The War: Trapped in Liminality, Fighting for Justice
When the war came to the village, we just ran. We had to run. We ran different ways; I ran with my son, and Odette ran with the four kids. I was running to the refugee camp, thinking everyone had died. When we got to the refugee camp, it wasn’t so bad because we were some of the first people there. We went when there weren’t many refugees, so it was a small camp that didn’t have many people. I don’t know for sure how many, but they said we didn’t have over 500.
“One thing about refugee camps is there is no hope there.”
I was there for one year in Burundi at the refugee camp, and then I went back to Congo to get into politics. I worked in the cabinet of the President, Kabila Laurent, for two years as the contact person with the Tutsi government in Rwanda and Burundi. Because I worked in Burundi before the war, as a teacher, I learned the language. Also, when the war started in Congo, they used me because I knew many people from Burundi and I had connections there.
When Kabila came to power, he called me to be the connection-person with Burundi and Rwanda because I could speak the language. These were the two countries that helped him take the power in Congo. I wanted to change things but my president, Kabila, said no. I slept in the same room with him for seven months. But after we got the power, he changed. After seven months in the same room, we got the power and then it took six months for me to see him again. He changed. So I said no to politics.
“I wanted to get into politics for one reason: justice.”
That was my first goal. I needed justice. Before I started in politics that was my goal, but it’s not actually possible. I thought, ‘Okay, now I’ll go into politics, and I will get justice for my people.’ I wanted to change the constitution. I wanted to change the whole system. I was thinking that maybe we could change something, but they didn’t agree with me. It couldn’t happen, so I wanted to leave. They said I could continue in politics, but I stood up and said no because I knew nothing would happen. When I said I wanted to leave, they took me to jail.
At first it felt like a dream, because it was like I could see myself. I was at the top of everything and then the next morning, I was in jail. We were in a cell about 10 feet by 10 feet, with around 50 people in it. We couldn’t lay down, only sit or crouch. It was horrible, absolutely horrible. I was there for 61 days until I was rescued. Luckily, I had someone to rescue me.
You see, when I was in politics I met many people from Europe and from the U.S., because I was the person who was the contact for them. One day, one of these people said, “Where is Benjamin? I don’t see Benjamin here anymore. Where is he?” The man who asked about me was the representative of the E.U. for Congo. His name was Aldo Ajello, and when he didn’t see me in politics anymore, he sent a representative from the human rights group who got me transferred to a prison in Congo, which was much better. We had a meeting there and he eventually brought me to Burundi again to work with them in politics. They took me from prison in Congo to Burundi in February of 1999. There, I was in the U.N.’s hands. I was free, but I wasn’t free to go everywhere. I was with them in Burundi for one month, from February 5th to the 24th of March, and then I moved to Denmark.