I find drivers here to be particularly good travel companions. Not only do they drive on the hardest “roads” on earth and can mobilize villages to fill in the ditch they have fallen into, but they often have great stories to tell.
On the way to Kisantu for a meeting, our driver shares with us this particularly good story from the time of Mobutu. He recalls this story through fits of laughing:
[paraphrased] As it was getting increasing increasingly clear that Mobutu’s reign was a despotic one, I was getting angry at his role in the country’s demise. I was living in the interior at the time and Mobutu was to come to our little airport. There were hoards of people waiting for him to disembark at the airport. I had promised myself that I would not cheer for him when he came through-I was proud and resolute.
When Mobutu’s plane arrived, people started lining up and women chanted. Then he slowly walked off, strolling by the lined people. As he got nearer to me, I start clapping and chanting much louder than anybody else. To my great embarrassment, I was so scared of Mobutu, his bodyguards and his spies that I clamored with energy and fake enthusiasm.
Later, he shares many great quotes from Mobutu. My favorite was “L’Afrique c’est une arme, le Zaïre c’est la gachette” (Africa is a gun and Zaire is the trigger), a play on the shape of the shape of the continent.
Another expression that people use often here (rather tongue in cheek) is “Comprenez mon émotion” (Understand my emotion). He said this on April 24th 1990, as tensions were growing between he and the Congolese people. Tshisekedi, working in Mobutu’s government, was pressuring him to introduce multi-party elections and democracy to the country.
The driver tells us he remembers this fateful day, the speech and all. He says: “Since I was a boy, I had always seen Mobutu with glasses. On that day, as his emotions swelled up and his eyes began to water, he spoke those words ‘Comprenez mon émotion’. He then took off his glasses and wipes his eyes with a tissue. I will never forget that day”.
For more thoughts on April 24th 1990, check out Congo Forum