I heard whispering first. Someone was in my room.
I opened my eyes and stared from my bed into the muzzle of an AK-47. This was straight out of a bad movie. Then I heard laughter. Snickering really. “Up, up!”
Three men stood in my hotel room. All armed. I was pulled out of bed with barely enough time to dress before I was shuttled to a waiting van. They were African, Afrikaans, one Czech I think. I couldn’t tell if they were APR or UFLL. And given my recent stories, it could have been either group out to teach me a lesson.
So yes, I was more than a little scared. I was flat-out terrified.
We drove South past the city limits into UFLL country. I asked where we were headed. The driver replied, “We’re going to play golf”. The van erupted into childish giggles that didn’t ease my nerves.
The van turned onto the path of a small hill and we drove up the winding road. We reached the plateau and saw a black sedan parked there. And several feet away stood two men. One had an Uzi slung from his shoulder; the other was the familiar shape of Addi Mbantuwe, leader of the UFLL. He clutched a driver and was slugging a bucket of golf balls into the savannah.
As he lined up his next shot, he said “Reuben, you want to know where my broken heart is.”
He kept striking shots as he spoke, never once glancing back at me. “It is right here on this hill. It is wondering, have we not treated you kindly? Given you freedom to roam wherever you wish? Have we not treated you as an equal? As a brother? And yet, the way you treat us, it breaks my heart.”
So yes, he’d read my latest report on the UFLL.
“One of my men once asked me, ‘Can you trust this journalist?’. And I told him I looked into your eyes and saw a man of truth. They trust my judgement, Reuben.”
He stopped a moment glancing at the ground around him. He started snapping his fingers, “7-wood. 7-wood.”
The Uzi thug hustled to the golf bag leaning on the sedan. While Mbantuwe waited on his club he said, “Do you know what they think of my judgement now?”
With the 7-wood in his hands, he took his time lining up the next shot. “I will tell you.”
He smacked the ball solidly. “They think I am a wise man. Because they know that when you and I talk, you will understand. And I know you’ll understand because you’re a reasonable man.”
He turned to face me tossing his club at the Uzi thug. He stepped closer. Too close. He placed a hand on my shoulder as he locked me with a stare I never wish to see again. He spoke more quietly, “Reuben, I know this was all a misunderstanding, but my men aren’t as charitable as me. They’re passionate men and sometimes they need to be handled with kid-gloves. So let’s be more careful next time.”
He gripped my shoulder tighter as he leaned in, “Because if I’m disappointed again, I will slit off your tongue and feed it to you. We don’t want that now do we?”
I stared in terrified silence until I realized he was waiting for an answer. I blurted a quick, “No.”
He patted my shoulder nodding. He waved at one of the mercs and turned back to his golf, holding a hand out for his club. I was led back to the van without another word. The meeting was over.
I’ve now been sitting here in my hotel trying to decide what this all means for me. But I realize that’s the wrong question. What does this mean for the country?