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  • My plane had arrived in Entebbe in the afternoon and I was going to travel by road to Kisangani, hitch-hiking and catching a bus when possible. I spent one night in a hotel in Kampala, and thought I’d stay another day or two there. In the afternoon I saw a group of young students and invited them to have a beer with me; a few beers later, they were telling me their stories. One of them, Artème, happened to be from Rwanda and told me that he was studying at Makerere. I took some photographs of them and just before going our separate ways, knowing the route I planned to take, Artème asked me if I could deliver a letter to his brother Bartholomé X in Gisenyi. You will find him in the Bar X (Let me call it The Blue parrot). Why would I refuse?

    After (See my piece A Jungle Encounter) an eventful journey I arrived in Gisenyi passing through Kigali. I ask about accommodation and am directed to a one-room hotel which happens to be a garage. I spend the afternoon looking for the Blue Parrot and when I find it, they tell me that my friend’s “brother” hadn’t come to the Bar in a few days, but he might come tomorrow; if I left the letter, they will keep it for him. I said that I had better try again the next day, because I wanted to meet him in person and give him his brother’s news; if I don’t, then I’d hand over the letter to the Blue Parrot’s barman for safe-keeping.

    I go back to my garage thinking nothing of it; Rwanda does not have the same reputation as Congo/ Zaire; in fact the more efficient bureaucrats in Kisangani were Ethiopians and Rwandans...

    Early next morning, there is a knock at my door, when I open it, I am confronted by a gloomy fellow who curtly says, “Rwandan Security” who comes in before I invite him and begin by asking to see my passport. He then asks me for a detailed account of how come I was looking for Bartholomé X. I explained about his brother Artème whom I had met in Kampala.

    -So that’s where he is,’ he says darkly, ‘Who told you to meet him? Do you have contact with his communist friends in Belgium?’ I denied this.
    Was I a communist? No.
    What were my political beliefs?
    -'Are you allowed to ask me?'
    -‘I am asking you nicely, monsieur le professeur, don’t make me do it otherwise.’
    -‘I am a liberal radical, last time I voted in England, it was for Harold Wilson.’
    -‘Is he a socialist?’
    -‘He is from the British Labour Party.’
    He made me repeat the story, and I stressed that I had met Artème randomly, I didn’t think it wrong to do a small favour to a young man who was away from home.

    -I am afraid this is a very serious matter,’ he says finally.
    -‘Delivering a letter-’ I interrupted.
    -‘From a known enemy of the state, a subversive, a communist.’

    I was in a state of shock, and did not know what to say. The man kept going in circles, trying to trap me into contradicting myself, but in the end he seemed convinced that I was unaware of what I was doing. He ended up demanding that I handed the letter over to him. As it happened to be on the small table by my bedside, and the Security man had seen it, I had no choice. He opened the letter and read it with an inscrutable face, but I thought that he was only trying to hide his disappointment at not finding what he was looking for.

    -‘I will allow you to go this time,’ he admonished, ‘but let me give you some advice, never accept to carry letters for people you don’t know.’


    Pic: A reconstruction of the King of Rwanda's palace at Nyanza
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