I stand accused of an offence against national security. Nineteen years later, there has been no trial and little investigation. In the meantime, ten of my co-accused have died in prison. Several others are ill. Kinshasa’s Makala Prison, built in 1954, can accommodate 1200 individuals, but there are currently almost 10,000 inmates. There are many buildings where 80 prisoners are packed into 30m² with no water, ventilation, medicine, or food. Tuberculosis, leprosy, ulcers, skin and urinary infections, hepatitis, and strokes are the prisoners’ daily reality.
I live in a standard room, which was empty at first. I was allowed to fix it up. From 2001 to 2003, I spent three years in solitary confinement before being allowed visits from my lawyers. For three years, the soldiers charged with guarding me were from a foreign army, Zimbabwean soldiers. As a military leader, I was believed to have influence over the Congolese army. The assumption was that Congolese soldiers would refuse me nothing on Congolese soil. The foreign guards were then replaced by members of the Congolese army who respect me. I respect them as well, and I follow army regulations.
The prison opens at 07:00 and closes at 17:30. Every morning, prisoners may pray until 10:00. They can move about as they like to exercise. At 15:00, preparations begin for the return to the buildings before they are locked at 17:30.
In terms of the human experience, prison is its own strange world. It’s the coexistence of all sorts of conflict. A place where the guilty and the innocent live together, and consequently, either break down or hold on. Humiliation, hunger, illness, deprivation—all kinds of tortures fill the inmate’s daily routine. They took everything from me: my possessions, my wife, my newborn, my father-in-law, and the family pastor were all thrown in prison and tortured. When my mother passed away, they refused me permission to attend her funeral.
I was hooded for almost two years; my feet were chained; my wrists, handcuffed.
I slept directly on the ground for a year, without a sheet or a bed. We relieved ourselves in plastic bags which we kept with us until morning, when we emptied them in the toilets. I took a bath once a week, without soap, for four minutes and not a second more.The meal consists of “vungure,” a mixture of beans and corn cooked in unclean, cut-down barrels. It is the prisoners’ sole daily fare. Prisoners must pay for their food.
I waited ten or so years into my incarceration before receiving a visit from a member of my family.
The cost of being transferred to a hospital, when a prisoner falls ill, includes a bonus for the guards responsible for the escort. In Congo, prisons are sources of income for magistrates and judges. They keep an eye on their cases. You can spend years without seeing your case make any progress so it is often necessary to pay off the magistrate assigned to it. All administrative procedures are paid for by the prisoner: all visits are billed, as are documents regarding imprisonment.