Although he is considered a celebrity by those who know the leading role he played in bringing down the former President of Chad, Hissene Habre (one of Africa’s most lethal dictators), Souleymane Guengueng now lives in a three bedroom apartment in a public housing complex in New York City. Guengueng was among the hundreds of people imprisoned and tortured in Chad during the authoritarian reign of President Habre. He would remain in prison for two and a half years.
After his release, Guengueng started recording testimonies of victims and relatives of the people who had died in the hands of President Habre. His evidence was crucial in the prosecution of Habre, who was sentenced to life in prison in May 2016.
“It was like an out-of-body experience for me. Habre is in prison now,” the 67-year-old Guengueng told the New York Times.
Despite his incessant determination to seek justice for hundreds of fellow Chadians and winning several human rights awards, Guengueng now lives a private simple life in a public housing complex in the Bronx, New York.
While in America receiving treatment for an injured retina, the father of seven started receiving threats from the supporters of President Habre, forcing him to move his wife and children to America through the help of his lawyer, Reed Brody.
Once his contract at Human Rights Watch ended, Guengueng had to work as a night watchman, which soon ended after he fell and broke his leg.
Before long, his oldest daughter, who was supporting the family with a restaurant job, fell sick and died. Guengueng’s wife also had a hard time adjusting to the unfamiliar lifestyle in America, including the drastic change in temperature.
The family had to move into a homeless shelter after they were unable to raise a monthly house rent of $2,000 for their tiny rental in Queens. But after many days of searching for government-subsidized housing, Guengueng managed to move his family from the shelter to their current three bedroom apartment in the Bronx.
“He is a hero. He’s done so much to change history. Yet his day-to-day life is one of hardships and heartbreaks,” his lawyer said.
Guengueng will be appearing in court later this week in an appeal case filed by former President Habre.
Habre, who ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990 before getting ousted in a coup, is accused of ordering the torture and killing of tens of thousands of people, many who he considered political opponents.
BY FREDRICK NGUGI