Antonio Longangi (Class of 2021) recounts his experience in the first Congo War during the Black History Month celebrations

By Joyce Wanjiku

During the Black History Month celebrations, on Thursday February 17, Antonio Longangi in his unpublished book “Amandla: Born of the First Congo War” recounts his memory of the War.

“In my whining and escorting mother, something stopped us. A strange sound resonated not far from the house. The ground was shaking and the question was "What's that?" Repeated explosions followed by the sound of guns started screaming on the East side of the city and everything changed from that instant. The sound was coming from the military camp of Katindo, as I thought at the start, and the panic was on. The ground was shaking when it repeated, again, again, and again. It felt as if mountains were rising and pushing away everything on their way up”

Longangi joined Mrs. Lucy Kung’u, Principal Counsellor, to discuss matters related to childhood and mental health. What is a child to do in the wake of a war? What are the ramifications of war on children? Trauma is the short answer.

Antonio shared how living through the war, fleeing, watching death, dust, smoke, fire and explosions impacted his mental wellness. The innocence of childhood bliss of a child who gets excited at the thought of adventure when he sees his people fleeing gets robbed and is replaced by a premature awakening. A child who once knew only laughter and joy now gets to know good and evil. Immortality becomes real to them. They have witnessed the chaos of life, the fragility and unpredictability of life, the human condition rooted in fear and survival and the world becomes simply a deserted and chaotic place.

Trauma manifested itself in Antonio’s life in the form of an existential crisis, existential vulnerability, high emotional walls and many ways of compensating such as creativity and taking on responsibility.

Additionally, Mrs. Kung’u also shared other causes for trauma in children such as neglect, domestic violence, deprivation of basic human needs, bullying, defilement and natural calamities. She also talked about other ways in which trauma manifests itself including but not limited to disturbed sleep, nightmares, avoidance, projection and flashbacks.

When left unchecked, trauma could develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which constantly reminds them of their traumatic experience. Trauma hinders children from being their most resilient self as it disempowers them such that they are no longer able to do things they otherwise would without much trouble.

In the discussions, it was evident that Black youth empowerment should start with owning our story and part of that story is that Africa as a continent has a history of trauma ranging from issues to do with slavery, colonialism, war and conflicts etc. There is a need to let go, learn, and relearn for the black man to be in his best mental states. Peace must then be our guiding light. We must then be intentional with the eradication of mental unwellness related stigma in Africa which is a result a lack of knowledge. It is only then that we shall regain our ability to be happy, functional, and productive. The path to wellness begins by telling our stories.

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