Chapter 15 : Congo War
It was a real relief to land again in Kinshasa.. I felt a lot better and safer.. at least I was at my office and in full command again. The horror was over.. It was July 1998.. Just a few days to go before the date falls to 1st August 1998. I had made a promise before to the government.. that we would definitely kick off on a full swing with our project on that date. I knew well that we would never make it coz our engineers were still not around. I regretted so much trying to safe our company name and dignity.. soon I would be in a hot soup!!
I got up in the morning as usual taking my breakfast infront of the television. On 1st Aug 1998.. there it was on CNN.. the news about war in Rep Democratic of Congo broke up at Burundi.. South East of Republic Democratic of Congo… the place where they once had ethnic slaughtering.. in which almost 800 thousand people had been buried alive… The rebels were heading towards Kinshasa.. They wanted to topple Laurent Kabila’s government.. apparently they were not satisfied with the administration.. military were not given salary for the past 6 months.. and they were mad.. really mad.. The thing that scared us most was that the military were teenages.. who were just shooting without thinking. Within a week.. they had spread into 3 areas.. they had even conquered Port Matadi.. where our vehicles were.. Our trucks were stolen and used for their warfares.. Banks in Kinshasa were closed.. there was no more flow of moiney either in or out! Now we were really stuck!! Panic buttons were pressed.. by the government and also by our company.. I had enough money to survive the company for 1 month only..
Curfew was imposed in Kinshasa.. we were not allowed to be out of our premises or houses between 6pm to 6 am.. Some of the military had arrived in Kinshasa within 10 days.. many of them died as the government’s force was still strong there.. During the day.. I had to move around searching for info.. especially about the war.. I only relied on Freddy.. Yes.. I saw dead military bodies around Kinshasa.. But what was shown on TV feared people more than anything else.. they didn’t understand that the heavy war was in Burundi.. not so much in Kinshasa.. because we were winning in Kinshasa.. but not at other areas.. Afterall the government was still in power..
After one month.. there was no more battle in Kinshasa.. we were quite safe.. even Matadi had been recovered by the government’s force.. they were still fighting at Burundi and the neighbouring borders.. However the government had not lifted the curfew yet.. and some of the banks had been re-opened already..
What saddened me the most was that.. our company refused to send any money to us.. fearing that the money will be stolen by the bankers.. They said.. there was no law during a war.. I couldn’t pay our staff for 2 months already.. neither that I had money for myself.. I had basically nothing to eat except rice.. I bought a good stock of rice when I had the chance earlier.. Then I learnt how to eat sweet potatoe leaves.. Our gardener planted a lot of sweet potatoes at the back.. I ate that for almost 2 months.. afternoon and evening.. Still our head office couldn’t care less about our survival.. they were more concern about their lost trucks.. so, I ordered our drivers to search for them.. they managed to find some of the trucks in neighbouring countries.. Even that was still not good enough to tell the headquarters that there was no more war in Kinshasa.. In reality, the war was really heavy at South East of the country..
One morning.. when I woke up.. I was shocked when I saw over 100 workers waited for me in front of the office.. wanted to kill me.. they wanted their money.. Anybody would be mad not getting their salary after 3 months of work.. I took a deep breath before I delivered my short speech to them.. trying to explain and convinced them that their salary would be paid within 14 days.. I had no idea where to get the money for them within that 14 days.. I had to say it just to calm them down.. and to be saved from being killed.. I was really exhausted with the whole thing.. Actually, when I signed my contract.. there was a clause in it that said I would be rescued by a private jet should there be a war.. Not only I was ignored.. the worst thing was that, I was left with empty pocket.. Frankly I couldn’t care less about my daily survival.. but I cared for my workers.. Deep inside me I was damn angry..
Then I set what to do.. I called up the headquarters “Sir, I have a great news.. the war is over.. the bank will be opened soon.. however for security purpose.. please send money to Paris.. I’ll go and collect the money myself!!” Actually, I had to lie to survive.. The war was not over.. I asked help from Freddy to allow money to be banked into his account in Paris.. in return.. he would give me some cash in Kinshasa.. The company sent over USD 50 000 just enough to pay off 3 months workers’ salary and other administration expenses.. including part of my salary that I asked for..
Meanwhile I asked Freddy to find out for me if there was any flight going out of the country.. I had enough!! Freddy told me the next flight out was within a week.. I rushed to get the ticket but I was late.. God had saved me though….. because that flight was shot down by a misile and exploded.. It was suspected of carrying weapons.. But that didn’t stop me.. I waited for the next one scheduled to be out the week after.. The night before I was due to go.. I packed everything quietly.. didn’t tell anyone what I was going to do.. I knew that I didn’t owe my workers anything.. all salaries and dues were paid off already.. The morning after.. I said to my admins manager and my driver “Let’s go for breakfast” Then half way through… I ordered them to take the route to the airport.. I had a few last words with them when we reached the airport “I’m going to South Africa.. and will be back soon…” Then.. Off I went… I actually left behind 2 persons that I really loved in my life.. I had to leave them behind, fearing that the plane would be shot by a misile again.. One day.. I hope I can go and find them.. Please don’t ask me who they are coz it will deeply hurt and disturb my feeling.. coz I have been trying to forget about it for 10 years now..
3 Days later.. on 30th November 1998, I went to our headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.. And with his greatest disbelief.. Dato said to me “What the hell are you doing here? I want you to go back to Kinshasa and look after our machinery now!!” And I replied to him “Nope!! I’m staying in my country until it is safe to go there!” One month later.. I made a decision to leave the company.. In the beginning.. I was still in contact with Kinshasa… until later… perhaps a heavier war broke up there.. perhaps… the telecommunication centre was bombed.. because I could no longer contact the people that I loved…..there was no more ring tone…. not anymore….. perhaps they are alive…… perhaps not…. but certainly… I love them forever… “may their soul be well looked after by God – Amin”
Thank you for sharing 1000 days in africa with me…… really thank you all for waiting….. hope you understand why it was so hard to complete the story…… DjRay