The Foreign Minister came calling at our hotel and we were asked to go down to meet him in the lobby. My friend and I had been warned a couple of days earlier that we were scheduled to meet the minister who would convey us to the Great Leader.
Down in the lobby, the minister received us with what I judged to be slightly exaggerated courtesy, seeing as the two of us were simply a couple of young men out of Africa to answer the invitation of Kim Il Sung through his country’s youth organisation.
We were there to explore the marvels of the Juche Idea, Kim’s version of self-reliance and the Chollima Movement, which stood for accelerated economic development as guided by the great man himself.
We were simple representatives of the Pan-African Youth Movement, with its headquarters in Algiers, and the reception we were getting was somewhat puzzling.
Everything we had been shown during our three-week tour of North Korea was something we had never seen anywhere else or even read about. Not that we were necessarily two of the best informed lads from the continent. I had left college only two years earlier and was still a greenhorn in many areas. My colleague, Patrick Etoka-Beka from Brazzaville, Congo, was not much wiser either.
North Korea was a veritable revelation, and the stature of Kim Il Sung simply overwhelming. Wherever we went – in the schools, farms, factories, at the concerts, parades and public meetings — all you heard were praises for the Great Leader and what prodigious achievements he had accomplished since he was a toddler.
So, meeting him was rather intimidating for both of us. But when we finally came face to face with the man himself, we were taken aback by his friendliness, his warmth and affability. In the one hour or so we spent with him he was all broad smiles, chuckles of contentment and loud laughter at one thing or another.
Like most of the people we met, Kim seemed concerned with the “reunification of the fatherland” which they call Koryo, a yearning that seems to survive to this day on both sides of the divide. No talk of nuclear arms, no verbal attacks on Seoul.
In fact, Kim Il Sung was more concerned about me having suffered a migraine headache than stockpiling warheads. He had even sent his personal physician to attend to me! (Of course, when we had first been told of this, our reaction had been to scoff at the very idea, but when Kim himself asked me whether his doctor had helped, it was obvious this was no joke).
That was back in 1974, and it was before all this talk of nuclear armaments and the launch of missiles by North Korea. Today, the grandson of Kim Il Sung, who I have never met, seems to enjoy himself as he taunts Uncle Sam with his July 4 “birthday present” in the form of another launch.
I think I have something in common with Kim Jong Un. He has a grandfather he never met but I did. He is about the same age I was when I met his grandpa, which kind of makes us age-mates, in that weird, very weird sense. So I feel that if I had to pay him a visit in Pyongyang, carrying pictures of me with the Great Leader, he may just listen to my advice.
And what would that be? Young man, take it easy. There is a madman in the Oval Office, and he may not understand that you are just having fun with all the combustible toys you have at your disposal. He may actually think you are working for CNN, and that could be bad for you, the Korean peninsula and the whole world.
And what gives you the cheek to come to me with this arrant nonsense of yours? He will ask. I come as someone who met the Great Leader himself, he shared a glass of champagne with me, which even Patrick hesitantly sipped, even though this particular Congolese doesn’t drink.
One never knows what could be achieved by simply reminding him of a long-gone relative he never knew. My problem right now is, who is going to offer me that consultancy, the Americans, the South Koreans or the Japanese, all of them in Kim’s crosshairs?
I remain available.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]