Veteran AP video, photo-journalist in Congo dies of COVID-19

KRISTA LARSON
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Obit Congo Bompengo

FILE - In this Oct 4 2007 file photo shot by AP contributing photographer John Bompengo, a rescue worker points out a charred body lying alongside a piece of a crashed cargo plane, as firefighters hose down the smoking rubble of a building, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Relatives say longtime Associated Press contributor John Bompengo has died of COVID-19 in Congo's capital. Bompengo, who had covered his country's political turmoil over the course of 16 years, died Saturday, June 20, 2020 at a Kinshasa hospital. (AP Photo/John Bompengo, file)

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — John Bompengo, who covered Congo's political turmoil as a freelance photographer and video journalist for The Associated Press over the course of 16 years has died, relatives said Sunday. He was 52.

The cause of death was complications due to the coronavirus. Bompengo had been hospitalized for about a week but his condition rapidly deteriorated Friday and he died the following day.

Bompengo had contributed to AP since 2004, including coverage of the Ebola outbreak in northern Congo, in 2018. He also worked for the U.N.-backed news service, Radio Okapi.

Andrew Drake, the AP's Africa news director who also served as senior video producer for West Africa from 2011 to 2018, remembered Bompengo as a “stalwart colleague and an impressive storyteller."

“John could talk his way in and out of places where others couldn’t to get striking images,” Drake said. "He had great contacts and friends across the entire country. Whether news was breaking in Kinshasa or across the river in Brazzaville, John was always on top of things, fast to arrive on the scene and with a plan to get the best pictures.

“He was committed to covering the flow of Congo’s sometime violent politics, always to be found at the heart of the action on the streets taking photos and video, but soon after he would be back in his suit covering the president.”

Among his memorable assignments was covering Congo's 2006 election, the country's first multiparty vote in more than 40 years held after the death of longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

When dangerous clashes broke out after one opposition party decided to boycott, Bompengo went out into the streets to film them even when other journalists stayed back.

“There were angry protesters throwing stones at cars, clashing with police and attacking journalists,” recalled Khaled Kazziha, now AP's senior APTN producer for East Africa. “That afternoon John arrived with incredible video of the clashes."

“He had an incredible knack at navigating around the often chaotic streets of Kinshasa at the worst of times, and to pacify the most angry crowds, ensuring our safety.”

Jerome Delay, AP Chief Africa photographer, said Bompengo was a valued colleague.

"I have known and worked with John for the past 15 years. I have rarely seen such a dedicated field journalist. ... John was a one man band international multi-format news agency — TV, radio, print and photos — he would excel in all fields. We have lost a brother."

Bompengo is survived by his wife and nine children.