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  • Simon Howard

BETWEEN THE MASSACRES

Updated: Mar 14, 2020

Boat from Kigoma, Western Tanzania. Sailing up Lake Tanganyika. Nearly murdered by hundreds of drunken Zaireans. They don’t like anyone who isn’t Zairean. Us…Europeans, an American, Tanzanians, a Burundian, some Rwandans. They want to kill us. We’re their victims.

Captain inside his cabin with several mistresses. German First Officer aloof on the bridge. Staring at the horizon. Like a doomed figure from a Conrad novel. Supper is chicken’s foot with rice. The drunken Zaireans become more aggressive. Want to kill us even more. Then, quite suddenly, all fall asleep. Every one of them, snoring into their tables.

In the morning they disembark in Zaire. Later we reach Burundi. Bujumbura, the capital. Leave Africa, enter provincial Europe. Dainty Belgian patisseries and good Greek restaurants. The heart of Africa, surrounded by all that…

Two tribes. Short fat one and tall thin one. Short fat ones are stupid and numerous. Tall thin ones clever but outnumbered. Wisely, they have gained control of the army. Recently, many butchered by short fat ones. Reprisals, of course. Charred remains of fifty schoolchildren found. But no-one knows… Are they short fat stupid children? Or tall thin clever ones?

The quietest arrest I ever witness is here. Night-time in the hotel bar. European politicians staying. Only three of us in the bar. Me, the barman and a fine-looking lawyer. He’s writing a complaint to the President. Too much money spent on the visit. Not enough on the poor. Europeans’ money going to wrong projects. Ones which suit the President. Here we are, standing at the bar, drinking. Composing a letter in beautiful French.

In their acropolis, overlooking the town, the Jesuits. Educators with power – or better still, influence. (As they have for centuries in many lands.) They’ve educated the President, of course. Lend their gymnasium and theatre for political rallies. Always obliging…

Leaning against the bar, I drink. Listen to the flow of the lawyer’s French. Beautiful sound. I turn around. Shock of my life.

Whole room full of tall thin soldiers. Dressed in pale khaki, standing absolutely still. A smart young officer salutes me. His men politely lead away the lawyer. The whole affair is so civilised. My heart doesn’t miss a beat. ‘Cheers!’ I cry.

The barman tells me this is common. Arrest the lawyer when foreign dignitaries come. He’s the authorities’ victim.

Next day I run into the lawyer. He seems a little distracted. Have they tortured him? Or has he got a hangover like me?


***


Three years later the lawyer becomes President. Five years after that he’s arrested again. Charged with the massacre of 200,000 people. Children, women, men. Short, fat, thin, tall, ugly, beautiful, talented, dull. Africans, patissiers, restaurateurs, Tanzanians, Rwandans, even Zaireans.


*****




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