He went by such noms de guerre as "Bola" and "Kizunguzungu," meaning vertigo in Swahili. His was not a war fought with machetes and spears, the weapons that kept his resource-rich homeland, Congo, hostage to brutality and greed. All Floribert Chebeya Bahizire needed was a rusty Olympia typewriter.
He would clatter away at the keys to record lives lost and injustices committed in his country, then known as Zaire. This was in 1983. He was 20, the youngest of eight children in a family of modest means.
As he alerted fellow citizens to the events taking place, he picked up literature to read at the offices of a Russian news agency and studied religious writings in books borrowed from missionaries. The information fired his desire to fight for the common man and steeled his humanitarian resolve.
"I read them all. We were young and so passionate," he said in an interview Wednesday in Washington. Despite an education meant to groom him for a career in commerce, human rights became his calling.
At 42, after more than two decades of activism, Chebeya's zeal is still strong. Demands by his group, Voice of the Voiceless, for reforms, accountability and an investigation of graft at the highest levels of Congo's government, have made him a target. He is here in temporary exile; his stay is being funded by a German relief group, Bread for the World.
As the Group of Eight meets in Scotland to discuss the possibility of doubling aid to poor and disease-ravaged nations in Africa despite rampant official corruption on the continent, Congo stands out as an example of what the leaders must consider. Whether under the late presidents Mobutu Sese Seko or Laurent Kabila, or Kabila's son Joseph Kabila, the intimidating climate of arrests, kidnappings, abusive interrogations and extra-judicial killings has remained the same since Chebeya first began writing about the incidents taking place, in the early '80s.
Chebeya would write up data on government abuses gathered by a small nucleus of supporters, and secretly run off copies at his university, the Institut Superieur du Commerce. His underground chronicle came out once a month, sometimes less often, and copies were left at bus stops for commuters to pick up on their way home, at the bottoms of stairwells in schools and universities and in the restrooms of some government buildings.
At religious missions and U.N. offices in Kinshasa, bulletins were stuffed between stacks of paper when no one was looking. Chebeya and his teams worked in groups of 10, knowing that opposing Mobutu meant certain death.
"We were university students, we had no money and paper was expensive. People would circulate our reports under their coats and we even managed to send some documents to Belgium and the U.S.," he said.
To do that, Chebeya said he would head to the beach to take a 15-minute boat-ride from Kinshasa to Congo-Brazzaville in what is now Congo Republic. Before boarding, Chebeya would fold and clutch the report in one hand and stretch out both arms for a body search, giving the impression he had nothing to hide.
"God helped us a lot; I was never caught," he recalled. All the security guards wanted was to shake passengers down for money, he said, and he had none.
The shoestring operation remained clandestine for seven years, until Mobuto promised on April 24, 1990, to open up the political system to other parties. When a meeting of Congolese activists was convened in Washington in November that year, Chebeya decided to attend -- against his boss's wishes. He had held a job as a bookkeeper for a year, but was fired and never returned.
When Chebeya stood up to identify himself at the Washington meeting, he called himself Kizunguzungu. Compatriots from Paris, Brussels and other capitals immediately recognized his name and cheered. It was the first confirmation that his efforts had reached the diaspora, he said.
His ardor to fix Congo, whose riches include gold, diamonds, timber, copper and coltan, a mineral used in the manufacture of cell phones, remains unabated.
In 2002, his group objected to the military trials against people rounded up in the aftermath of the January 2001 killing of Laurent Kabila. In March 2004, Voice of the Voiceless accused his son and successor, Joseph Kabila, of "keeping personal prisoners and detainees" in Congo.
The group also denounced the killings this January of demonstrators protesting the postponement of elections by Kabila's transitional government, and demanded an independent international inquiry. This past February, a military intelligence chief vowed he would "personally take care of" Chebeya, he said.
"We are targeted. They last tried to kidnap me in July last year," he said. "At night, I never walk alone, I don't go out. My wife and five kids are traumatized. This is the price we pay. We believe in our country and that the suffering should stop. We need good governance. The Congolese population has paid a steep price and the situation has not changed. This is unjust."