The Congo's Midas Curse

Meet the men and women who bring you the bling.
The Congo's Midas Curse

"We wouldn't have so much trouble if we weren't so rich." This is a common sentiment in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to author Adam Hochschild, who returned to the war-torn nation to follow up on his 1998 bestseller King Leopold's Ghost. (The resulting article, "Blood and Treasure," appears in our March/April issue.) That quote, of course, is 24-carat irony, since Congo's people are desperately poor—not in spite of, but largely because of the Pandora's box that accompanies their nation's fabulous resource wealth.

To produce this photoessay, which accompanies Hochschild's piece in the print magazine, Marcus Bleasdale spent eight years documenting the lives and conflicts of the Congolese. His dedication has resulted in two photo books, One Hundred Years of Darkness and, out in March, Rape of a Nation—the source of the images you see here. It's easy for Americans to remain oblivious to the troubles of people in faraway lands, but Bleasdale's photos manage to pierce our cynical gaze. And that's only fair, since American consumers and investors are among those who profit most from Congo's misery—be they the Wall Street mogul who owns 12 percent of mining multinational AngloGold Ashanti, or simply everyday folks who like electronic gadgets and sparkly jewelry.

In the foreword to Rape of a Nation, bestselling novelist John le Carré sums up the country's human hell as:

...fourteen hundred and fifty tragedies every day. It is countless more than that if you include the orphaned, the bereaved, the widowed, and all the ripples of truncated lives that spread from a single death. It is you and me and our children and our parents, if we had had the bad luck to be born into the world this book portrays. But Congo has one secret that is hard to pass on if you haven’t learned it at first hand. Look carefully and you will find a gaiety of spirit and a love of life that, even in the worst of times, leave the pampered Westerner moved and humbled beyond words.

You can also find a multimedia presentation of Bleasdale's work at MediaStorm.