Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Scots conservationist and a brave and principled Zambian soldier…

On 27 October 2007, four men imprisoned for treason were released in Zambia; two of them, Major Berrington Mkoma and Lt. Baldwin Manase, who were - according to Mkoma, entirely innocent of the charges, being tortured, and, in the case of Mkoma who had contracted cancer, receiving no mercy or sympathy for his condition from the authorities – except from President Mwanawasa who saved them from hanging.

I read the report this morning in The Post…Mkoma…Mkoma, an unusual name I thought, where had I heard it before. Of course, he had been in Rwanda in 1996, seconded by Zambia to the UN forces at a time when the Tutsis where putting their mail-order machetes to work on the Hutu - retaliation for their destruction by the Hutu in 1994. A killing round, endless it seems. And there had been a Scots journalist, Nick Gordon, who wrote in a British newspaper, “It could, I suppose, be compared to eating a picnic outside Auschwitz. For a start we are not meant to be here. This is the Mutara, the forbidden zone of Rwanda - a desolate and treeless former game reserve in north-east of this homicidal little country that is off-limits to anyone but the army. Anyway, Mutara or not, the photographer and I are sitting in a hired car in the only lay-by in Rwanda, tearing a baton of bread to shreds and trying not to be too conspicuous as we observe the buildings on the hill half a mile away.”

It must have been here just after this, in 1996, that a Zambian UN army officer, Berrington Mkoma, saved Nick Gordon’s life by wresting him from the hands of homicidal rebels. Nick Gordon never forgot.

In 1997, returning from Rwanda to Zambia, Mkoma was charged with treason – attempting, so Government said, to overthrow the Chiluba Government. Gordon worked tirelessly on his behalf. In 2003 Mkoma developed cancer. In 2004, having left his mark as one of the great wildlife cameramen and journalists for his work in the rainforests of Brazil, Gordon died of a heart attack. Who then came more recently to try and spring Mkoma? Have the last three years gone so quickly that it was Nick Gordon who came to Mwanawasa to plead for Berrington Mkoma’s release?

I don’t know anything of the treason charges and the bungling coup attempt, nor the meaning in Zambians' eyes of a freedom fighter, but here is a man whom Zambia should clasp to its bosom.

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