Told in the first-person, The Bonds of War (by Wambalye Weikama) is a compelling, vivid and original story that will tag at many readers’s emotions. The characters, especially JB, Marcel and Ignat are unforgettable. Wambalye Weikama has done his homework and his talent as a storyteller clearly comes through int The Bonds of War. He masterfully weaves in historical details about the Rwandan genocide and the civil war it sparked in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The story starts in Rwanda and takes us to Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, back to Uganda, and finally to the United States, as we follow the journey of Jean Baptiste (JB), the narrator. As a child, JB is uprooted from his homeland in Rwanda and shipped off to Uganda to escape the violence that breaks up his adopted family – a family he never gets to see again. In Uganda, he joins an uncle, who takes him in. But even here, life soon takes a turn for the worse, and JB finds himself the unwilling conscript into a rag-tag armed group fighting the Uganda government. There he meets many other young boys and girls – all abductees like him, including Alexander, who happens to be the kidnapped son of an American diplomat. The two child soldiers become very close friends, with JB acting as a guardian to the younger Alex. Together, they fight to survive the madness around them and to keep their hopes of freedom alive.
Eventually, after 18 months of captivity, the boys get their opportunity and manage to escape from the rebel group. They end up as child refugees in one of the camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Alex is eventually reunited with his parents.
Meanwhile, JB is transferred to Nakivale Refugee Camp in Uganda. There, he gets a job as a house help for an elderly Congolese man, Mzee Lukoji, who lives all by himself. The two bond and the old man introduces JB to his daughter, Aje. When the old man eventually decides to return to the Congo, JB joins Aje and her two brothers, Marcel and Giyo in Kampala, as an errand boy at their bustling tailoring business. In Kampala, under the guardianship of Marcel, JB matures and flourishes. Soon he’s having the time of his life. But then tragedy strikes again, when Marcel is murdered. JB’s life appears to be spiraling out of control. His erstwhile girlfriend commits suicide and JB is arrested. He manages to get out of prison and escapes to the Congo, where he ends of working for a timber smuggling operation owned by one of Uganda’s leading army generals.
Months later, JB returns to Kampala, ready to turn a new page. For a while, all is well. With the sizeable fortune amassed from his time in the Congo, JB embarks on a number of business ventures. But fate rears its ugly head again. After a deal goes sour, JB loses his entire savings and narrowly survives going to jail again. And just when it looks like things couldn’t get worse, JB discovers that he has a severely impaired son from an earlier relationship – a child he cannot afford to care for.
In the end, by a strange twist of fate, JB eventually ends up in the United States, where he reunites with Alexander, his former child soldier friend. And life in the United States introduces its own challenges and twists.
The Bonds of War is Wambalye Weikama’s second novel, coming after African Son (2012). Published by Aalvent Books, the book was released in April 2015.