Amid calls by the rebel leader in the Congolese war, intensive fighting has broken out along the front lines among troops north of Goma, between Goma and Vitshumbi. This is a fairly large area of the Western Rift Valley nestled between the western rift wall and the Virunga Volcanoes (which is where the famous mountain gorillas live).
I was once arrested for attempting to overthrow the government of Zaire in Vitshumbi, but was able to talk my way out of it pretty quickly. I was arrested by the Navy because, well, the Navy guy did not have a boat, and I did. In fact, I had the coolest, fastest boat on the lake and I guess he was alarmed when we came tooling into the bay from the north (the general direction the Rebels always come from in that area), at about 19 knots on a lake where the next fastest boat barely makes 5 knots.
That moment … the moment when the navy guy got us … was the temporal middle of a multi-day adventure that was, in retrospect, one of the most harrowing journeys I’ve ever undertaken, going across about 300 kilometers of landscape by foot, land rover, Zodiac, transport truck, overburdened steam ship. I’ll tell you the whole story some time. At the end of it was a city embroiled in an uprising that was one of the scattered moments of unrest that were happening in those days, eventually to break out in the all out war known as the Second Congolese War. What was to come was palpable, knowable, guessable, and everyone had some idea, but no one then predicted the holocaust that would eventually engulf this region.
Are any of the people I met along that journey alive today? Surely, the young girls that joined us on the truck when we drove over the volcanoes have been raped and murdered by now. Surely, the navy guy … who turned out to be an OK chap despite the circumstances of our initial meeting … joined one force or another and is now either dead or in charge of some bellicose unit. Surely, placid, pastoral Ruchuru or bustling post colonial Goma are in ruins, no one has escaped displacement, most of the original inhabitants are dead or languishing in a refugee camp.