The Guardian on Sundays Managing Editor, Richard Mgamba shakes hand with the M23 top military leader, General Sultan Makenga, shortly after the interview on December 18, this year.
It was seven days before Christmas eve, the period in which Christians all over the world are busy with shopping and planning for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, but to me it was a scary and memorable day -- the day I chatted and lunched with M23 rebels' top commander, General Sultan Emanuel Makenga, a 39-year-old soldier, who has fought three different wars in three different countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Congo, but still willing to fight till his last blood.
I had been in contact with my sources within the M23 for some weeksbefore I got a nod to meet the military head and commander of the over 8,000 rebel forces, General Makenga -- a young fighter whose actions have drawn strong reactions from the Great Lakes regional leaders and as usual the western allies.
When the caller who introduced himself as John, a special assistant to General Makenga
hung up, we resumed our small talk about the security situation in Eastern Congo.
In its report, the UNGroup of Experts reported that it was able to establish, in about a week's time, that General Makenga could not obtain 75mm canons and their ammunition from the Congolese national army, (FARDC), concluding that weapons were therefore provided by Rwandese National Army(RDF).
Contrary to what I thought, it seemed villagers here sympathize with rebels fighters because most of the time when we were driving to General Makenga's
base, people were waving and cheering for the soldiers.
In some areas they were called 'Mkombozi' a Swahili word for savior or liberator.
Before entering General Makenga's
base, we undergo security screening at five different road blocks.
As I enter this base, I am welcomed by heavy rainfall as well as hundreds of soldiers who are parading as part of their daily exercise before being dispatched to various stations ready to face the enemy if need be.
"We have arrived...welcome to our home" John tells me as he
pulls over the Nissan Patrol and suddenly our vehicle is surrounded by armed soldiers with AK47, Rocket Propelled Grenades and many heavy weapons.
I am led to the church-like building, which is heavily guarded where I am finally welcomed by General Makenga
, a tall, black and slim guy whose red eyes tell who he
As we greet each other, he
is fully surrounded by seven armed soldiers, but tells them to leave the area, so that we could start our interview.
also tells me that he
doesn't speak fluent English or French and the only language he
knows better is Kiswahili.
sits on the corner of this building, ready for the interview."
Our interview, which lasts for one hour touches many issues including why he
has been fighting the government that he
agreed to serve during the Nairobi peace accord signed on March 23, 2009, his
reactions about the ongoing Kampala Peace talks and plans by SADC to deploy troops in Goma.
tells me confidently, adding that, "our biggest sin is being Tutsis."
He further tells me, "We are associated with Rwanda simply because of our origin, and I wish I was born somewhere else because I am tired of being judged basing on my ethnicity...I want Africa and the world to understand the bigger picture so that they can help DRC."
When we end our interview, General Makenga tells me that he has prepared lunch for me. "You are our guest, and the first journalist to come here to see reality...some of your colleagues stay in nice hotels in Goma, but the next morning report things which suit their desires."
As we sit down to have our lunch, which was rice, beans and chicken accompanied with mineral water and fruits, General Makenga
tells me: "I would like to see an international independent team, which also involves prominent and educated Africans investigating the truth about Congo ...
is hailed by his
soldiers as a brave fighter who leads the battle from the front line.
is their inspiration, and their role model.