Thursday last week, after a tiring trip to my bank headquarters in Kigali city center, I returned to Kimironko at around One o’clock a hungry and frustrated man.
Having made five trips previously on the same mission of begging my bankers to rectify a mistake they had initiated and release my salary which has been held hostage to mismanagement.
This particular trip was very frustrating because the officer who had pledged to sort me out, was out of town with his boss, yet he knew of my impeding trip abroad.
Further more, we had worked out modalities of how to solve the problem arising from over crediting my loan account and subsequent withholding of my whole salary.
The colleague he referred me to was of no help but just pontificated. The result of this is postponing my trip because although the trip did not entirely depend on my salary account, but my family does.
Back in Kimironko as I was agonizing over my problem and being frustrated by my old computer, I heard a story from the next office which made my woes sound like child play.
I closed my office and joined a group of colleagues who were listening to a middle-aged man of a slight build, relatively healthy but with a face that did not betray any sentiments, tell his life story.
Judging from the body language of my colleagues and questions being asked to Muhammed Mutiso ( not his real name) I felt that the diver/ fisherman deserved more empathy than he was receiving.
You see all along he was standing, while the hosts were sitting comfortably, brewing and drinking tea and eating an assortment of edibles, yet who ever entered that office demanded a repeat of the story with fresh questions.
I invited Muhammed to a seat outside and asked him what assistance he required and he told me what he required was a bus ticket to go home.
Sylvestre, a young colleague who first received him and was trying to connect him to Kenyans at Kigali Institute of Education joined me and we decided to raise the twenty three thousand franc (Rwf 23,000).
Muhammed claimed to have been arrested by Mobutu soldiers in 1982 in Lake Tanganyika where he worked as a diver for Aquarium fishing company owned by a Canadian he remembers by the name of Johnson.
Asked how he got to Lake Tanganyika, he said after primary school, he left his home in Kibwezi, Kenya, for the port city of Mombasa to look for a job where the employer recruited five of them, trained them in diving and deep sea fishing on Diani Beach and deployed them on Lake Tanganyika to dive for some special species of fish.
For fear of sounding an interrogator I did not ask what species. All the five were arrested and imprisoned in Kabalu prison. Crime? suspected commandos who had come to overthrow Marshall Mobutu.
The dexterity of spending hours under water and the diving gear or uniform adorned by divers convinced the Mobutu soldiers that these were not ordinary fishermen.
During the 28 years on imprisonment, according to Muhammed, no charges were leveled against them nor did any law enforcement official intervene or interview them. They were just called commandos, but never beaten or tortured.
They were transferred to different prisons during the many wars. From Kabalu to Likasi in Lubumbashi, Kalemi, and back to Kabalu where his colleagues died among the 750 due to outbreak of disease in the prison.
Muhammed met the International Red Cross for the first time in 2001. From then on prison conditions improved and the diet of maize meal became more regular and they were allowed time for exercise on facilities provide by IRC.
During the years in prison Lingala was the official language and one caught using another language was denied food for a week.
Asked why he did not attempt to escape after the overthrow of Mobutu he said: “prisons in Congo are guarded by military police and every change of government meant more prisoners were brought in and guarded”.
Muhammed’s freedom was as illegally executed as his detention. While in Walikale zone at Wimbi, General Laurent Nkunda ‘s forces wedged war for two weeks and set free all prisoners , who joined other refuges on their long trek to Bukavu in a refugee camp for displaced people.
Although Lingala served him well, the IRC official who ran the camp turned him out because he was not Congolese. He made his way to Bujumbura courtesy of a businessman he met at a mosque.
There the embassy provided him with a travel document. It appears the embassy bought his story, because the document which bears his photograph says in part “MUHAMMED has told me he is a Kenyan and I have no reason to doubt his claim” but did not provide him with means.
I certainly don’t blame the embassy, but condemn the prevalence of human rights violation in Africa. I commend the Rwanda Prosecution department’s recent expression of concern for the rights of prisoners and pledge to ensure rights of those held in prisons are observed.
Muhammed’s human rights were grossly violated, that is why I initiated a fundraising contributing 10.000 frw to his ticket.
My boss generously donated the same amount while another colleague donating 5.000 frw. I took him to the bus handed him a ticket and 1.000 francs
If anyone thinks I lack modesty and I am involved in self praise, let him or her do the same and tell us. As for my bankers, UMUVUNYI will sort us out.