What a day!
I started today expecting to visit a group of refugees attempting to flee. Instead, I found a note waiting for me at the hotel reception. Oliver Tambossa, leader of the APR, wanted to meet. Today. In one hour.
I left a quick note for Atticus and told him not to worry. I gathered my things and hurried to the meeting place, a small shop 15 minutes away from my hotel.
It was a secluded little corner of town. The shop was empty, so I sat on the front porch and waited. And waited. One hour and thirty minutes later, a small minivan pulled up. Two men leapt out and grabbed me forcefully. Both had automatic weapons slung over their shoulders. I was thrust into the van and a cloth bag was pulled over my head as we lurched forward.
Unlike Mbantuwe’s soldiers, these men chattered and snapped constantly with one another. Unfortunately they all spoke Zulu, a language I don’t know very well. But I suspect they were late picking me up and now needed me in front of Tambossa at the promised hour. Or there would be trouble.
This made for a chaotic drive. I didn’t feel any of the anxiety I felt on my trip to meet Mbantuwe. I was sure that Tambossa would have read my UFLL story by now and he’d be most anxious to get his point of view to the world. Barring unforeseen disaster, I would be back in Port Selao tonight.
After a long 2-hour drive, we arrived at our destination. With the bag still over my head, they pulled me from the van and escorted me into a cool building. We marched down a hall, up a flight of stairs. I was brought through another hall or room and led to a chair.
Once seated, the bag was pulled from my head. And there sat Major Oliver Tambossa, leader of the Alliance for Popular Resistance. He’s a slim man with penetrating eyes. He wore a military beret and green army fatigues. His arms were folded across his chest. He clutched a newspaper in one hand. It was a copy of my Mbantuwe interview.
He waved the paper, “Tell me that you know that he lies to your face. Mbantuwe lied to you. Tell me you know this”.
My interview had begun and I could barely orient myself. I had to answer carefully. “Sir, my job is to interview. I leave the editorials to my readers. And they have strong opinions. Like you, sir.”
His face broke into a wide grin, “Mr. Oluwagembi, you mistake me for a ‘ruler in waiting.’ I don’t need massaging. I have seen your website. So please don’t insult me with claims of objectivity. I know what you do. Just so we’re clear.”
And with that delicate warning, I was free to begin my questions. It’s clear the man does his homework; he’s an educated man who recognizes that he’s being used as much as he uses me.
The interview lasted a short 35 minutes. Each answer he gave was precise and efficient. He had rehearsed the points he wanted to make, countering arguments Mbantuwe had made before.
When we finished, he walked me to the front door. He gripped my hand tightly and said, “I look forward to reading your story. And yes, I will read it.”
With a quick nod to one of his soldiers, a black bag was again placed over my head. After another 2-hour drive, I was dropped off outside Hotel Evelyn.
Here I was safe and sound back in my room. And yet for the first time, as I stared at my laptop trying to complete the story, I felt more terrified than I ever have since arriving.