Killers In The Mist

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Yesterday I learned that the Nicholas Gordon whose life Major Mkoma saved so long ago has made a dash out to Zambia hoping to see President Levy Mwanawasa and ask in the name of compassion that Mkoma be allowed release now and not wait for October, a month he may never reach.


 

[Column: Astles’ Global View] Many years ago, I wrote to renowned preservationist Dian Fossey about a job for a staff member of mine who had many years experience in Uganda’s Karamoja region with Chipperfield’s circus people before joining my farm in charge of the orphan chimpanzees.


He was later murdered in Rwanda and it is believed this was because he gave me information on their smuggling. Dian Fossey herself had taken on the self appointed labor of love—protecting the Rwandese gorilla, strongly supporting anti-poaching patrols and the preservation of natural habitat.


I could not agree with her on her strong opposition to zoos, which made her aggressive to those involved in trapping for the world’s coming animal parks, because I believed they were giving animals their last chance of survival in this overcrowded mad world.


An often mentioned example of this attitude was in 1978, when she attempted to prevent the export of two gorillas, Coco and Pucker, from Rwanda to the Cologne zoo. She knew that, during their capture, 20 adult gorillas were killed. She also knew that behind it all were prominent members of the then Rwandese government. She talked and it cost her dearly. She was murdered by directive in the night.

It meant little to the outside world. Then came along a good investigative journalist, a rare breed these days. This one, named Nicholas Gordon, was not going to allow the name of Fossey to be swept away into oblivion.


He crept into Rwanda and started his quest for the truth and must have known he was treading on dangerous ground. Investigating corruption in Africa is far worse than standing up against the most dangerous of animals for it brings revenge and fury from all sides—those who corrupt and those who receive. They are killers.

Gordon carried out a brilliant investigation and wrote the book: “Murders in the Mist” in which he pointed to the killers of Dian. However, what Nicholas did not know, or could not believe, was that his own murder in Rwanda had already been planned from the top: he knew too much.


However at this time there was a Tutsi invasion from Uganda, a violent war, two presidents shot out of the sky by the Tutsi and eventual slaughter of the innocents. Gordon consequently was saved from the knives of the Hutu top brass, but he decides to go back. I suppose investigative journalists are like that, ever looking for the truth.


From what I know, he drove into forbidden territory, that of Mutara, the forbidden zone of Rwanda - a desolate and treeless former game reserve in the north-east and off limits to all but the Tutsi. With the Hutus defeated, the Tutsis were exacting revenge and Gordon again was to see too much. From what I learnt, he was a marked man in Rwanda once again but now by the opposite side and like the two presidents it was intended to end his life on Rwandese soil.

The story, he will have to tell himself—but I understand there was an officer in the then United Nations Force, Major Berrington Mkoma of Zambia, who stepped in, and history records, saved Gordon from death.


Major Berrington Mkoma, a professional officer trained in Britain I understand, was dedicated to the army and his government of Zambia but as so often happens in Africa with its multi ethnic and clan jealousies, was upon his return from United Nations duties accused of being behind a plot to overthrow the government he served in Zambia. The year of the attempted coup was 1997 during the presidency of Frederick Chiluba's 10-year corrupt rule before Levy Mwanawasa took over.


Chiluba has since been in and out of court but as yet has not been found guilty of any corruption charges that include a billion dollar embezzlement accusation that occurred during his presidency. However, in 1998 some 80 soldiers and two politicians were brought to trial. As far as I remember Major Mkoma at first was not amongst the accused but with politics being what they are was dragged in by Chiluba and in the end was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Major Mkoma has been in prison since then; first in Zambia's hellish maximum security jail in Kabwe. The death sentence was commuted to life with hard labor in 2002. Since then his alleged "co-conspirators," some who pleaded guilty, have all been released.


Mkoma, was senior officer, and a man who has always proudly and loudly asserted his innocence. He now is seriously ill with a life-threatening disease which is daily gaining strength. A few weeks ago Mkoma was given a date for his release - October this year. But mercy may have come too late. He is so ill that on being transferred to LusakaUniversityHospital his family has managed to get the authority to allow him to lie in his hospital bed unshackled.

There is no question he has had a horrible, cruel time in prison and from what I hear his life threatening illness was deliberately caused by inhuman jailers. Mkoma has suffered too long.


Soon he may be out of his misery, but why deny him the freedom he so richly deserves and which has been so malevolently denied him? Several years ago I wrote of this brave Major’s case in my then Living History and kind well placed Americans did what they could but met with deaf ears.

Yesterday I learned that the Nicholas Gordon whose life Major Mkoma saved so long ago has made a dash out to Zambia hoping to see President Levy Mwanawasa and ask in the name of compassion that Mkoma be allowed release now and not wait for October, a month he may never reach.

Here we have a journalist, rare these days, prepared to fight for someone who helped save his life.
I hope to hear that the president’s good reputation will be confirmed and greatly enhanced in the international community by a gracious and kindly gesture of goodwill and he will order Major Mkoma’s immediate release.


Columnist, Astles, once an advisor in the Idi Amin regime in Uganda, lives in Portugal. It's widely believed that the book and the movie, "The Last King Of Scotland," is based on his life.



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