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Richard Msowoya’s experience in a warzone

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There are, probably, few things that the world knows about Speaker of the Malawi Parliament, Richard Msowoya. Much about him could be political but there are inspiring things out of politics that Msowoya has experienced. In this write-up, which is just one of the series which he has been documenting about his ‘unusual’ adventures, he shares his experience in a scary warzone. We pulled the write-up from his Facebook page, with his permission.

My time in Bosnia Herzegovina reads like a script from a fictional war movie. For the local people, it presented situations that no-one should have to face and for me, invaluable insights.

I thank God that here in Malawi, we have never had to face the horrors of war. If this was assessed as wealth, indeed we would be the wealthiest people on earth.

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Having said that, Bosnia taught me several lessons I will always value, and offered me a growth opportunity and trajectory I will always cherish and thank God for.

Part A: It all started with a simple call…

Picking up from my post on life in South Africa and my tobacco farming escapade, the journey to Bosnia started with a simple phone call from a friend. He told me he was hiring professionals to be deployed at very short notice and asked me if I was ready to go to Geneva for three weeks before being posted to Bosnia.

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As happens in such recruitment, after passing the medical examination, I took my maiden flight to Europe. My initial thinking was that because Bosnia is in Europe, this mission would be different from my experience with Mozambican refugees and South African returnees.

I thought the levels of suffering and the logistical challenges would be totally different from what I had seen and experienced.

Part B: Geneva, the first surprise

I arrived in Geneva without a visa. But before they could put me on a

return plane, papers were presented and I was ready to begin my work, only to be told that first, I had to attend a three-week intensive training programme in refugee law and operational management in conflict areas and so forth.

The course ended with a practical and theory examination with those who scored highest, made heads of offices. My course-mates were one Stanley, an American, Michele O’Kelly from Ireland and others from Europe, mostly the Nordic countries.

Most of them were judges and lawyers, specialists in refugees, children and women protection law. I, on the other hand, had no legal background. My arsenal were: vast field experience, determination to excel and the old Malawi work ethic which we used to be renowned for.

The examination came and went; I was position number four in a class of 18. Along the way, we had lost some of the participants. Some were sent back in the first week and in the second week four were asked to withdraw.

I was assigned an office in Zenica, Bosnia Herzegovina.

Part C: Amoyo salekana, dilemma and the ‘call of Jeremiah’

We left Geneva, Switzerland via Zagreb to get an extra briefing because Zagreb is where the operational office was. When I got to Zagreb, I was pleasantly reunited with two very familiar former colleagues that I worked with in Malawi.

Tony Land had served as the head of logistics and operations in the UNHCR office in Malawi and Richard Osborne, as the logistics officer. I had worked very closely with these two when they were in Malawi without knowing we would work together, let alone meet again.

But here we were, in Zagreb. We ‘recreated’ a ‘Blantyre – Ndirande – Golio’ where we would enjoy drinks and listen to loud music and walk around Zagreb.

When I mentioned to Land that I had been posted to Zenica, he immediately objected. He wanted me to either remain in Zagreb working under him or if he were to let go of me, I should be deployed to Split on the Adriatic coast.

When I asked him why, he said Bosnia was not the place for a black man to go. He feared for my safety and my life. I weighed and assessed and agonised and prayed over this prospect.

Look at it this way: a posting in Zenica, in addition to the salary, carried a hazard allowance. In other words: Zenica offered a double salary!

From my previous post, you will recall that I was in financial dire straits. On the other hand, I had to think objectively about the risks. What would become of my dear wife Emily and children should – God forbid – something happen to me after being forewarned by a good and trusted friend?

Jeremiah 1:4-19: “The Call of Jeremiah” helps put my situation in context.

The word of the Lord came to me, saying: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me:

“Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me: “I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”’

Whether it was because I believed that God could never give me a mission where he would not send his angels to watch over me or whether it was because I had never experienced war first-hand and hence underestimated the hazards or whether it was because I needed the money so badly or whether it was a combination of ALL the above, I insisted that I would go.

I turned down the offer to stay in Zagreb, the capital or Split, a great holiday destination and headed to Zenica – where even angels feared to tread!

What strengthened my resolve was the realisation that among the 18 candidates, it was me Richard Msowoya – who had been assigned this job, a job that would not only serve humanity but literally save lives, a job that needed to be done.

If it had to be me, so help me God, I would go. To date, I still wonder IF Jonah – the unenthusiastic prophet sent to Nineveh – would have agreed with my decision!

To be continued…

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