ASM: You were a child soldier in the Congo at age fourteen. How was life prior to that?

TM: First, my dad had sixteen children with seven wives. When my mother was pregnant with me, he left to Eastern Europe for military training, which forced her to marry someone else. Unfortunately, her new husband did not want me so I was given to my grandparents. My grandparents found it difficult to be there for me because they were old and I was a little boy filled with a lot of energy. They did give me love, wisdom and education but I was on my own from age seven 'til today. I did not have a relationship with my parents growing up so I learned on my own in a harsh way. I learned about guns, killing and brutalization at a young age but despite the wild ways, one thing that stayed on my mind was my education. I became a child soldier when civil war broke out; however I realized I would rather save lives than kill people. I helped save lives, which included the lives of foreigners, and this led to anger and jealousy from my tribe. My own people came against me and brutalized my whole family-leaving me with no place to stay. With the civil war going on between the South and North; I could not go to the North nor could I stay in the South since my people were against me-so I had to escape.

ASM: What was the war about?

TM: It was about a minority controlling the majority. President Nguesso was in power for many years but lost a reelection making president Lissouba the first democratic elected president. During one of Lissouba's term as president, Nguesso returned to take over but Lissouba refused him; and this led to the rise of the civil war. Unfortunately, it is all about the greed for wealth and not about the people. It should be about the people and the nation as a whole. That is what happens when the leaders care more about themselves than the killing and starvation of the people. This is why the Congo is one of the richest yet poorest countries in Africa.

ASM: What are your thoughts on the disparities that go on around Africa?

TM: I believe the reason there is a lot of fighting in Africa is due to lack of education. In Africa, only the immediate family is cared for because of the personal desire for wealth. They do not understand taking care of the entire village is better. This leads to the minority controlling the majority! Africans need to understand that they need to be proud Africans who love each other dearly. In other parts of the world such as America or Europe, children dream bigger dreams; but in most of Africa, the dream is about leaving Africa to pursue a good life-yet Africa is one of the richest continents on the planet. The people wonder why foreigners go on their turf and get the wealth. I believe the visitors are able to do this because they (Africans) do not know what they have. If they educated themselves, they would know that the value of diamonds is worth more than what they are sold. That is why I support education because without it, we will always live in the shadow of freedom. Today I am working on my PhD in Public Administration because I believe education is the strongest weapon we need and have to change the mentality of the African people.

"…we need to stop living in the past because we will stay in the past. We must live in the present as we focus on the future…"

ASM: What prevents the educated government workers from using the wealth to establish a unified country with a heavy infrastructure?

TM: It is corruption! There are educated people but their minds are still backwards. They see the light but they do not go to it because by being in the dark, they take care of themselves more. Until we change that mentality, these countries will always remain poor. The internationally educated people return to the countries with the right intention to help. Unfortunately, most become corrupt and become part the problem because of the power they get. I strongly believe if Africans in the Diaspora come together to say no to what is happening in Africa to push for change, Africa will be able to enjoy the wealth.

ASM: It seems like an ongoing circle. Do you see positive change coming out of this?

TM: As long as we breathe, there will always be hope. But to get to that hope, you have to believe in yourself. We are asking people who do not believe in themselves. They believe that God will give them something one day-, which is good; but God helps those who help themselves- hence education is essential. A child that is hungry however cannot go to school because he or she will not learn anything without food to nourish the body. Therefore I started The Hope for Congo Foundation to help the education system by building schools for the children to attend. While in school, they are fed to enable them stay in school, stay alert and learn. Normally, the children are in school for a few hours and then return home to help their parents, which prevents them from studying due to the chores awaiting them at home. In addition, the foundation aims to not only educate the child but also educate the parents to allow children be empowered with knowledge so they can become great future leaders. Since I started this foundation a year ago, we have raised almost a million dollars in medical supplies to take to the Congo. My hope is that by being in Africa and speaking the language of Africa, we will mobilize the people to enact the change needed.

ASM: Do you feel anger or regret when you think of all you went through as a child?

TM: I grew up very fast for my age. I am thirty-three years old with the mind of a wise old man because I was empowered at a young age. I think about family, creating wealth, global and cultural unity, leadership and caring for one another rather than partying with no useful purpose or direction in life. Everything that happened in my life made me who I am today; and so I do not regret anything at all because I was able to change a negative to a positive. Life is not about what you did but what you are doing. It is not about who you could be but who you can be. We need to stop living in the past because we will stay in the past. We must live in the present like it is our last day on earth as we focus on the future. I also came away with an elevated respect and love for women after seeing my mother brutalized. Many women are being abused and used as tools and it has got to stop.

"…happiness is the greatest state of mind and no one is happier than the African man. The people may have nothing to eat but when a visitor comes, they will dance-welcoming them with open arms…"

Congo soldier

ASM: Are you in contact with other activists to push forward initiatives for the Congo and other countries in Africa?

TM: Yes I am. I am also in contact with organizations such as the Invisible Children after I was asked to do something with them to help bring awareness to what is going on. People do not understand that Kony is real. The organization is educating people about this man and other Konys still out there, which in turn sends a message that the people have the power to change the mentality of what goes on in Africa.

ASM: Why do you think there was a backlash?

TM: When you succeed at something, there will be a backlash because you have done something that nobody else has done-you used your intelligence before others! The public and even the organization may only see one Kony, but I see many Konys because I was a child soldier. It is happening as we speak- right now a child is being taken away to become a soldier as the parents are brutalized. So how can we bring hope? We bring hope by changing the policies that place the child soldiers in harms way. The children are the future of Africa and if nothing is done, Africa will be left behind.

ASM: What would you like people to know about Congo and Africa? What can be identified as truly unique and exceptional about Africa that people need to know?

TM: Happiness!! Happiness is the greatest state of mind and no one is happier than the African man. The people may have nothing to eat but when a visitor comes, they will dance- welcoming them with open arms. That is happiness! When you see an African child smile, that picture will stay with you for the rest of your life. You do not need to buy the child a video game but just shake the hand and the people will rally around to dance and welcome you because you have shown you care. People need to understand that Africans are their people. They are their brothers and sisters. Realize that what goes on in Africa is not an African issue but a global issue.

"…The modern fight is not about guns or machetes; it is about who has the better swagger between the dueling men…"

ASM: Being a fashion magazine, can you elaborate more on the fashion in the Congo? Do you see a connection between fashion and the lifestyle?

TM: Congolese men love to dress up. During the Second World War many went to fight the war; however, when they returned, they came back dressed up which was seen for the first time as a stand against war. Dressing up gives additional voice and also builds confidence. It also creates a good feeling when a lot of respect is gained by the way one is dressed because no one would dare pick a fight. As these men strut down the street, you will see that everything has been strategically put together to match- from the shirt, pants to the socks and shoes. The modern fight is not about guns or machetes; it is about who has the better swagger between the dueling men. They challenge each other to wear their best outfits as they take to the streets- giving the public the opportunity to pick the winner. There is a connection because these men take pride in how they look in public and will go out of their way to make sure they are noticed even if it means saving every penny they have to buy a particular pair of pants or bow tie to complete the look.