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  • I used to give a course in statistics to first year students in economics at the university of Kisangani (Zaire/ Congo); Mobutu was the absolute monarch of the country and the governor of the Province Orientale was one Remy Ndebo, a man from Mobutu’s home town of Mbandaka, and in whose residence a mass grave containing the remains of his master’s enemies was said to have been found after he was sacked.

    One day, returning home from a morning lecture, I was accosted by two hefty men in dark glasses and invited into a car; I seemed to have no choice and was taken to an annexe next the Police Station, where I was ushered into a room and told to sit down. I waited for four hours before a forty year old man came in, shook my hands and told me that he had some questions to ask me. Who are you? I asked, and he informed me that he was “un agent de la Sécurité Nationale”. He was a local man, he explained, and his job was to carry out a preliminary interview with me, and submit a report to the Citoyen Gouverneur Ndebo; he would prefer me not to be confronted by his Security men who were from Kinshasa, did I understand? I did.

    After a number of trite questions, he asked me if I remembered what I had taught a week ago, the day the Beacon of the Nation (Le Timonier) left the country to visit his brother Omar Bongo in Gabon. Yes, I had spoken about probability, and as an example of an event of 0 probability, I had given the probability of the Timonier failing to land at Libreville Airport. But I did not own up to my making a throw-away remark: “Although some of you might wish it otherwise.” Did you say anything else which might be construed as subversive? he asked. I owned up, because we were told that among the numbers were young men who might or might not have been students, but attended lectures at the behest of Ndebo’s Security Forces.

    If I write this in my report, the local man said sadly, you will get into serious trouble. It was only said as a joke, I said, and the manner in which my interrogator reacted showed that this, if anything, was compounding my case; one does not make jokes when it involved the sacred person of President Sese Seko.

    I think, I lied, what I meant was that there were no doubt students, ungrateful enough who might have wish the probability different from 0. The man opposite me wiped his face with a handkerchief and gave a sigh of relief. In my report I’ll write that you ere actually rebuking them, shall I?

    Which explains why my remains were not found in Son Excellence’s mass grave.
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