Somewhere west of Port Selao
Today I had my interview with Addi Mbantuwe, leader of the UFLL (United Front for Liberation and Labour). The full interview has been sent to my editor in South Africa. He should be printing it in the next couple days.
As I expected, security was severe. Atticus, my driver, drove me to a café 5 kilometers out of town, but that’s as far as he could go. Several UFLL militia were waiting for me. They sent Atticus on his way and I left with them for a one-hour drive into the country. I won’t lie; I had a flickering fear I was about to disappear into the African savannah. It didn’t help that my companions refused to breathe a single syllable for the entire journey. And just as my fears were starting to strangle me, a pair of large white bungalows appeared on the horizon.
We arrived and I was searched (for the third time) by a new team of militia. These men were a multicultural mish-mash. Americans, South Africans, English, nationals – all mercenaries. Their equipment was likewise a bundle of makes and models: Shotguns, Bulgarian and Chinese AK-47s, Uzis (I’ve come to know far too much about assault weapons).
Once I was cleared, they led me to a large office that smelled of mint and had a full zebra rug on the floor (illegal at one time in this lawless country). An oak desk dominated the far wall. To the left, a grand window gave a spectacular view of the savannah. Beyond these few items, the room was quite bare. I was left alone to wait for Mbantuwe. On his desk, I could see a small map of the country with bold red lines drawn through sections. Our location was in the largest section to the West. UFLL controlled territory, I suspect. Though it’s still hard to tell who controls what.
I heard a booming barrel-laugh beyond the office door. Moments later a jovial, heavy-set man entered the room. Addi Mbantuwe, leader of the UFLL. He wore a blue Abacost jacket decorated with heavy silver and gold necklaces. His wrists were adorned with bold bracelets and a chunky Rolex. A ruler in waiting.
He gripped my hand firmly, his eyes beaming like a man meeting his idol. “Am I the luckiest man in Africa? Reuben Oluwagembi here in my office. I can’t believe it.”
Still holding my hand, he led me to a chair and sat me down. I’ve met party leaders before and they all exude an amiable confidence. It’s what wins them the hearts and minds of the public. But Mbantuwe utterly disarmed me.
He fell back into his own seat behind the desk and shouted to his assistants for tea. Once our pleasantries were out of the way and tea had arrived, he suddenly locked me with a piercing stare, deadly serious.
“You’re going to help spread the word; tell the nation and the world of our just cause.” He punctuated his next sentence, “Our hope for a free nation, a free Africa”.
We began the interview and I asked what I could but like any good politician, he answered the question he wished I’d asked. As you can see in this exchange from my article:
Me: The African Union has a presence in the country. Their objective is to bring the tense civil war to an end. Is the UFLL working with the AU to help bring an end to the conflict?
Mbantuwe: The civil war is indeed tense. Many lives have been lost and it breaks my heart to see my brothers and sisters dying. So you see why we need to be vigilant. We cannot let the APR run free and terrorize the nation. They’re an illegal band of terrorists, and the UFLL will not rest until we restore order to our home. And that means eliminating the APR by any means necessary.
Much of my interview continued in the same vein. It ended when Mbantuwe abruptly rose, shook my hand and bounded out of the room. I checked my watch. We’d spoken for exactly one hour. Down to the minute.
It will be interesting to see what comes of my interview with the APR’s Tambossa, if indeed it happens. I still haven’t heard back.