At a special literary presentation in the West Hollywood Public Library on Monday night hosted by Book Soup and the City of West Hollywood’s WeHo Reads, a panel consisting of actor Ryan Gosling and activists John Prendergast, Fidel Bafilemba and Chouchou Namegabe discussed the new book Congo Stories: Battling Five Centuries of Exploitation and Greed.
The book was co-authored by Prendergast and Bafilemba and features original photography taken on-location by Gosling.
“I’m not a photographer. I didn’t go [to Congo] with the intention of taking pictures for the book. I didn’t know what I was taking pictures of and why, but I thought they would be useful at some point,” Gosling said of how he first got involved with this project. “My first experience there was photographing a young girl named Huguette who was raped on her way to school. She was forced to walk to school every day and see the soldier who did this to her. It was one of the most harrowing journeys I’ve ever personally witnessed, and she does it twice a day. She does it to go to law school so that she can become a lawyer, so that even though she couldn’t find justice for herself, others might.”
Prendergast, founding director of the nonprofit Enough Project, was able to summarize 500 years of Congo’s complex history in just under 20 minutes during the talk.
Congolese journalist Namegabe, co-founder of the South Kivu Women’s Media Association (AFEM), explained how she used radio journalism to interview female rape survivors in order to create a media campaign that would help destigmatize the victims and help give them a voice. Despite the stories of suffering, Namegabe stressed that there is potential and hope in Congo.
“For us, this book is a hope, because it tells the true story of Congo and brings people to be interested and know more about those who are working tirelessly for change. We still have hope because celebrities like Ryan, Robin Wright, Ben Affleck, are sacrificing their precious time to commit for the cause,” Namegabe said.
Bafilemba, who is currently working on building eastern Congo’s first library, added: “This book we have written here is not only about the heart of darkness, it is also about light.”
While Congo Stories helps explain the myriad causes that have resulted in the exploitation and violence that the country is facing, it also narrows the focus on the stories of individuals who are trying to inspire change. “I wish that we’d had this book when I went to Congo, and obviously you can never really attempt to tell the full history of the country — it’s far too complicated and nuanced — but it’s a start, and if that’s what you’re looking for, then I highly recommend it,” Gosling concluded.
The proceeds from the book’s sales will go directly to support the Congolese Upstanders, who are working for peace and human rights in Congo.
Congo Stories is available in bookstores now.