Chapter Five: The Emperor’s New ‘Clothes’

 

We can’t pay! No to the Emperor!

We won’t pay! No to the Emperor!”

Those were the chants that rang out across the main street of Bangui as scores of students marched along in protest against our ‘Emperor’. We were a little over a hundred in number but the frustration and strident defiance in our voices made it seem like we were over a million. Even though we were just “children”, we were also tired and angry with this self-proclaimed Emperor who with his iron fist had ruled our Central African Republic for over a decade. This Emperor that had selfishly stolen our once bright dream of independence.

Yannick, who was a few months shy of his 19th birthday, turned to face the crowd, urging us on as he shouted loudly clad in his all-black getup.

No to the Emperor!

No to Bokassa!

The crowd cheered early and picked up the chant. We surged forward. Eagerly I yelled as loud as my voice would allow me. As if my voice could somehow bring change. As if it could somehow bring back the CAR I had known for just a few seconds as a toddler. I was barely a baby when David Dacko became the 1st President of the newly independent CAR. I have no recollection of the stories of growth, communism and reversion to a one-party state that I often heard my parents talk about.

My life had been dictated by one man, and one man alone.

The Emperor.

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Uneasy lies the head, that wore this glittering orb crown

And The General.

Bokassa_colored

Who with every action he undertook, directly impacted my life.

I was a child when General Bokassa had come into power during a military coup that overthrew Dacko, with support from the French. Bokassa had been a soldier in the French army so securing their backing was not hard.  Plus the excuse he used was “overly” simplified.

Dacko took a loan from Chinese. He MUST be Communist, so I (Bokassa) must take over. With French help of course. And just like that he was in control.

Looking back at that, I cannot help but laugh because now the Emperor himself has his own communist friends, friends like Nicolae Ceaușescu, Romania’s President and North Korea’s Kim Il Sung.

Bokassa_with_Ceausescu

Bokassa and Kim II Sung

Oh this Kim guy! Okay fine, I will give you some gold

mobutu & bokassa

Mobutu, does Zaire have this many troops? I don’t think so!!

 

With that all our troubles began.

Unlike Dacko, Jean-Bedel Bokassa or General Bokassa was not really concerned about a one-party state. He did not want a party. He wanted to be president for life, and by any means necessary. My most earliest memory was not the tinkle of my parents’ laughter, it was my first encounter with how great of an extent General Bokassa  (at that time) would go to be President for life.

I was barely walking when he sent orders for the capture and summary execution of his co-conspirator Alexandre Banza on trumped up grounds of treason. Banza had his arms broken by soldiers with Bokassa lending a hand in beating him and slashing him up with a razor. I had the rather unfortunate privilege to see Banza’s still breathing body while playing innocently near the army barracks as he was being dragged through the streets of Bangui before being shot. I remember faintly how bloodied his ripped clothes were and how swollen his battered body was. My mother had rushed to my direction and carried me away from that sight. But it was already too late. I was only 5 years old but that image had been seared into my mind. The image of what happened to anyone who dared to cross Bokassa, including his friends.

And more images followed. The frenzied killings didn’t stop there. Bangui’s streets bled. It was the Inquisition and the Witch hunt minus the religious oppression.  The blood of opposers, activists and anyone Bokassa did not like. Bangui’s streets also dripped with sweat. The never-ending labour of the locals in former french equatorial guinea who were forced to seek employment in a crippling economy or risk being jailed. But Bokassa’s palace dripped in gold and honey.

Over the decades he flaunted and floundered about with the country’s wealth investing in luxury orchestras, hotels and over-the-top parties. We were working to suit his lifestyle. To suit his image of a luxurious CAR but only for the president and his faithfuls. We couldn’t even beg to feed ourselves because it didn’t suit his ideal CAR. My family always had to find other means. We all had to do all sorts of menial jobs to survive. That was just how we lived. to survive.

The world did not really pay us mind. No, Not even when he declared himself Emperor Bokassa I and spent over 50% of the country’s budget on one of the most expensive coronation ceremonies while we the people looked on painfully. He also renamed CAR, Central African Empire.

bokassa-on-throne

My train is just about right… Train so long that I had to construct rail tracks for it

bokassa and family

Yea… I got kids… Lots of ’em and they all wear shirts with my face on ’em

 

Sleeping crown prince

Must.Sleep.So.Bored

 

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Rolling up to Dad’s Coronation… Royal Style

 

My family and many others could barely fend for ourselves but the Emperor was able to hire thoroughbred horses and luxurious Mercedes benzes to flaunt “his” imperial wealth.

And the world looked on.

Yes the French even wined and dined with him that day, while my family and I walked away from that ceremony with nothing on our mind but how to get our next meal.

men marching for bokassa coronation

All dressed up for the one and only Emperor Bokassa… Yes! Work it boys!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And you think that would have been enough.

Ha! Now he has brought his extravagance on us children.

I, Hissene had never thought I would  be here 15 years old and protesting against the “most” powerful man in the country. But I am today because I am angry. Angry that after all that, the Emperor wants us, children to wear expensive uniforms made by one of his wives because it has his face on it. Expensive uniforms that we are all supposed to buy on our own. First they were optional but when he saw no one was buying them, he decreed, in his infinite imperial wisdom that anyone not wearing it will not be allowed in schools.

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Disclaimer: This may not be the real thing but its close enough.

No! I refuse to use my family’s hard earned money to fuel this man’s ego.

No! i refuse to use my last francs to buy a uniform with the face of the man i despise the most in the country!

I refuse to live like my parents anymore and tip-toe around this man!  No, I will be a merchant of change! We are the winds of change in CAR and with that I yelled  even louder,

“No to the Emperor! No to his Ego!” in reaffirmation as I marched onwards with the crowd.

We had only taken a few steps when a swarm of soldiers surrounded us. Taken aback, we froze anxious about what actions the soldiers planned to take. Yannick motioned to all of us to keep calm and not make any sudden movements. The military troops were about 200 and had guns aimed at us, us a couple of children.

It was then I understood why Yannick asked us not to move. It was becoming clear what their orders were. It seemed they were to dissolve or capture us at any cost. In the midst of the soldiers, we saw the Emperor’s car, a posh Rolls Royce pull up. Murmurs spread through the crowd as the troops stared on at us for another two minutes when suddenly some children in the side flanks who were downright infuriated with Bokassa picked up stones and began throwing it at his car.

The Emperor barked a command at the troops from his car and they began to proceed, shooting blanks and throwing stones at us. I watched on as one of the soldiers took our squad leader Yannick, slapped him hard across the cheek and dragged him to a waiting transport van. I watched on as the soldiers began to round us up like sheep one by one. Some were dragged, others beaten, others kicked around but all were loaded in the transport van.

Bring school children to justice

Hurry along kids! you think we’re here to play?

For a split second, I lost myself in the sight unfolding before my eyes.  All around I was seeing children, some not even 14 years being dragged and bludgeoned like mules. Then i ran! In my haste, I almost tripped over another body. The sudden impact knocked the wind out of me.  Shaken and winded, I slowly looked up, only to be met by the eyes of a crying and frightened child. He looked barely 10 years old and was bawling,sitting on the dusty ground. He seemed lost, confused and afraid. I knew I had to help him. I had to do something.

So I quickly grabbed him from the ground and run towards the nearby street corner with him in my arms. Just as I neared the corner, I saw one of my friends Gael from school who was also heading in that direction. I turned to see what was happening behind me and saw one of the soldiers gaining in on me. His features seemed to be contorted with silent rage and mere annoyance and he seemed determined to grab me!

Without thinking twice, I called out to Gael  who was a couple of steps away and yelled “ Gael!! Catch!!” He turned at my voice and I signalled to him as I tossed the young boy into his waiting arms. Gael, a few inches taller and bigger than I was, caught the little waif with no problem. I flashed him a tired and nervous smile and gestured he go ahead. His face was riddled with worry but he nodded and run around the corner into the nearby forest.

Just as he disappeared, I felt a pair of heavy hands grab my soldiers and whip me around. My face connected to a fist.

I vaguely remembered being carried but when I woke up in a dark room with what seemed to be over 80 more schoolchildren from the protest, I knew I had been captured. Even though the room was dimly light, I could make out children who had been hurt, bleeding or cut of some kind. I could also hear groans of people in pain and crying. Some were also yelling and cursing their bad luck in being captured. The room was so packed there was no space to move, much more sit comfortably. There seemed to be no escape.

In the midst of all the noise of suffering, I could hear humming. A calming faint humming. It was a tune my mother used to sing to me when I was younger. The tune of our national anthem La Renaissance. Slowly, I joined the humming.

Meditating on the warmth the words brought:

O Centrafrique, ô berceau des Bantous!

Reprends ton droit au respect, à la vie!

Longtemps soumis, longtemps brimé partous,

Mais de ce jour brisant la tyrannie.

Dans le travail, l’ordre et la dignité,

Tu reconquiers ton droit, ton unité,

Et pour franchir cette étape nouvelle,

De nos ancêtres la voix nous appelle.

Au travail dans l’ordre et la dignité,

Dans le respect du droit dans l’unité,

Brisant la misère et al tyrannie,

Brandissant l’étendard de la Patrie.

Oh! Central Africa, cradle of the Bantu!

Take up again your right to respect, to life!

Long subjugated, long scorned by all,

But, from today, breaking tyranny’s hold.

Through work, order and dignity

You reconquer your rights, your unity,

And to take this new step

The voice of our ancestors call us.

To work! In order and dignity,

In the respect for rights and in unity,

Breaking poverty and tyranny,

Holding high the flag of the Fatherland.

anthemThe words reminded me that even though I may have sacrificed myself to save that young boy who was crying on the street, my efforts will not be for nothing.

As I looked around at the children suffering around me, I felt a sort of glowing peace, seething through me. peace knowing that that young boy would not have to suffer this inhumane fate.

“He really did even determine my final moments” shaking my head in disgust, “First my earliest memory, now my most-likely last memory”.

Resigned and tired, I closed my eyes and I prayed. I prayed that my fate would not be to be served as lunch to others as the Emperor’s cannibal rumours suggested. I prayed that my fate will cause something to happen. That no matter what happened I will find peace. That if I am supposed to die at this young age of 15, my death will mean something. Our protests will mean something. That it will cause the world to stop being passive and blind to our fates.

Someone would react. And maybe, just maybe they finally launch Operation Barracuda.

Just at that moment unknown to me, somewhere across the Ocean, my prayers were just about to be answered.

napoleonic bokassa

Central Africa’s own le Petit Caporal

 

 

Learn More

About Jean-Bedel Bokassa

Notre Ami, Emperor Bokassa I (Video)

Operation Barracuda

“Good” ol Days under Bokassa

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Chapter Four: Dancing With Snakes and An Mbande Warrior

I was tired.

I had been running for what seemed to be forever. My flailing limbs were weak with exertion, my chest burned and the sound of rushing blood seemed to flood my ears but I still continued to run. The alternative was worse. I could not land in the hands of slavers.

They had attacked our village with guns and fire last night.

Many of our neighbours had lost their lives in their sleep. And they were the lucky ones. The others, were not as lucky for they had been taken. Taken towards the big river.

I had heard stories of what happened to people that the slavers caught. How they were taken across the big river.. the river of many deaths…surrounded by deep water and powerful currents and how they never returned.

My little village had always been under the protection of Queen Mwongo Matamba and we had been assured that our allegiance would guarantee our safety. Matamba had promised to protect us from slavers. They promised to fight for us. But when we were being decimated and taken as prizes by slavers, the Matamba army was nowhere in sight.

A frisson of fear ran through me as I thought about what could have happened to my parents. In my haste to escape,  I had forgotten my parents who were in the neighbouring village. Would they be next? Had they already been taken? Were they on the run like I was… or were they….

My eyes widened at that thought and I stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn’t move. I had to do something. I was Sudika, named after one of the great thunderous twin heroes of our Mbundu people. I couldn’t just ran away in fear. I had to do something. I had to fight the slavers, those monsters just as my namesake did thousands of years ago. I had to save my family. I had to save them.

sudika

 

Just as I begun running in their direction, I noticed a set of bright lights in a distance. They were not from the south where my village was but rather, north. At first I thought these lights could be one of the many hidden villages in the forest but then I realised they were moving… they were moving towards me.

In panic, I turned to the east in an attempt to head towards the village where my family was when I saw another set of lights. I turned west, and there was another there. The only option was to turn south… back to the burning village I just escaped from.

Horror washed over me as I realised I was surrounded. There was nowhere I could escape to that wouldn’t mean a certain type of death…whether by bullet or by losing ownership over my own body.

So I did the only thing I could. I prayed. I prayed to Kianda, the goddess of the sea. Yes, Kianda will save me on that big river. She will deliver me from my fate across the river. But even if my fate was inescapable,  I prayed that she will at least grant me a painless reprieve in the bosom of her great depths.

kianda

With every twirl, comes a redeemed soul.

I broke into a cold sweat and broke down to the ground.  Tears threatened to trickle across my cheeks as I realised that no amount of running could save me now. Now I was really doomed.The lights were now closer and towering men now surrounded all of the fleeing villagers. Tall dark men. And they were speaking a language very similar to my tongue, Mbundu.

Were our own people now slavers??” I thought with a mix of disgust and shock as i leaned in closer, trying to hear what they were saying . Then my gaze fell on one woman who was at the centre of this group of men, also dressed in warrior cloth. Her body was marked with white paint and her stare was just as menacing as the men she was surrounded by.

She looked… powerful.

She had this aura of authority, of strength that overshadowed the rest. An aura of true power. She wore the most decorated cloth around her waist and had a string of long beads around her neck that danced with every step she made.

nzinga (1)

The cloth around her waist seemed to teased us with every sway of her hips as if announcing her authority with every step while a decorated spear and arrows peeked from her back. Her waist was bound by a band which hid a dagger at each side of her hips.

This woman was dangerous.

She shouted at the men to bring the other escapees closer. They obeyed swiftly and soon I was surrounded by 20 more people, a few I recognized from my own village.  I was still on my knees staring at the group around us as the woman moved closer. Her piercing dark-brown eyes roved over my body lingering on every crevice my body had dared to hide.

I felt exposed.. open and terribly vulnerable.

Then her eyes rested on mine. For a second I thought I saw compassion flash across her eyes. Impossible.. I thought as I shook my head in disbelief. She was must be a warrior. One of those ruthless kinds we always heard about running wild across the Ndongo-Matamba area.

Then she spoke in a voice, soft enough to be compassionate but powerful enough to be respected.

Greetings allies of Matamba Kingdom…                                                                                                          I am Queen Ana Nzinga Mbande, The warrior queen and ruler of Ndongo

nzinga

We all stared at her in shock.

Now it made the familiar tongue I had heard made sense. She was the mighty queen of the nearby kingdom Ndongo… the scheming and ruthless Mbande warrior queen rumoured to have jailed or was it poisoned her brother after he sent her to negotiate a treaty with the Portuguese, which they eventually broke. It wasn’t as if he didn’t deserve it. After all he had sterilised her and killed her only son out of spite, then begged for her help when he lost a battle with the Portuguese.

We had all heard of her,  how she had wined and dined with the Portuguese. How she had gotten baptised as Ana Sousa. How she had traded even in slaves with the Europeans and profited. How she had later abandoned her Christian faith for the Jaga warriors from the South Kwanza plateaus when the Portuguese had disappointed her. And how she had further solidified her place with the Jaga  by arranging a ritual marriage with the Jaga chief, Kasanje.

But  why had she and the Jaga surrounded us. Did they really plan on attacking us?

Queen Nzinga continued

I know most of you are wondering why the Jaga and I are here in the forest with you. First of all , I am no longer with the Jaga. These men are my loyal followers and trusted soldiers.  Let’s just say, the Jaga weren’t as reliable and strong as I had anticipated.

You see, we were betrayed and also attacked by the Portuguese. They attacked my home, Ndongo and took some of my people as slaves, breaking our treaty. Soon they will try to enslave Matamba. I came here to ensure they didn’t. They have already began by sending slavers to your village on the outskirts of the Matamba Kingdom.”

Then she added

My people have already conquered your weak queen, Queen Mwango Matamba and she didn’t even put up much of a fight. Is that really the kind of ruler you want leading you against the Portuguese? You already understand the power of women. You appreciate the strength and intelligence that women bring to leadership. Even your traditions attest to this with you historically being led by women.

But still in a way, you’re like me… outsiders among your own people. Left to suffer alone at the hands of slavers, almost like bait. Thats how my brother saw me with negotiations. Yes I was a strong warrior but still just a woman. So he like my other African peers undermined my value and capabilities. The White men with the pale skin are no better. 

But their blindness, is my strength. They forgot and keep forgetting what you all clearly acknowledge… that my prowess in intelligence, negotiation and manipulation is notoriously powerful. 

So let me help you. Let my people help you. Let us make you powerful again. Let us take you off the sidelines.

This war is not just Ndongo’s war. It’s OUR WAR.

We are all at risk. You.. Me… Your family. Everyone.

So join me… and i promise to make you all greater, more profitable and safer than Queen Mwongo ever could.

Her words seemed to echo across the forest, carrying a promise and certainty that we had never come across.

Ann_Zingha

I was Ana De Sousa, queen, warrior and Christian when it suited me.

But how could we trust her.. I thought.

Yes! she was a excellent military strategist and negotiator. Yes! she offered sanctuary to both runaway slaves and the Kimbares (Portuguese-trained African soldiers)  but she had also set up camp with the Europeans once. First the Portuguese and there were whispers of there being one with the Dutch soon. The Europeans had failed her so she ran to us. The Jaga has disappointed her, so she came to Matamba. Will she just abandon us also, when we also fail her.

Unable to keep quiet any longer, I shouted in anger “Who are you to promise all of this.. Are you better than any of the slavers. Were they not your allies once? Did you not solidify your allegiance with them by being christened Ana de Sousa? Do you not deal in slaves yourself? Did you not worship this pale White god? Yes you protect the escaped slaves but what about the ones you captured in battle? If we had been with our queen when you captured her, will you not be on your way to sell us too!!? What if we can’t give you what you want, what next?? Answer me!

Just then, one of her men rushed towards me and struck me hard across the face “DON’T YOU DARE TALK TO OUR QUEEN LIKE THAT!!”

I spat the blood from the bruise in my mouth at his bare feet, and stared into his eyes with a brazen defiance.

Queen Nzinga turned towards me and gently touched the man’s shoulder. His scowling expression softened at her touch and he slowly moved away from me.

Then she knelt right in front of me and held my chin. My jaw stiffened as I stared back at her but she didn’t speak. She just looked at me. Her breath was warm on my skin. Her lips a few inches from mine. Her hand firmly holding my face as her thumb brushed across my cheek.Her silence seemed to will my thoughts to obedience. Her body.. Her breath ..Her gaze all commanded obedience from me. I struggled to fight it. To fight this overpowering urge to submit.

Who is this woman.. I thought baffled but somehow amazed.

As if she had read my mind, she drew me closer till we were cheek to cheek. Her slow breath washed over my ears and in a soft whisper she said,

I am who you think I am, Sudika

Do you think I am the goddess Kuanji (Goddess of the Hunt) incarnate? Am I your enslaver or rescuer? Am I  the bringer of your freedom or your destruction? You tell me…

One thing is for sure though, I am not one of those pale devils. I am the one they should be afraid of. Why? Because I am their worst nightmare.

She let out a soft laugh.

You see, I am not afraid to lure them in to get what I want. I am not afraid to learn their dance… their rhythm… their religion… their ways… to gain their trust… to show a sign of good faith right before I strike. 

These men, Africans, Europeans  you name them really undermine me… like you just did. Some say it is because of my gender but you are an ally of Matamba, you should know better. You believe in the tradition of women leaders but limit them. You seem to think just because my brother and all other countless “kings” failed… I surely must.

But thats where you’re mistaken. I am not my brother. I am ruthless. I am dangerous but I know exactly what I want and how to get it. So sorry, if my methods don’t work for you. Sorry if my dancing with the snakes makes you uneasy… but don’t you ever question my integrity.

So yes, maybe you can’t trust me but no one will ever go to the depths I will just to secure the freedom of my people, my kingdom.. for your freedom.  I want this war to stop. I want our oppressors to see us as a true, unified Kingdom of Ndongo-Matamba and I want us to be able to reap the benefits that come with it.

If that makes me a bad person, then so be it.”

With that she pulled away and smiled at me mischievously.

I just looked at her, lost in a mix of shock and confusion. Her words and the fact she mentioned my real name all startled me. I never once mentioned it but she just used like she had known me for a long time. I could also feel the deep conviction in her words… the danger in her approach to her European fight. This danger that seemed to promise sweet redemption.

Gently she pulled me to my feet and gestured for me to follow her as she headed deeper into the forest with commanding strides.

Queen-Nzinga-50

so… are you coming or nah?

And I followed her, confused…

The other captured were still on their knees. Their expressions plagued with unanswerable questions. I shook my head, amazed at how lost I was about  what was happening but somewhat excited about where I was heading.

All I knew was that I just had to obey. I wanted to be part of that danger. To reap that sweet absolution. Then I realised that to do so, my life as Sudika, the normal villager would have to end…That I will no longer  be able to own myself.. That I will no longer own my service. My fate was forever about to change.

Because my life will now belong to her.

I, Sudika will now belong to this mysteriously dangerous but alluringly intelligent woman.

I looked up towards the glowing moon, covering its nakedness with a sliver 0f cloud, obscured by the towering forest trees and smiled at the thought…

Yes, that suited me just fine.
forest

 

Learn More about Queen Nzinga 

Biography

Nzinga, Rejected Princesses

History of the Mbundu People, Angola

Chapter Three: The Man who didn’t fear death

It had stopped raining.

Finally!”

I thought to myself as I laced up my work worn boots and prepared to head home.

Night time in Elizabethville was heralded by the incessant chirping of birds in the nearby forest. Everything tonight seemed rather serene… peaceful, like nothing had changed.

The entire province had undergone tumultuous change.  First Elizabethville and now Katanga at large were all autonomous from the Congo. We had seceded.

Moise Tshombe’s shocking declaration. Not everyone was happy about it, clearly and most certainly not me because of the forced curfew, rising tensions, growing shortages and other looming issues i could reel off my hands. But the Belgians most certainly were. Soon after the pronouncement, they had swarmed into Katanga under the banner of lending helping hands to maintain this so-called ‘independence’.

For the average Katangan though, it meant sneaking out late at night. Even with the massive army presence in the province, those of us who had to stay working late, had no choice than to lurk in the shadows and wait for patrols to pass before we headed home. So I uttered a quick prayer, made the sign of the cross and plunged into the darkness, ready to face another night of fearing being caught.

I was turning into one of the major streets in Elizabethville when i nearly ran head on into a group of soldiers headed my way. They were all garbed in green camouflage with mud-splattered boots toting their AK 47’s. Quickly ducking behind a tree, i tried my best to hide in its shadow. Silently willing myself to shrink..fervently hoping quietly that I wouldn’t be detected and waited..for what seemed like an eternity.

From my hiding spot, I could make out this group dragging someone along. “Must be a prisoner of war” I thought. But why so many soldiers for this one person? He must really be top-level kind of important. I continued to stare at this mysterious person, face covered by the black hood thrown over his head. From the physique, I could tell it was a man. His hands were bound up and the soldiers jostled him violently, shoving him, often causing him to lose his steps and fumble on his already bare feet. His bloodstreaked shirt splattered with mudspots.

lumumba captured cia

As they passed by, I waited to find out where they were heading. My breath caught when I realised they were going up to Brouwez House. The place notoriously known for its penchant to make people disappear without a trace.

I felt pity for this man – but mostly a foreboding sense of dread. He was being dragged towards one of the worst places in Elizabethville, if not the worst. Though I felt pity, I was also curious. I kept wondering who he was and what he had done to deserve such treatment.

My eyes followed them as they got to the entrance and were greeted by a mix of Belgian and Katagan guards. The guards murmured something in French to the soldiers as they handed over the prisoner who was then escorted in. The soldiers then headed back in my direction towards Bila drinking spot down the road.

As they passed, I overheard one say “Finally we got that Soviet appealing bastard. I wonder what that Belgian commander and Tshombe have planned for him. Hopefully he loses a limb.. or maybe all his limbs” he added in to the raucous guffaws from some of the soldiers. The others joined in as they strode away.

The wind was filled with the sounds of their taunting laughter and remained even after their voices trailed off.

1961_CPA_2576

oh my, did the Soviets love him.   A Black man on a Russian stamp. Almost unheard of!

 

I scouted the area around the tree to make sure it was safe to continue my journey home – a rather arduous task at this instant. However, as I prepared to set off again, the pity I felt earlier returned and with it a certain feeling of guilt… or was it  curiosity. It must have been a mix of both because now my eyes kept drifting off to Brouwez House.

I had so many questions about the mysterious prisoner’s identity, why so much secrecy, and what Tshombe, Katanga’s self-appointed president had to do with all of this. And the Belgians were in on this too? The whole situation reeked of ardent betrayal, a labyrinthine game of deception and manipulation. Very soon, we might even have Mobutu here too, I thought drudgingly.

Before I knew what had taken over me, i felt my weary limbs plod on towards Brouwez. Racing in the darkness to avoid detection. I felt a rush of adrenaline and my head was spinning but I was still headed towards Brouwez’. Yup! I’m really crazy, I thought as I drew nearer to the place where I could easily be killed.. and for what? Curiosity. an openly festering curiosity to know this man’s fate.

Finally, I got to the side of the house which was surprisingly unguarded with my heart racing and blood thundering loudly through my ears.  I tried to listen in through the concrete walls. At first I heard nothing just boots shuffling and murmuring.  Then I heard a scream… It was so piercingly loud that I half-expected the neighbours to run out of concern. But no one appeared. No one even opened their windows to peer out of curiousity… It seemed such screams were normal on this side of Elizabethville. The screams had become like lullabies, I thought in disgust.

Slowly, I lifted myself up the window to catch a glimpse of what was unfolding inside. The room was dark but lit with a few candles. I peered in just in time to see a Katanga guard hack at the shoulder of the prisoner. His head was uncovered this time. When he lifted up his head in  agony, my breath caught at who he was.

Bound up and breathing raspily in the midst of the darkness, was our revolutionary. our missing prime minister,

Patrice Lumumba. 

patrice-lumumba  

Anefo_910-9738_De_Congolese

When you’re fly with that head parting but still gotta rule a country…. Flicka the wrist!

And he was being tortured.

Around him was a motley assemblage of Belgian and Katanga soldiers yelling orders at each other or happily chatting about their new capture. Oddly enough..one thing stood out – there were two Western looking men dressed in normal clothes but that seemed to command an air of authority.

They didn’t speak French, but rather American English. Unable to completely comprehend what was unfolding before me, I froze and  half turned away from the window. Americans were also involved? What is the world coming to? The screams didn’t stop. Another came. Then another.. then another.. then another…

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I tried to drown out the sounds in my ears. But it was next to impossible. Tears rolled down my face  as I replayed what I had just seen. After what seemed like forever, the screams stopped. I turned to see them moving him towards the window I was hiding by and drop him still bound, hard on the floor. He groaned out in agony as one of the guards kicked him in the groin before they exited the room, leaving him unguarded.

Even though there was a concrete wall between us, I couldn’t fight the urge to help him. To reach in and comfort him. I wanted to clean his wounds and wash off all the blood but I couldn’t. It was impossible. Helplessly, all I could do was stare in.. through the glass.

Unable to accept such defeat, I slide down into the grass right below the window and stared off into the forest beyond for what seemed to be minutes. I felt despondent, weak and downright sad.

Lost in thought, I failed to notice a tiny hole in the middle of the concrete. Then I heard a tiny croaked whisper saying “Don’t be so down my dear, it’s not that bad

I jumped back in shock as I slowly narrowed my eyes to peer through the gap. What I saw was Patrice’s best attempt at a smile, even with a cut lip and swollen face bruised in blotchy shades of purple and blue. He moved his head back a little so he could see through it clearly and asked weakly “What are you doing here?.. it’s not safe”

I replied assuredly “It doesn’t matter, I want to help. What can I do…

He sighed in response and said painfully “I’m a lost cause my dear. I have already accepted my fate. What you see here is a walking corpse…it’s just a matter of time”

I responded disbelievingly “I can’t just leave you here… There should be some way I could help.. Just tell me please” I pleaded.

Patrice gave me a tired smile with his split lip and groaned in response.

He closed his eyes and replied softly

You could help by answering one question honestly… After just three months in office, Did I really make an impact… I really want to know.. Was all this for nothing.. will my death be for nothing?…”

I could tell from his voice that he was struggling to speak and that he was battling regret. I wanted to reassure him that he was a remarkable father for the Congo.

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As I stared at him, trying to compose my words, I couldn’t believe our own people could do this to such a man. Leaders who claimed they had Congo’s future in mind. Leaders who claimed revolutionaries were backward. While it was them that teamed up with colonial forces to engage in medieval actions such as torture. And for what? Because Patrice wanted a better future for the Congo and Africa as a whole? Because he refused to allow colonial forces to dictate his actions? Why because he believed in Congolese? in Africans? Why? 

Such a great man.. and here he was battered and stained, lying on the concrete floor. Tired but still able to smile. Exhausted but still thinking about us… His Congolese.. His Africans.

I wiped off the tear that sneaked up on my face and gave him my most honest smile as I replied

Patrice, It was an honour to see you rise up and become the first black prime minister of such a tortured country.

You took up the mantle that most feared and amongst all the tensions, colonial pressures, all the hatred and insults…You did your work .You bore everything and looked straight into the face of death and shouted Bring it On!..

I doubt there will ever be anyone as brave as you but I do pray your life serves as a testimony for other great Africans especially Congolese…

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Shaking my head sadly, I whispered,

I read that last letter you sent to your wife… You spoke about the distorting of the truth and how Africa will write its own history… but how are we supposed to do it without you? What about your wish for our country to have its own right to an honourable life, to spotless dignity, to an independence without restrictions? 

I keep asking myself why the United Nations didn’t heed your call for assistance… Why they stepped back to watch us destroy ourselves while Belgian colonialism and their Western allies pulled the puppet strings… Patrice, if you leave, Congo is doomed for sure… I.. I…. I..”  

…unable to continue as tears rushed down my face.

It was a silent cry. Riddled with questions on how such injustices could take place..

From the other side of the concrete wall, there was silence which I didn’t notice initially because of my tears. Had Patrice passed out or worse…. My eyes widened in horror at the thought.

Then I heard a deep sigh and,

He replied weakly

my dear woman, take heart because the future of Congo is beautiful… and it is up to each Congolese such as yourself to accomplish it. I am but only one man. But imagine what we can do if we all commit to our sacred task. This sacred task of reconstructing our independence and our sovereignty… Remember, without dignity, there is no liberty, without justice, no dignity and without independence no free men…

No brutality, mistreatment or torture has ever forced me and will ever force me to ask for grace. I prefer to die with my head high, my faith steadfast and my confidence profound in the destiny of my country. I’m ready to meet my maker, I just never thought I would be a mere 35 years old when I did. But I guess that’s the consequence of taking up such a great mantle as leading the Congo.

So do not weep for me, my dear stranger. I know that my country which suffers so much will know how to defend its independence and liberty… Africa will write its own history and it will be to the north and south of the Sahara… A history of glory and dignity.

Long Live the Congo! Long Live Africa! 

With that he gave another tired smile and turned away to leave me staring at the back of his head.

His words resounded in my mind. I felt a strange ray of hope coursing through my body. Yes, Africa will rise.

Just then, I heard the door swing open and a shuffling of boots as the guards picked up Patrice and dragged him out. Then there was silence. Then I heard the main door swing open. I fell into the grass, pleading with it to grant me some kind of cover and stared as the guards and some soldiers headed into the forest with Patrice in tow. His face was exposed and even though I couldn’t see his expression from afar, I could see his head held high.

As they dragged him into the darkness, I thought for a split second he turned to look my way. I thought I caught him winking at me before he finally disappeared into the darkness. I could have been mistaken but something deep down told me I wasn’t.

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No tears, no emotions, no regrets… A true master of the blank stare

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Insert an inappropriate joke here.. Can’t do that with Patrice, Sorry.

I stared off into the shadows for what seemed like minutes before I remembered that I had to get home. Slowly, after making sure there was no other patrol in sight, I headed home.

I was a jumble of emotions. Sad, broken, fulfilled, hopeful and introspective… still replaying the conversation I had just had and the message I had just received.

Then from a distance I heard a loud BANG!!….

Then a couple of seconds later, MORE SHOTS RANG OUT THROUGH THE AIR.

Then a flight of birds rushed out of the forest trees frantically.Noisily. Like the sound of a whirlwind.

Like the spirit of the departed, hurriedly exorcised out of a person.

Then silence…..

Shaken and rocked with the raw pain of grief, I crumbled to the ground in the corner of the street.

Then I cried.. because I knew.

No one had to tell me that with the flight of the birds, went the life of one of the greatest Congolese to ever live.

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Thank you for loving Africa even when we didn’t love you!

Thank you for believing in us even till your death

Happy Birthday Patrice Emery Lumumba!!!!

Learn More

Patrice: A Documentary

Patrice Lumumba: The Movie (Independence Day Speech)

Article about Patrice’s Assassination

Video about Patrice’s Assassination