worse than the civil war that ravaged his native Sierra Leone. He spoke to me at the sidelines of the Hay Festival a few months ago. “I don’t know how you people are managing to survive under this tyranny. I feel sorry for you people” he said. I wanted to say no, you’re exaggerating, but I realized the gravity of his words. Zimbabwe is now one of the worst economies in the world and being mismanaged by a group of old boys profiteering from the ongoing crisis.
Beah affectionately spoke about the Zimbabwean community living in New York, some of whom are his friends. “I have a lot of buddies from Zimbabwe living in my hood back in America. They are all nice guys. You all seem to be running away,” he said. His words made me realize that the Zimbabwean situation was not a secret to the world no more, as local propaganda would want us to believe. The world’s eyes were watching.
At the age of 13, Beah was pressed into service as a child soldier. He has survived the worst of the destructive ravages of militarism, and yet managed to reform, and tell the world the story of his life – the sad story of war and conflict.
What amazed me was the ease and jocular mode in which he reminisced about his experiences. He talked of war as if it were child’s play to a bemused audience at the Hay Festival. “I did the worst things any human being can ever do. I maimed and killed. I don’t regret the past because no matter what I do it remains a part of me. What I do know is that I have survived and will make the best of my life now and in the future.”
He further went on to say, “I live knowing that I have been given a second chance. I just try to have fun and be happy and live life the best I can.”
His book, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, has been widely distributed around the world as a literary testament highlighting the effects of war on society and particularly children. He now lives in New York with his foster mother, Laura Simms, and works for the Human Rights Watch Children’s Division Advisory Committee.
BY TINASHE MUSHAKAVANHU
'You all seem to be running away'
Caption: Tinashe Mushakavanhu, Ishmael Beah and Dinaw Mengestu at the Hay Festival.
Novelist Ishmael Beah, 26, has described the Zimbabwean crisis as