"They killed Patrice Lumumba!" my mother cried. I wasn't born yet and don't
remember her screams, but she told me about it. |
"Mobutu killed him!" she said all through my childhood.
"Mobutu is a Devil!" she said.
"It's all about money! They'll kill anyone for money!" she wept.
Lumumba had been tied up and taken away in a Jeep. The scene played over and
over on TV.
Who would believe that 37 years later, I am on my way to Zaire, to defend
the devil Mobutu from Kabilas rebels?
I had fought two wars in Croatia and one in Bosnia. What could I do now
but fight? I was trained for war.
"You want to escape winter?" Captain Konjevic asked.
"Ten thousand American dollars to keep Kabila's black savages away from Mobutu
while he leaves Africa!"
"How can I lose? Ten thousand dollars will last me years," I said to Milenko.
"I'm in!" he echoed.
With nothing else to do, our troop headed to Africa, the world's most
beautiful and mysterious continent.
We drove to Athens and caught a flight to Tripoly, then another to Zaire. We
landed at Kisangani International Airport and were met by an officer who
described the details of our mission.
"It's most urgent!" he said in broken French. "You must start right away!
The insurgents are organized!"
"As soon as we are paid. In cash," our leader promised.
Within minutes we had our money and were given new weapons. Some soldiers
stayed to guard the airport, but Milenko and I went on to Kisangani, a city
built on the river in the middle of a jungle.
Attempts at civilization were losing battles against nature. Trees and
bushes grew out of cracks in the asphalt road. Tree roots buckled the
concrete foundations of houses.
Thousands of undernourished, poverty stricken people loitered in the
streets, many with advanced signs of malaria.
The natives called us "Yugo" and were afraid of us. They were used to the
abuse caused by mercenaries from Rwanda, most of whom raped and looted
freely. They compared us to them.
We interrogated everyone.
"Who sent you here?" We demanded from anyone caught snooping around.
Priests, students, no one was let near the airport.
We spoke poor French, and so did the natives. Most attempts at conversation
led to misunderstandings and murder.
"Dammit!" Milenko shouted. "Who sent you here? Kabila?"
He paced up and down, sweating profusely.
"Kabila? No Kabila! Abbibejedeee!" A young man cried, pointing towards
the hills. A scared and shivering friend stood nearby, pointing the same
" Kabila! Lualaba! Abbibejede Akuva!" Then he'd point.
Milenko pulled his pistol and shot them.
Flies swarmed before the fallen bodies- Two boys with white robes and red
"Kabila has overrun the city of Ygambi!" a Serbian soldier drove by,
"Kisanganis is wide open now!" I shouted.
People ran through the streets screaming. "Yagambi has fallen!"
Milenko and I hid in an abandoned building, taking cover for the night.
"An airplane leaves every five minutes, but none ever lands," I said,
smoking my last cigarette.
"You get some sleep. I'll cover for a few hours."
I sat up and watched the planes. The sounds of explosions, once distant,
became louder by the hour.
When morning came, Milenko awoke me from a disturbed sleep. "Our platoon is
over there!" he said, shaking me.
We ran through people, crying and bewildered, drifting together in no
particular pattern. Hundreds lay dead and bloodied in the road.
It seemed like forever, but within minutes we were on board a plane, leaving
I looked past the runway, to the burning city beyond. "Flies, guns, death
and money," I said, fingering the cash in my pocket.