Our focus in this issue of AfricaUpdate is on Central
Africa, with specific reference to the Congo region, which has experienced
major changes within the last six months in Kinshasa and Brazzaville.
We note that the Republic of Congo and the Democratic
Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) are two independent nations that
are adjacent in Central Africa. Although they were in ancient times
part of the well-established Kongo EmpireÄalong with parts of An gola
and GabonÄthey were incorporated into Belgian and French colonial systems
in the 19th century process of European expansion.
Once freed of Belgian colonialism, the region known as
Zaire until May this year, became a major center for domestic and international
intrigue. Kinshasa, once perceived as a private estate by Leopold of
Belgium, with the compliance of the CIA and avaric ious entrepreneurs,
became the milch cow of the Mobutu family.
In the era of the Cold War, the stabilization of the Mobutu
dictatorship was a major fixation of several American regimes, including
that of Ronald Reagan and George Bush.The victory of the Marxist oriented
MPLA was treated with as much trepidation and c oncern in Washington
as Ho Chi Minh's victory in Vietnam. For three decades the Mobutu regime
next door was a major beneficiary of Washington's support.
The victory of Laurent Kabila and the rebel alliance in
May this year put an end to decades of bloody dictatorship and American
complicity. The state was set for a new domestic and international agenda.
But would Laurent Kabila be able to destroy the str uctures of domination
and exploitation erected by Mobutu and his billion dollar dynasty? Can
Kabila remain the democrat he claims to be and at the same time stave
off Tshisekedi and the Kinshasa-based opposition which see him as a
puppet of the Tutsi dom inated AFDL? Given the immense wealth of the
region in strategic and non-strategic minerals, including uranium, titanium,
cobalt, diamonds, gold and copper, will Kabila be able to avoid international
intrigue and greed to preserve a measure of autonomy an d economic independence
for this resource rich nation?
How will he counter the CIA-financed UNITA forces of Savimbi
next door in Angola now that some of the ancient regime's supporters,
Mobutu's allies, have crossed the border and apparently are linking
with renegade forces?
The instability in Brazzaville is another headache for
Kabila, given the fact that the former French colony has been caught
up for some time now in a bitter power struggle between Sassou-Nguesso
and M. Lissouba,in which the Mobutu forces have pretty high stakes.
In this issue, Professor S. N. Sangmpam of Syracuse University
and Dr. Aderemi Ajibewa, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Malaysia,
share their views with us and answer some of these questions. The focus
of the two articles is mainly the former Zaire and its capital Kinshasa,
but the developments in Congo-Brazzaville are undoubtedly also of concern.
Table Of Contents
A Position Paper
By Professor S. N. Sangmpam, Syracuse University
The debate about the post-Mobutu era is about governance
and who should control power. Many proposals, most of which revolve
around elections, the Kinshasa-based opposition, and Tshisekedi, have
been made. Understandably, the thought of Kabila's rule has raised fears
about his dictatorial leanings, lack of experience, dependence on Uganda,
Rwanda, and Tanzania, and so forth. I argue in this "position paper"
that Kabila and his Democratic Forces Alliance (AFDL) constitute at
this juncture the only option open to the Zairian people.
Kabila and AFDL are not the first to challenge the Mobutu
regime. Since 1965, when Mobutu took power, there have been countless
attempts to either overthrow the regime or to weaken it. In addition
to the 1960s popular rebellions in Mulele's Kwilu and th e Eastern regions,
of which the Kabila movement is a remnant, there have been such imagined
or real plots as the Kudiakubanza plot and the 1978 coup in which military
officers were implicated. One also needs to mention the student movement
of 1969, the Sh aba invasions by the Angola-based Front National de
liberation du Congo of 1977 and 1978; the 1978 peasant uprising in Idiofa,
North Shaba and Kivu; the dramatic defections of Mobutu's closest allies
and aides such as the regional commissioner Monguya; an d others such
as Kamitatu and Mungul-Diaka, who called for the overthrow of the Mobutu
Since the 1980s, the opposition has taken a democratic
facade. More than foreign pressure for democratization, there has been
an internal resistance movement initiated in 1980 by Etienne Tshisekedi
and his colleagues in the MPR-controlled legislature. In a fifty-one-page
open letter to Mobutu, Tshisekedi and his colleagues vigorously denounced
the policies of the regime and their effects on the Zairian population.
The group later was instrumental in the "democratization"
process by creating an oppositi on party, UDPS. When, in 1990, the Mobutu
regime was pressured by its foreign donors (the USA, France, and Belgium)
to introduce democratic reforms, UDPS and other "radical opposition"
parties pressed for change, in contrast with those parties associated
with Mobutu's MPR.
However praiseworthy many of these opposition and resistance
movements may be, the harsh reality is that they all failed. Obviously,
repression and crude violence played a role in the failure. But the
reason for the failure, and indeed, for the effectiv eness of the repression,
is to be ascribed to the "nature" of the Mobutu regime itself.
To be sure, Zaire is not a unique case; its type of state is similar
to other third world states--which I have called "overpoliticized
states." But countries diffe r because of their regimes.
Under Mobutu, the Zairian regime was a clientelist regime.
Internally, a network of clientelism was constituted in which Mobutu,
his kin, and selected closest allies, regardless of their regional origin,
were "patr ons" vis-a-vis a host of "clients," who
were officials, ministers, bureaucrats, university professors, military
officers, and businesspeople whose material survival depended almost
entirely on the patrons, who tightly controlled all major economic and
political resources. The clientelist relationship was based on the norm
of reciprocity. Whereas Mobutu and other patrons provided the clients
with financial, economic, and other resources, including the license
to steal without fear of legal repress ion, the clients, in turn, provided
Mobutu with political support.
This internal network of clientelism was supported by
Foreign powers (USA, France, Belgium), which provided economic, military,
and other resources. This network of clientelism explains why all the
above opposition and resistance movements failed. Ind eed, in the internal
clientelist network, the masses (peasants, workers, unemployed, and
students) were the "outsiders," who could be and were easily
repressed thanks to the support accorded Mobutu and the patrons by their
clients and foreign powers.
Although Mobutu and the patrons depended on the political
support of the clients, in a situation of scarcity in which Mobutu controlled
almost all economic resources, including mineral wealth (gold, diamonds,
and cobalt), the clients depended more on Mob utu and the patrons than
the latter depended on the clients. As a result, whenever the clients
attempted to withdraw their support (e.g. the above mentioned defections
of his ministers and aides), they became easily vulnerable to economic
and material har dship wherever they lived. Aware of this dependence,
Mobutu easily took advantage of them. Because clients were kept in an
insecure position, they used their ethnic or other backgrounds to denounce
each other, which explains the purge and the "discovery" of
plots in the army and the dismissal and counterdismissals of many of
the clients. Yet, as disfavored clients attempted to form an opposition,
Mobutu easily coopted them back by providing them with material resources
often via ministerial appointments through which they could enrich themselves.
One understands, then, why all the aforementioned officials,
who fled, came back to support Mobutu, and why such a high level of
manipulation of economic resources deeply impoverished the country.
Once they reintegrated the clientelist network, fully aw are of the
hardships suffered during the "opposition" time, the clients
became even more pliant to Mobutu's wishes. Under the circumstances,
no genuine opposition was possible since the temporary absence only
allowed the clients to wait for reintegration in the circuit. The 1990-96
"democratic" stalemate, including the defection of former
UDPS members and the formation of a plethora of "parties,"
reflects perfectly this situation. The end result was the strengthening
of the Mobutu regime.
This means that the Mobutu regime could not be changed
or overthrown by the type of Kinshasa-based opposition described above.
Only a military attack of great magnitude, in a changed international
context, could accomplish such a goal. Kabila and AFDL provided the
means for such an attack, and they have succeeded. Should they rule
the country or not? To better answer the question, let us examine the
three possible power-holding scenarios.
Scenario 1: Hold Elections Immmediately after the Military
Holding elections, even without Mobutu involved, means
in effect holding elections under the Mobutu regime without Mobutu,
by simply adding the Kabila Alliance to the already existing myriad
of political parties . Indeed, the Mobutu regime, built for the last
thirty two years, and based as it is on a network of clientelism, cannot
be dismantled by the sheer fact that Mobutu himself is out of power.
Mobutu may be out, but the patrons of the clientelist network are still
present, so are all the clients. R ecall that Kengo, who has fled to
Switzerland, has stressed that he expects to go back to Zaire to run
when elections are held. Although the Kinshasa-based "radical opposition"
may maintain its relatively anti-Mobutu stand during such elections,
pro-Mobu tu parties will run on their Mobutist platform. It is almost
a sure guarantee that the clientelist logic that prevailed under Mobutu,
which has deeply structured the behavior of both pro-Mobutu parties
and the "radical opposition" will lead, if not to ex tremely
violent and rigged elections, at the very least to a stalemate of the
kind that has been experienced since 1990. This situation is even more
likely when the Kabila Alliance is added in the mix. Indeed, once faced
with the fundamentally anti-Kins hasa reformist platform of the AFDL,
the Kinshasa-based opposition (pro-Mobutu and "radical opposition"
alike) will close ranks against Kabila by relying on their shared clientelist
roots and experiences (note that most of the "radical opposition"
members were part of the clientelist network from which they benefited
immensely). This common front against Kabila is already in the making
when one remembers that the current "transition parliament"
has requested, as a way of countering Kabila, the reinstateme nt of
Monsengwo, the former speaker, who was repudiated because of his complicity
with Mobutu. If cornered, AFDL is likely to retaliate militarily with
severe consequences. In either case, immediate elections lead to a dead
end. Within the entrenched M obutist clientelist logic, partisan and
electoralist politics are inconsitent with and deadly for transition
Scenario 2: Allow Tshisekedi to govern
The role played by Tshisekedi in opposing Mobutu since
1980 is well known. Indeed, unlike many of his colleagues of the early
UDPS days, who defected to the Mobutu camp, Tshisekedi has more consistently
maintained his opposition to Mobutu. For this reas on, he became, for
a savior-starved population, a messiah. For his valiant effort, he deserves
praise and credit. Nevertheless, a Tshisekedi rule is not recommended
for two reasons.
First, regardless of his consistent opposition, Tshisekedi
is an unwilling partner in clientelist politics (not to mention the
nonverified fact that, through his son's marriage, he is now linked
to the Mobutu family). That he was elected/appointed three times prime
minister and fired three times by the Mobutu forces after only short
stays in the office is revealing. Within the clientelist politics of
the Mobutu regime, Tshisekedi is highly vulnerable. Because the Kinshasa-based
opposition directed agai nst him flows directly from clientelist politics,
Tshisekedi is an easy target for both the patrons and clients, which
makes him impotent. As soon as he assumes office, the forces that have
opposed him since 1990 will be set in motion against him because they
know his basic weaknesses. The ethnic card played against Tshisekedi
during the stalemate period attests to this situation, a direct result
of clientelist politics of opposing clients against each other. Tshisekedi,
in other words, will not be allow ed to govern, a badly needed commodity
during the transition period.
Second, a Tshisekedi rule would mean that Kabila and the
AFDL, who provided the necessary (and almost sufficient) condition for
the overthrow of Mobutu, are deprived of political power that they wrested
away from Mobutu. Two consequences will follow. The first consequence
is that Kabila and the AFDL, who, unlike Tshisekedi, control military
might, will be tempted in the face of Tshisekedi's resistance to use
military force with deadly implications. The second consequence is that,
facing the Tshisekedi o pposition in Kinshasa, Kabila and the Alliance
might be forced to retreat to the Eastern part of the country (including
Bandundu and Kasai) which contains the agricultural and mineral wealth
of the country, leaving Tshisekedi only with the impoverished an d barren
capital city, Kinshasa. In either situation, the country would reach
a dead end.
Scenario 3: Allow Kabila and the AFDL to govern
Kabila's reported brutal behavior toward his fellow combatants
and especially his failure to deal more forcefully with the Rwandan
Hutu refugees are legitimate reasons for concern. They need to be addressed
in the broader context of the Zairian-Rwandan- Burundi and Hutu-Tutsi-Banyamulenge
relations. Despite this, Kabila and the AFDL remain the viable option
for Zaire for the following reasons.
First, because Kabila and the AFDL were not part of the
clientelist politics of the Mobutu regime, and because they control
the only viable military force, they are better suited than any other
political group to govern during the transition period. The se two reasons
allow them, unlike any other group, for a 3-year-transition period to
dismantle the Mobutu regime and its clientelist politics. Such dismantling
would involve severe punishment for both patrons and clients of the
Mobutu regime, the confi scation of their stolen wealth, and the establishment
of a legal and coercive mechanism that would render them completely
inoffensive. Dismantling the Mobutu regime is a sine qua non for establishing
the minimum of economic, social, and political infrast ructure during
the transition period. This minimum is, in turn, a prerequisite for
viable elections and a new start for an economy debilitated beyond recognition
Second, Kabila's extensive relations with Rwanda and Burundi,
hence his familiarity with the explosive Tutsi-Hutu-Banyamulenge relations,
and the very involvement of Tutsi soldiers in his army, rather than
being a hindrance, present Zaire with a unique h istorical opportunity
to solve the problem, including the possibility of total political unification
of the three countries. No other group in Kinshasa is able to deal with
Third, Kabila and the AFDL offer a net advantage in reorienting
Zaire's foreign relations. In the clientelist network that prevailed
under the Mobutu regime, three foreign powers played a major role for
different reasons. Belgium did so to maintain its colonial interests
and links. France intervened in an attempt to supplant Belgium, which
is part of a broader scheme to maintain its dream of a "middle"
superpower. The United States did it for reasons of its superpower interests.
(This issue cannot be fully e xplored here. Suffice it to say that of
the three, France has been the most detrimental to Zaire (and indeed
The relative weight of Belgium's colonial interests in
Zaire; its relative dependence on them; and its lack of any continental
ambition have made Belgium very cautious in its dealing with Zaire.
As goes Zaire, so goes the bulk of Belgium's economic inte rests. For
this reason, Belgium was able to accept the fact that Mobutu's rule
and its attendant form of governance was often detrimental to Belgian
interests. In response, Belgium did not always support Mobutu. One recalls
its lukewarm support of Mobu tu for the 1977-78 Shaba Wars and, more
recently, its open support for Kabila. America's long involvement in
Zaire and its negative side effects are well known. But this involvement
is part of its superpower interest, which, although detested, is to
be under stood in light of what we know of the international system.
The latter, in its ancient and contemporary forms, has always relied
on one or two superpowers, depending on the historical moment, which
impose order and hegemony consistent with superpower inte rests. In
this sense, US involvement in Zaire is consistent with its superpower
missions. American support for Mobutu was part of its Cold War superpower
interests. Neither Zaire nor any other country of the world can escape
this reality, which does n ot mean that countries should not find ways
to protest against the superpower's encroachments.
France's policy, in contrast, is part of a strategy of
chasing an elusive status of a "middle superpower" via the
"francophonie" and an assertive neocolonial policy toward
Africa. The strategy consists of competing against the superpower, the
USA, for A frica's favors replacing former colonial powers such as Belgium
in their former colonies. The results are particularly and far more
destructive for Zaire (and Africa). Indeed, the competition against
the USA and Belgium led to France's total communion a nd complicity
with the Mobutu regime. France's involvement in the Shaba War and its
hopeless support of Mobutu in the face of Kabila's advances are a testimony.
This complicity was strengthened by France's African policy, which,
t hrough an inferiority/superiority complex and deep dependent ties
imposed on "francophone" leaders, has created what may be
called a "French-supported committee of wrongdoers," who support
each other. This explains why Morocco's Hassan II, Gabon's Bongo, or
Togo's Eyadema support Mobutu. Moreover, by constituting itself as the
rescuer of Zaire and the "rightful" intermediary between Zaire
and the United States, France paternalistically provides Zaire and other
African countries with an illusion of economi c and political security.
It reduces Zaire's capacity to compete in the international economy,
in which increasingly only hard work pays off as shown by Asian and
other countries, or to compete equally and confidently with other countries
for whatever be nefit can be derived from direct relations (and not
by the intermediary of France) with the world superpower.
There is, then, need to completely remake Zaire's relations
with France. Because of their "francophone" attachments, Kinshasa-based
opposition groups do not have the independence nor the willingnes to
undertake such a task. By contrast, given their rel ations with Tanzania,
Uganda, and Rwanda, all of which have displayed an independent stand
vis-a-vis France, Kabila and the AFDL are uniquely qualified to reorient
Will Kabila be a Dictator?
The answer is no. In addition to the obvious fact that
the need to rebuild Zaire's economy will require foreign assistance,
which is now almost universally subordinated to democratization, one
needs to mention the paradoxically crucial role the oppositio n, which
I questioned above, will have to play. Recall that Kabila will have
three years for the transition to establish the basic infrastructure
and to dismantle the Mobutu legacy. In committing themselves to the
dismantlement of clientelist politics, Kabila and the AFDL accept ipso
facto a new role for political parties, including a constructively active
participation in the framing of the new constitution that will serve
as the document of reference for governing the country after the three
years of transition. Moreover, the three-year transition will allow
opposition parties to reorganize themselves and sharpen their messages
and platforms. (In fact, the AFDL and other major parties should attempt
to incorporate into their structures, through persua sion and the force
of argument and policies, many of the current "parties").
This new role assigned to political parties and the relatively entrenched
opposition tradition among the masses who suffered under Mobutu will
constitute a formidable deterrence against any dictatorial moves at
the end of the transition period. Indeed, faced with this formidable
opposition in the waiting, which they themselves nurtured, Kabila and
the AFDL have only two options open to them. If they succeed during
the transition period, they will be elected at the end of the transition
for a normal term in office. If they fail, another party will be elected
to succeed them at the end of the transition period. These constraints
will prevent Kabila from imposing dictatorship for t he following reasons.
First, for dictatorship (or authoritarianism) to be a
successful form of rule, it requires an elaborate strategy of implanting
it. Much time is needed, as shown by the Mobutu regime and other similar
types of rule. Because Kabila will have three years at most, during
which the urgent task of establishing the basic infrastructure (if only
for his own chances of being elected) will preoccupy him, he will not
have enough time to develop an authoritarian or dictatorial regime.
Second, Kabila and the AFDL will not have recourse to
military force if they do not win elections at the end of the transition
period because, contrary to what would happen if they were barred from
ruling after their military success against Mobutu, they will have had
three years to show whether they are competent or incompetent. After
three years of transition, which will have mobilized a more sophisticated
opposition, any attempt at supporting a bad policy record via dictatorship
is doomed to fail. In any case, one of the political infrastructure
to be established by the transition government with the assistance of
the opposition parties will be the new constitutional role assigned
to the army. Because such a role will differ from that assigned to Mob
utu's personalized army, Kabila will be perforce deprived of the means
to personalize the army for dictatorial purposes.
Third, the claim that Uganda's Museveni or Rwanda's Kagame
will prevail on Kabila, and might actually lead him to adopt their brand
of authoritarian rule does not stand up to facts. The complete defeat
of the Mobutu army in the face of Rwandan and Uganda n armed support
of Kabila's forces is ascribable to Mobutu's clientelist politics. After
a three-year transition period, during which the opposition will have
become more assertive and will participate in the framing of the constitution
of Zaire, neither Rwanda nor Uganda will have the means or the willingness
to impose their will on Zaire. They can only advise but cannot dictate
For all the above reasons, common sense and compassion
for the suffering masses of Zaire dictate that we (including people,
like me, without any party affiliation in Zaire) lend our support to
Kabila and the AFDL.
Table Of Contents
Essie Hayes, CCSU student - History 497,
African History Through Film
As an information-based society it is difficult to believe
that the American misrepresentation of African culture is the result
of ignorance. It appears to be quite deliberate on the part of the cinema
world: those behind the camera; those who edit the film; those who market
motion pictures and those who show them.Even anti-apartheid films, such
as Cry Freedom and Dry White Season, which are supposed to challenge
racism, are less anti-apartheid and more about white male awakening.
The Ethio pian film maker Haile Gerima's Sankofa is an act of resistance
challenging Hollywood's white supremacist cinematic practices and is
a tool in the liberation struggle. Sankofa constructs Africa as a common
symbolic homeland for Black people and shows slav ery from the viewpoint
of the enslaved. Sankofa's opening scene involves the character Shola,
an African-American model who is having a fashion shoot with a white
photographer on the grounds of the infamous slave-holding and transport
dungeons where mill ions of Africans were sent into slavery. At the
film's end, Shola is changed by the horrific realization of slavery
and gains a new found respect for her African heritage. Critics have
charged that Gerima's representation of black womanhood in the film
is consistent with Hollywood's depiction of black women as 'mammy or
ho,' but I found a portrayal of black men and women as human beings
who are strong, proud, supportive and accepting of one anotherIn an
interview with the Gaither Reporter, Gerima states that he didn't think
about male and female and that he just though about slavery and black
people - African people.
In order to erase Hollywood's negative depictions of Africa,
the following must take place:
- Creation of images from a decolonized perspective
- Teaching of audience to appreciate positive images
- Collective political demand that Hollywood should divest
itself of white supremacy
- Refusal of audiences to pay to see films that perpetuate
negative images of any group
- Refusal of actors and actresses, black and white,to
become mouthpieces for racist assumptions and beliefs
Table Of Contents
by Haines Brown, C.C.S.U.
A problem encountered in African economic development is often the poor
state of telephone communications. While foreign capital might in time
be found to correct that weakness, the profit maximization that is necessarily
implied means that metropolita n areas are served first, and rural areas
only much later, if at all. This, of course, runs contrary to national
goals of developing the viable popular social base required by democracy,
the preservation or development of traditional culture, and the pro
tection of the good moral character of governing institutions.
Microwave and especially satellite communications can
compensate. Zambia's telephone company Zamtel, connects its central
offices by microwave in lieu of fiber or copper, but microwave has limited
As for Internet , a commercial entity, ZamNet, emerged
in 1994 from a fidonet e-mail service at the University of Zambia Computer
Centre. Internet access was provided by a telephone connection with
Internet Africa, a leading Internet access provider in Cape Town, South
Africa. This link, which made Zambia Africa's fifth nation to have Internet,
was through copper lines in Lukasa, satellite earth stations, and digilinks
in South Africa.
Internet access proved so popular that greater bandwidth
was needed than the 14.4 modem connection to Cape Town. Because it was
impossible to run copper from Cape Town to Lukasa, ZamNet had no choice
but to use satellite.
This meant using Zamtel's Intelsat satellite connection,
but that arrangement fell through and ZamNet turned instead to PanAmSat
SPOITbyte service that would link it to the US and European Internet
backbones through Atlanta, GA, US..
As a result, a 2.4 meter earth station dish was set up
at a cost of $40,000 US. The much improved bandwidth enables ZamNet
to greatly expand its 1500 customer base, and a second earth station
is planned this year. In time, satellite-based Internet phone service
could become very inexpensive.
For more information, go to the URL:
Table Of Contents
(now Democratic Republic of Congo)
by Dr. Aderemi Ajibewa, Faculty of Social
Sciences, University Malaysia, Sarawak
Recent events in Africa tend to compel a re-examination
of the issues involved in conflict in Zaire (hereafter referred to as
Congo Kinshasa). 1997 is perhaps a time to be optimistic in assessing
the human rights violations under President Mobutu and the d ebilitating
effect on the economy that culminated in the deplorable state of Zaire.
After the ouster of Mobutu, Laurent Kabila declared himself
the President on May 17, 1997 and renamed the country Democratic Republic
of Congo. Scarcely a week later, Congo Brazzaville, the capital of the
Republic of Congo, became the scene of a sudden outbreak of ferocious
fighting between government forces and the private mil itia of a former
head of state.
This paper will present a comprehensive and constructive
background study of the Congo Kinshasa civil war in an attempt to unravel
the factors responsible for the event.
The stark reality is that Zaire (now the Democratic Republic
of Congo) was another failed state. The underlying causes of the conflict
can be traced to colonial times. Zaire, like other artificial African
states, emerged from colonial partition. It comprises three distinct
geographical and socio - economic regions. Mostly, the ethnic Mukongo
from th e mineral - rich southern province of Katanga; the Batetela
ethnic group from the central Kasai region; the Mukongo from the coastal
Bas Zaire province; and the ethnic Tutsis in eastern Zaire. The Zairian
conflict, like most conflicts in post - independen ce Africa, was deeply
rooted in the contradictions of the country and the great diversity
of its geography, economy and ethnicity.
The formal assault launched in September 1996 from the
eastern Zaire border posts by Laurent Kabila occurred as a result of
endemic forces that were largely internal misrule: mismanagement of
the economy, political violence, and unparalleled corruption a nd nepotism
in public life. Specifically, Kabila's forces took up arms in a dispute
over denial of Zairian nationality for ethnic Tutsis and to oust President
Mobutu Sese Seko, the longtime dictator of the former Zaire. In September
1996, the governor of South Kibu announced that all Zairian Tutsi would
be expelled from the country. The policy ignited a revolt among Tutsi.
Within weeks, Kabila's small revolutionary party, which is based in
the province, had joined the rebellion, along with two other rebel groups.
Mobutu's Regime 1965 -1997
It is pertinent to mention from the outset that American
foreign policy, especially during the cold war, saw Mobutu as an important
ally championing the cause of US national interest in Central Africa.
In the midst of large scale repression and dismal failure to address
the economic problems, the US failed to curb Mobutu's brutality and
corruption. The US attitude, however, according to some political analysts
could not have been unconnected with the support the US had from Mobutu
on the issue of conta ining communism in that part of the world. Nevertheless,
from early 1986, the US as a result of congressional pressure gradually
began withdrawing its support for Mobutu's regime. Next to be considered
is Mobutu's style of government.
On 25 November 1965, the Zairian constitution was suspended.
Within months the regime had lost the goodwill of the Zairian public
because of its human rights violations. The systematic manner with which
the Mobutu military government went about destroy ing the fabric of
certain political power groups, the press, intellectuals and student
organizations was pronounced.
In an attempt to save face,the military, brought a few
civilians of the radical educated class and political groupings into
government, to help in shape policy directives. This uneasy marriage
of intellectuals and soldiers was, however, short-lived a nd with some
misgivings. Irrespective of how one looks at the situation, it became
apparent from the outset that because of the incompatibility in terms
of background and orientation of the two groups, tensions were bound
to be generated.
Who benefited from the modernisation process? In fact,
economic activities and participation in government were confined to
Mobutu and his supporters. Of course, this process led to the deterioration
of political economy, largely because it was based on the institutionalization
of privilege per se as determined by one's ethnicity. The Mobutu era
witnessed fiscal mismanagement and silencing of the rumblings of discontent
which the indigenous population expressed over resident taxes, increasing
food prices , and failure to extend privileges.
The relationship was further exacerbated by Mobutu's suspicion
and mistrust of the members of the cabinet. Most were either demoted
or sacked, while several others, fled into exile fearing for their lives.
The division in Zaire was reinforced by the ethnic politics
advanced by President Mobutu Sese Seko, who was from the northern Equateur
region. This was manifested through the application of coercion and
the exacerbation of ethnic differences and rivalries. Rampant corruption
was replaced with more rampant corruption; nepotism with an even higher
scale of nepotism and despotism. Reverting to the accusation of nepotism
against Zaire's first President, Joseph Kasavubu, one of the vices Mobutu
procla imed to correct, almost all the government institutions and public
corporations were filled with mostly Mobutu's kin.
Opposition manifested itself in every form: from the legitimate
(formation of political parties), to the illegitimate (series of coup
plots); as well as bloody student and workers' riots. The exclusion
of the masses and educated elites from politics and a general clamp-down
on both civilians and soldiers became so intolerable that many soldiers
also attempted unsuccessfully to unseat the Mobutu regime. Mobutu, knowing
fully well the international outlook of the opposition and the effect
of mounting pres sure from the articulate intelligentsia (Kinkela Vikansi
and Raphael Ghenda) and veteran politician Etienne Tshisekedi, lifted
the ban on political parties and announced a return to multi - party
politics in 1990. Election complaints and cases of blatant rigging reached
such an alarming rate that the anti - Mobutu campaign members who had
gone into exile in America supported both legitimate and illegitimate
means to remove Mobutu.
However, the general clamp-down on political activism
led to growing concentration of power. This explains the emergence of
an omnipotent President Mobutu who held the reins of power in his own
hands without regard for the rule of law. Power through usur pation
is also power without legitimacy. Without mass support the leaders require
the co-operation of the bureaucracy and the army. In reality, Mobutu's
influence in this respect was constrained by the lack of independent
support. When one considers the c entrifugal forces tearing at the seams
of the society in the middle of the nineties, it lends credence to the
adage that when the centre falls, the periphery sags and the centre
cannot hold again.
Of course, merit, credibility and capability were sacrificed
on the altar of money, gullibility, and manipulation. Money and military
aid had enabled Mobutu to oppress, suppress and repress the people
so that they were denied their fundamental rights. Given
the foregoing, it is, therefore, not surprising that the thirty - two
years of Mobutu also left some economic contraction and contradictions.
It was the contention of some opposition groups th at many of the anti
- Mobutu campaigns were as a result of public dissatisfaction over Mobutu's
economic policies, ethnic manipulation and abuse of human rights. The
economy had deteriorated to the point of near collapse, as a result
of the decrease in de mand for copper and cobalt and rising oil prices.
Granted, Mobutu inherited a badly managed economy, the socio-economic
policies embarked upon right from 1965 hardly addressed the issue of
self reliance and collective involvement in the process of nationa l
development to build a credible and viable base for the country's external
relations. The government had a continuous decline in gross domestic
product. The little earnings from copper and uranium, the mainstay of
Zairian economy, were not used to stren gthen the economy nor improve
the living condition of the people. Thus, because of the lack of sound
financial accountability, foreign direct investment, and macro economic
management, Mobutu was beset with an unprecedented economic crisis.
Furthermore, funds borrowed from external creditors, were either spent
on conspicuous consumption or siphoned out of Zaire. Mobutu is said
to be worth between $4 and $8 billion, most of which were starched in
a Swiss Bank. Unable to pay its arrears, Zaire was severe ly indebted
and nearly cut off from further IMF funding in 1988. By January 1989,
total external debt ran to over $8,575 m. The squandering of society's
wealth, which finds a grotesque expression in the Zaire case under Mobutu,
shows that there is a fund amental conflict between the development
of Zaire's resources and its existing social organisation. The end result
was a terrible balance of payment deficit. Foreign debt rose from just
$105.4 m in 1972, to $850 m by 1988 and its external reserves fell be
The crisis fissured along ethnic and personal lines. A
knowledge of the stand of each disputant, their composition and the
part played so far would be of tremendous importance in analyzing the
historical and ethnic dimension of the Zairian civil war. The principal
actors at the start of the war in September 1996 were Mobutu and Laurent
Kabila, who formed the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation
of Congo. Other actors such as Kinkela Vikansi, who in the late 1960s
and 1970s, as a student wa s at the forefront of the struggle against
Mobutu's regime, emerged in the course of the conflict. He was imprisoned
several times. He became involved in the Alliance of Democratic Forces
for the Liberation of Congo, an organization that vigorously agitat
ed against the government of Mobutu. Other key members of the forces
include Raphael Ghenda from the central Kasai region and of Batelela
ethnic group. He joined Kabilla's rebellion in November 1996.
Kabila gained the support of the majority of ethnic Tutsi
from eastern Zaire; capitalized on their grievances against Mobutu;
and used the region as a base to launch an attack. Kabila announced
in November 1996 from the eastern Zaire that the raid was p rimarily
to oust Mobutu and was the dawn of a new era of guerrilla warfare armed
at effecting the change many Zaireans had been yearning and craving
for. The rebels did not appear to have been organised and sceptics wondered
whether an operation based on conventional military tactics, many miles
away from Kinshasa, the seat of government and capital, could be taken
By December 1996, the rebel forces had advanced in a two-pronged
attack from the eastern town of Beni, about 80 miles from the Uganda
border post of Mpondwe in the western Kasese district, to Bundibugyo
The conflict which started as an anti -government uprising,
had by the mid April 1997 fragmented the country into a killing ground
for the Kabila forces and the government troops, manipulated by external
actors, whether at the invitation of the Mobutu ru ling government in
the capital or of strategically placed rebel forces outside. Therefore,
the role of external sponsorship cannot be over-emphasized in the Zairian
conflict. In November 1996, when the Rwandan, but also Ugandan and Angolan
troops joined f orces with Kabila forces against Mobutu, the ethnic
Tutsis avenged their dead by shooting the Hutu militants who fled to
Within the first six months of the attack, Laurent Kabila
succeeded in controlling seventy-five percent of the country, including
the key interior city of Lubumbashi; the capital of the southern Shaba
province, before fighting his way to Kenge, 120 m iles east of Kinshasa.
Mobutu's paranoid madness led him to believe that the rebellion would
be crushed, but by May 1997 his forces were confined to the immediate
vicinity of the Executive Mansion in Kinshasa.
By early May 1997, the Kabila forces had control over
90% of the land mass of the country. Kabila, capturing Kinshasa, declared
himself the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo on May 17
1997 and banned all political activities and public demo nstration.
The choice of eastern Zaire as the place to launch the attack was, however,
attributed to its strategic location.
The negative aspects of autocracy are reflected in the
political instability which has plagued a number of multiethnic societies
around the world. Of course, the greatest number of cases of insecurity
in Zaire as well as other conflicts in Liberia, Rwan da, Uganda, Angola,
Somalia, Chad, the former Yugoslavia, and Sri Lanka were as a result
of challenge from the opposition to the repressive nature of existing
Table Of Contents
Zenebworke Bissrat served for several years
as Senior Management Expert at the Ethiopian Management Institute, Addis
Ababa. She is at present associated with the CMRS, Ethiopian Catholic
Church, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Maimouna Diallo is an economist and also
a consultant to the United Nations Development Program. She resides
in the Côte d'Ivoire, West Africa.
Julius Ihonvbere is a Professor of Government
at the University of Texas, Austin. Among his books are Nigeria,
the Politics of Adjustment and Democracy (New Brunswick: Transaction,
1993) and The Political Economy of Crisis and Underdevelopment in
Africa (Lagos: Jad Press, 1989).
Paulus Gerdes is the Rector of Mozambique's
Universidade Pedagogico, Maputo, Mozambique. He has extensive publications
on African mathematics and is the Chair of the Commission on the History
of Mathematics in Africa.
Mosebjane Malatsi is a Senior Policy Analyst
at the Development Bank of Southern Africa, based in Johannesburg. He
is a leading member of the Pan-African Congress.
Alfred Zack-Williams is from Sierra Leone.
He teaches in the Department of Historical and Critical Studies at the
University of Central Lancaster, UK. He is also a member of the Editorial
Board of the Review of African Political Economy (ROAPE), United Kingdom.
Table Of Contents
For an annual subscription to the AfricaUpdate
quarterly newsletter,please fill out the chit/form below and send it
along with a check made out to "African Studies C.C.S.U" directly
Ms. Lisa-Marie Fellage
International Affairs Center
Central Connecticut State University
P. O. Box 4010
New Britain, CT 06050-4010 USA
The subscription is $25 for institutions and $5 for individuals.
Institutional affiliation: ________________________________________________