon transpired that the man had been a child soldier from the age of 11.
As the child soldier now adult talked, filmed from behind and mostly in darkness with just our view of Ross, terse faced and implacably questioning: i was reminded of a Documentary on a particular war-lord i had seen. In that documentary we also met some of the war-lord’s ex-child soldiers, all grown up now.
Several of those ex-child soldiers in that documentary still semi-adored the war-lord in spite of one of them having no legs after being shot in both legs by the war-lord and then locked in a small room as a punishment. For what exactly, i forget. By the time the child soldier was let out of the room both his legs had gone bad. Then his legs were hacked off above his knees by the war lord.
This documentary came back to me when Ross and the grown up child soldier are sitting face to face in the deliberately darkened room, with the orange doors.
The ex-child soldier describes how his training was:
“not of the blackboard kind, it was made up of the cane” and how we:
“followed the command to rape” the purpose of which was:
“to destroy”. You don’t say/ no shit Sherlock.
Ross emerges from the building and declares that in all his travels and interview he has met some killers and that the ex-child soldier had:
“shown no remorse” and that:
“He would have a bad life ahead of him.”
“His eyes” Ross says:
“were those of a killer”.
Like i said, a heavy duty episode. Ross returns to the large and kindly Doctor and his Hospital full of adoring and grateful women. The Doctor bemoans the lack of Western involvement as negatively compared to Bosnia.
“Is it, do you think, because it is black Africa?” Ross replies.
“I wouldn’t like to guess that”
the Doctor says:
” but we are all living on the same planet, we are all human beings”
“Yes, we are all human beings” confirms Ross. Yes, we know that.
However who exactly, would any engaging force be fighting? Presuming that they were not rejected and or accused of Western interference. Since there was a plethora of different sides involved none of whom seemed willing to tell the truth. Some of whom were villagers themselves.
It seemed half of the male population were locked up in prison. The United Nations was already there. What about the actual government and its own forces? Nobody asked about that.
There was visible excitement and preparation, a little too visible perhaps (whilst Ross and his crew were there) of the impending anniversary of Congo’s independence from Belgium. It didn’t seem like they had a lot to celebrate really.