Stuart Griffiths

When the war began in August 1998, I was in Kinshasa, the Congolese capital. Laurent Kabila, a former freedom fighter in the bush and now president, had turned Congo into a tropical version of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, developing a personality cult, which dwarfed that of previous president Mobutu.

A few days later, I was outside the Ministry of Information in Kinshasa to pick up my permit. On our way out, we walk around the back of the building taking a short cut to the sports stadium. Teenagers and small, pygmy men in red headbands are doing army drills, while the place is packed with a pro-Kabila rally. “This is the brave new Congo we have been talking about my friend!” Fidel shouts. “Kabila wants Congo’s wealth for Congo people!” I’ve nearly shot one roll of 35mm film. In the distance, soldiers are running. As the soldiers come nearer, I raise the camera and take a few frames. Suddenly, I feel a huge whack on the side of my head and I collapse to the ground.

Looking up, I see soldiers standing over me, grinning with their rifles pointing to my head. Fidel waves my photo permit at them but another soldier punches him hard in the face. The hostile crowds jeer and spit at us as we are hauled into the middle of the road and dragged down a siding off the main track, ordered to kneel and put our hands behind our heads. The soldier cocks his rifle and presses the muzzle hard into my skull.

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