Sunday, December 4

The boy who escaped the coltan war and traveled a continent to study

The only image Elvis has of his hometown is war. He was born in 1998, the same year the coltan conflict broke out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He didn’t know his mother. She died in childbirth. His father couldn’t get over it and he took refuge in alcohol. In a past that he describes as “dark and negative”, a phrase from his grandmother became his obsession and his goal: “If you want to see the world, you have to read and study a lot.” At the age of 13 he left the Congo for that purpose. Without any resources, he toured more than a dozen countries on the African continent to train. He got it. Now a law graduate, Kabwende Nsungu Elvis has collected all the lights and shadows of his journey in his first book: What the night owes to the day.

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“The memories that I have of my people, Bukunga, are of slaughter, suffering and without joy. But I had a dream: to study”, she says. Although he knew that he had to leave his village to achieve it, Europe was never in his mind. Elvis wanted to get to Morocco. There he was able to study at the Mohammed XV University of Rabat. In 2021, he obtained a scholarship from the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and Development to do a master’s degree in Hispano-African relations in Gran Canaria. From there he has moved to Tenerife this month to participate in Periplo, the International Festival of Travel and Adventure Literature.

When he finished elementary school, he traveled 30 kilometers in search of an institute. “There I asked the director for help, who agreed to let me study for free. I spent two years there, but then the war got closer. I had to leave. I had to get away so as not to die, ”she recounts. She moved a little further away from Bukunga. 50 kilometers from his house, he lost contact with his family. “From 2009 to today I don’t know where they are,” she confesses. “In the place where we were, the conditions to study were not good. I had no books. One day a friend told me that if I wanted to study well and be useful to my country, I had to go to a city where I could open my mind.”

He took a train and went to the city of Lubumbashi. His house was already 1,500 kilometers away. “Everything was very ugly at that time. The economic, political, cultural crises… I had to trust in God”. In this enclave in southern Congo, Elvis spent a lot of time living on the streets. “It’s the jungle. There are many dangers that cannot be explained. At any moment they can kill you. I always think on the positive side. I don’t want to remember very well what happened so as not to have a trauma, ”he maintains.

South Africa, Tanzania, Senegal

In 2011 he started walking. She went through Zambia and then South Africa. Elvis, who carried nothing more than his desire to learn, managed to cross borders. Sometimes on foot, others by bus and others asking those who passed by him to get him on their motorcycles, cars or bicycles. On his trip he had to change his name up to seven times.

From the south of the continent it passed to the east. “In Tanzania I found a family that gave me the love that I never had in my village,” she recalls. He was there for a few years, until he left again. This time, to Burkina Faso. The young Congolese had great expectations of this country. One of his political references was born there. Thomas Ankara, also known as the African Che Guevara. “He was a captain who saved the people from him,” he says proudly. Those were also his intentions when he left the Congo.

Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal were his next steps. “In Dakar I spent more than five months. There I met a policeman who helped me and gave me food.” He crossed the border to Mauritania, where he posed as a Gabonese citizen. The authorities discovered him and he spent two months in a Mauritanian prison, until a lawyer who passed by managed to free him. He went to Algeria and from Algiers to his target: Morocco.

“On October 20, 2014, at the age of 16, I entered the country. There the Congolese took me to a ghetto where I had to work to collect money”, he sums up. Ten countries, one month and four days later he arrived in Rabat. “A lady from Belgium accepted me at her school to study French. Later I met many people who helped me and I was able to enter the University of Mohamed XV”.

Elvis finished his law degree and specialized in Political Science and International Relations. In Morocco, he met the Spanish journalist Carla Fibla, who supported him in obtaining the scholarship that he now enjoys in the Canary Islands. Since he fled at the age of 13, he has not returned to the Congo. Now his eyes are on Bilbao, where he wants to find work.

Your book, What the night owes to the day, It is in Spanish and French and is distributed in Barcelona and Paris. “Night refers to my life in the village. Without love, in the middle of a civil war and wondering why I haven’t had a childhood like the others. The day is my happiness, my right to be educated, to have a good life, to be someone, ”he explains.