Vol. IV, Issue 4 (Fall 1997). The Congo Region.

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The Congo Region

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.

Gloria Emeagwali

Chief Editor

Table Of Contents

Will Kabila be a Dictator?

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 regime.

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 Victory

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 politics.

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 and repair.

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 the issue.

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 to Africa).

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 Zaire-France relations.

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 their policies.


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.

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Hollywood's Africa

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

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Africa and the Net

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 range.

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: http://www.zamnet.zm

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The Civil War in Zaire

(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.

Historical Background

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 low $250,000.

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 seriously.

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 district.

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 Zaire.

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 regimes.

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The Regional Editors of AfricaUpdate

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.

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