UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
U N I T E D N A T I O N S
Department of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
Tel: +254 2 622147
Fax: +254 2 622129
Zaire: IRIN Briefing Part II: Historical Overview of Zaire 27 Feb 1997
Zaire, home to some 45 million people, is Africa's third largest country covering 2,345,409 square kilometers. It is divided into ten regions (Bas Zaire, Bandundu, Kasa-Occidental, Kasai-Oriental, Equateur, Haut Zaire, Shaba, Maniema, Nord Kivu and Sud Kivu) plus the capital, Kinshasa, each of which are defined by distinct economic and ethnic differences. It is surrounded by nine neighbours, Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia and Angola whose populations share ethnic ties, which complicate national loyalties and boundaries. The 36 km long coastal area of the Bas Zaire region, home to the main port facility at Matadi, is all that protects Zaire from being a land-locked country. In addition it provides lucrative rights to rich undeveloped petroleum reserves off the coast. The Zaire river, formerly the Congo, and its tributaries, the life source from which colonial and present day Zaire was created. Geographically and historically, the Zaire river unified the country from west to east facilitating economic development and exchange.
Formally known as the Congo, Zaire has been under Belgian influence since 1876 and was officially recognized as a Belgian colony at the 1884 Berlin Conference. In the pre-independence years, the liberalizing of colonial controls in 1957 led to the formation of special interest groups and political parties along indigenous lines. With the exception of Patrice Lumumba's left-wing Movement National Congolais (MNC), most of these parties were tribal or secessionist -- intent on the dissolution of the Congo. Only the autocratic colonial rule followed by that of Mobutu kept the country from splintering along regional and ethnic lines, which many believed would result in an explosion of tribal boundary-wars. Moreover, there were also only six university-educated graduates in the whole of Zaire at independence, too few to administer even one country.
On 30 June 1960, the Congo was officially declared independent. Within five days the army mutinied, followed by secessionist attempts in both the Kasai and Katanga (Shaba) regions and a power struggle between President Joseph Kasavubu and Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Three months after independence, Colonel (later Marshal) Mobutu staged his first coup, banning all political activities and ruling with the assistance of technocrats. In 1961, Prime Minister Lumumba was killed by Katanga (Shaba) seccessionist rebels led by Moise Tshombe. Supporters of Lumumba fled to Kisangani where they established a rebel government. In 1961, while the country was riddled by secession movements and the Lumumbist civil war in the east, Mobutu permitted parliament to reconvene under a national unity government led by interim Prime Minister Moise Tshombe. The newly elected assembly, which immediately divided along ethnic and regional lines, became locked in a stalemate over the choice of prime minister. On November 24th, 1965, Mobutu staged his last coup, proclaiming himself President of the Second Republic and outlawing all political parties.
Since the 1965 coup, the social, political and economic situation in Zaire has been marked by two distinct phases and more recently, a possible third phase.
The first phase from 1965 to 1990, known as the Second Republic, is defined by the military repression of rebellions in Shaba and Kasai, strong international support, and economic growth. Mobutu outlawed all political parties for five years and in 1966 founded the Mouvement Populaire de la Revolution (MPR), the only legal party, whose organisation was superimposed on the state administrative structures. Access to key political and military positions was strictly controlled by Mobutu who frequently changed nearly all of his senior political advisors and ministers. From 1965 to 1990, government ministries went through 43 reorganisations headed by nine different Mobutu-appointed prime ministers. Through the political monopoly of the MPR, Mobutu was elected unopposed to three-seven year terms of office (1970, 1977 &1984). Despite charges of flagrant human rights abuses during this period, international support for Mobutu continued.
Zaire's economic situation took a downward turn in the late 1970s. Like most developing countries, Zaire had received large amounts of multilateral aid fuelled by an abundance of OPEC petro-dollars (1). Aid which resulted in a dramatic increase in Zaire's debt servicing at a time when world market prices for Zairian commodities were falling. The economic downturn also coincided with the loss of support and financial aid from the Americans, following the election of Democratic President Jimmy Carter. The situation was further compounded by the nationalization, dubbed "Zaireanization", of key industries in Zaire. During the 1980s, the loss of international support, a flagging economy and charges of rampant corruption lead to the growth of a credible opposition movement and a demand for democratic reforms.
The second phase, dubbed the Third Republic, began in 1990 with the transition to political pluralism. On 24 April 1990, faced with increasing internal and international pressure Mobutu ended the MPR hegemony launching the Third Republic and legalizing the creation of political parties. By 1991, some 130 new parties, mainly ethnic in origin, had applied for registration. Several of the new parties were believed to be pro-Mobutu. By March 1991, the opposition forces had pressured Mobutu into calling a constitutional conference, the Conference Nationale Souvraine (CNS).
The CNS, which began on August 7, 1991 with 2,850 delegates from some 200 political parties, drew up the Act of Transition and a draft constitution. Opposition parties in the CNS, supported by strikes and civil protests, threatened to boycott the the CNS proceedings unless Mobutu agreed to step down. On September 23, 1991, civil unrest allegedly sparked by underpaid and unpaid soldiers but soon joined by a disillusioned public, ending in the looting of Kinshasa. As a result of the insecurity the CNS was postponed. Shortly thereafter, the strongest opposition party in the CNS, Union pour la Democratie et le Progres Social (UDPS), split into two fractions under Etienne Tshisekedi and Kibassa Maliba, who later joined Mobutu.
Frustrated at the suspension of the national unity conference and Mobutu's successful efforts to weaken their ranks, CNS opposition parties, notably the Union des Federalistes et des Republicains Independants (UFERI), Partie Democratigue et Sociale Chretien (PDSC) and the Tshisekedi's UDPS, finally united under the Union Sacree. Members of the new alliance called for the CNS to be reconvened and Mobutu's resignation. Under increasing internal and international pressure, Mobutu reconvened the CNS in September 1991. The CNS elected Tshisekedi as its prime minister, giving only four posts to Mobutu supporters.
Tshisekedi was removed by Mobutu after only three months, following a confrontation over the payment of soldiers' wages. Mobutu named Mungul Diaka as the next prime minister under whom key portfolios returned to the hands of pro-Mobutu politicians. Additionally, most members of Mobutu's new government were from Shaba and Kasai, strongholds of the UDPS and the UFERI. The Union Sacree, claiming Mobutu had no constitutional authority to remove the CNS-elected government, continued with their now parallel government under Tshisekedi. In November 1991, Mobutu named Jean Nguza Karl-I-Bond of the UFERI as prime minister.This move drew support from other opposition parties effectively undermining support for the Tshisekedi-led parallel government. Both Nguza Karl-I-Bond and the UFERI, one of the main founding parties, were immediately expelled from the Union Sacree.
President Mobutu's term of office officially ended December 4th 1991; however, the September 1991 riots and the continued government crisis destabilized Zaire, postponing elections indefinitely. In January 1992, Karl-I-Bond again suspended the CNS due to financial constraints and charges that its members were inciting tribal violence. In a February 1992 demonstration aimed at forcing the resumption of the CNS, several protesters were killed by soldiers. Following international protests, Mobutu allowed the CNS to resume in April 1992 under the chair of Monsignor Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya. The CNS immediately declared itself sovereign, limiting Mobutu's power to suspend it again. In May, the CNS ended the two parallel parliaments and established the Haut Conseil de la Republique (HCR) to act as a legislative body during the transitional phase. The HCR agreed that President Mobutu would remain in power for the transitional period and Mobutu agreed to recognize a HCR-elected prime minister in exchange for his retaining control over the armed forces.
In August 1992, Tshisekedi was again made prime minister, this time by the HCR. Once again a financial disagreement broke out over the introduction of new Nouveau Zaires (NZ) banknotes, which Mobutu had had printed in Germany. Tshisekedi, supported by the international community, demonetized the new banknotes, refusing to allow them into circulation because of their potential inflationary impact on the economy. At the end of August, Mobutu withdrew from the CNS and HCR, announcing he would not participate in a Tshisekedi-led government. The armed forces prevented the holding of HCR meetings and ethnic tension errupted in Tshisekedi's region, Shaba. Mobutu paid soldiers with the new 5m NZ banknotes. These were rejected by traders inciting the second looting of Kinshasa on 28 January 1993. Opposition forces claim several of their homes were targeted during the looting.
In February 1993, Mobutu again dismissed Tshisekedi, appointing former UDPS member Faustin Birindwa in his place with Karl-I-Bond as defense and deputy prime minister in a parallel parliament which he encouraged to adopt its own transitional constitution. Tshisekedi refused to recognize Mobutu's authority to dismiss his government which, once again, led to the creation of two governments, two parliaments and now two constitutions.
At the end of 1993, UN-sponsored negotiations between the alliance of pro-Mobutu opposition parties, the Force Politiques du Conclave (FPC), and the Tshisekedi-led HCR resulted in the merger of the HCR with the old MPR-dominated Second Republic National Assembly (elected under the one-party era) to form a new 780-member government based on a single constitution and a new parliament called the Haut Conseil de la Republique - Parlement de Transition (HCR-PT). On 14 January 1994, both the Tshisekedi and Birindwa cabinets were dismissed and the HCR-PT held its first meeting on 24 January. Once again, the main stumbling block was the appointment of a new prime minister capable of uniting the two rival governments. The HCR-PT was given a 15 month mandate in which to establish elections set for December 1994 - January 1995, and a mechanism for choosing the transitional prime minister. As a conciliatory gesture the moderate wing of the Union Sacree, including moderate-elements of the UDPS, agreed to accept Kengo wa Dondo as prime minister, giving him 72% of the vote in the HCR-PT. As a result, Tshisekedi's supporters in the UDPS refused to recognize the legitimacy of the HCR-PT. This created a schism in the Union Sacree and the UDPS, further weakening the opposition alliance. Claiming that elections were impossible because of the presence of over one milllion Rwandan refugees in the Kivu regions, the transitional period was again prolonged and elections re-set for June 1997.
The election of Kengo, followed by the arrival of Rwandan refugees in July 1994, renewed international support for Zaire because of Kengo's economic policies and the need for Zaire's cooperation in the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the refugees. However, Kengo's economic reforms were hampered by his failure to take control of the central bank and other fiscal authorities. In July 1995, Kengo reached the end of his transitional mandate in which time he had been unable to organize a constitutional referendum or elections, or even a pre-election census.
Throughout the period 1990 to 1996, all ten regional governors remained appointees of the MPR-Mobutu era. Regional and ethnic conflicts errupted in Masisi (1993, 1994 & 1996) and Shaba (1992-1994). These conflicts not only delayed the electoral process but also divided ethnically aligned opposition parties such as the UDPS and UFERI. The instability created by the transitional period resulted in political stagnation and decline, strike actions, generalized insecurity, social tension, a dramatic drop in the standard of living, steady erosion of purchasing power, and ethnic unrest.
The fuelling of ethnic unrest in the Kivu regions also led to the current rebellion by the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL). The 1981 MPR government passed decree law No. 81-002 retroactively removed Zairean nationality on a collective basis from many Banyarwandans (Tutsi and Hutu) living in the Kivu regions. The law was later upheld by the 1991 CNS. In 1996, combined Rwandan and Masisi Hutu forces drove Tutsis out of the Kivu regions into Rwanda. Prominent government officials in the Kivu regions and in Kinshasa made statements upholding the view that Tutsis were not citizens and should thus leave Zaire. As a result, thousands of Zairean Tutsis refugees fled to Rwanda where they formed and became the nucleus of the ADFL rebels.
The launching of the successful ADFL attack, whose stated aim is the removal of Mobutu, coupled with Mobutu's illness appears to mark a new phase in Zaire's political history. Both the Kengo government, whose mandate had expired, and the Zairean army, ill-equipped and undisciplined, were unequal to the ADFL threat. As a result, Zaire's central government suffered substantial territorial losses in both South and North Kivu.
Mobutu's departure for medical treatment in late 1996 left a political vacuum. Kinshasa residents, looking for catalyst for political change, have vasilated between supporting ADFL rebels, Tshisekedi and Mobutu. Upon his return to Zaire, Mobutu responded to the crisis by appointing General Mahele as the new army chief-of-staff. General Mahele is thus the first general, outside Mobutu, to have control over all the military units. He is also popular with soldiers, civilians and the international community alike. Mobutu also announced a government reshuffle and the creation of a "crisis government". Amid heightened speculation about the removal of Kengo in favour of Tshisekedi, Mobutu reaffirmed Kengo as prime minister. In addition to the war in the east, the crisis government has the task of organizing a constitutional referendum to bring in the Third Republic, promised since 1990, and general and presidential elections for July 1997.
C.1 General Zaire's vast natural wealth and varied geographical terrain offers an opportunity for the development of a strong and diversified economy, which could be forged through the strengthening of internal trade and economic inter-dependence, enabling Zaire to become totally independent of foreign imports. However, ethnic conflicts and neglect of the various regions and basic infrastructure have impeded economic cohesion, reinforcing the call for economic regional independence within Zaire. Most of the economic sectors have been gradually deteriorating since the 1970s; however, the rate of economic decline accelerated following the initiation of the transitional period in 1990 and is in a state of near collapse(2).
Communication and transportation infrastructure (roads, riverways, airstrips, ports, telephone and radio networks), the main artery for economic development and internal union, as well as the electoral process, has been in an overall state of deterioration since the inauguration of the 1990 transitional period. As a result, most internal economic activities between the various regions of Zaire and Kinshasa have disappeared except for a few key towns which have maintained commercial activities through air transport. Moreover, as infrastructure erodes beyond use there has been a resurgence in subsistence farming due to a loss of access to larger internal and external markets. Many areas are now isolated from Kinshasa, both economically and politically. Moreover, the loss of major internal infrastructure has in some areas encouraged the development and greater reliance on cross-border infrastructure and trade between isolated regions of Zaire and neighbouring countries (North Kivu-Rwanda, South Kivu-Burundi, Shaba-Zambia).
Until 1976, the growth of GNP had been positive; however, in 1976 the GNP stagnated and by 1989 registered a negative growth rate: 1989-1.3%, 1990-2.4%, 1991-7.2%, 1992-10.6%, & 1994-16.2% (3). By 1994, the annual GNP per capita was $125 US, some 70% less than that of 1958, making Zaire the fourth poorest country in the world (4). The negative GNP performance is attributed to the acute political and constitutional crisis. The climate of general instability and charges of corruption surrounding the HCR-PT and the transitional period also discouraged much-needed foreign investment, which was cut off altogether in 1993. In mid-1994, the existence of two parallel governments and the lack of a consolidated effort towards economic reform resulted in Zaire's suspension from the International Monitary Fund (IMF).
The decline in GNP was also a direct result of the declining state of Zaire's production infrastructure which was and is for the most part outdated, obsolete and beyond repair. In 1971, the "Manifeste de la Nsele" nationalized almost all foreign businesses in a process called "Zaireanization", which lead to the further decline of the business sector (4). The 1991 and 1993 looting sprees struck a further blow by destroying what little production capacity remained.
Devaluation of the Zairean currency has plagued Zaire since independence but was exacerbated by the transitional period, which fueled hyperinflation through the 1990s. The new currency, Nouveau Zaires (NZ), was introduced in 1993 at a time when the old Zaire (Z) note was trading at over 8 million Zs to $1 US. Since 1994, Zaire has experienced an annual inflation rate of 24.000% and a monthly rate of 9.000% (5). By December 1996, the new currency was trading at 140,000 NZ to $1 US; however, the currency of most commercial transactions is the US dollar. In support of Tshisekedi's fight with Mobutu over the issuing of bank notes, the Kasai region refused to accept the new currency and continues to use the old Zairean notes that are now pegged to Kasai's diamond production. Ironically, because of the lucrative diamond production and an overall increase in prosperity, prices remained stable in Kasai's capital, Mbuji-Mayi, despite soaring inflation in other parts of Zaire (5).
The capture of eastern Zaire has not only demoralized the population but has also created commodity shortages and further price hikes. Residents of Kinshasa have already been forced to substitute beans for meat following the outbreak of ethnic conflicts in the Masisi (North Kivu) cattle region and are now being forced to seek a further substitute for Kivu beans with the fall of the Kivu regions to ADFL rebels. Pay raises granted to civil servants in 1990 have been eaten up by hyper-inflation. By June 1996 civil servants earned the equivalent of $5.75 a month, fueling both corruption and stagnation.
C.2 Mineral Sector Mineral exports have always been the principle contributor to GNP and the black market economy. Frequently, four main minerals alone have accounted for 60-80% of Zaire's overall exports (4). Much of the mineral wealth: copper, tin, silver, uranium, cobalt (60% of global production), manganese ore & tungsten is located in the Shaba region, while most of the diamond reserves are in the Kasai region and gold in Haut Zaire.
In 1960, the Shaba mineral giant Gecamines, known as Union Miniere du Haut Katanga prior to nationalization, accounted for 60% of Zaire's exports. Production from Gecamines, already suffering from a lack of international investment as well as outdated and obsolete equipment, was further hit by the loss of a substantial portion of its miners in the ethnic violence that erupted in the Shaba region from 1992-3. As 10,000 Kasai workers fled the region, copper and cobalt production slumped. Copper production fell by 90% from 1976 (502,000 tons) to 1993 (50,000 tons) (6). Overall mineral receipts have dropped and diamond smuggling is booming; some 80% of the diamond production is believed to be exported illegally (5). Much of the gold fields are currently under the control of ADFL rebels who have so far been unable to exploit their potential.
C.3 Agricultural Sector Zaire has the potential to be not only self-sufficient, but a net exporter of food. The agricultural sector's contribution to GNP, which has historically been weak, has been in a steady rate of decline over the last 30 years. Overshadowed by the abundance and easy accessibility of mineral wealth, the development of Zaire's potential agricultural wealth has never been a government priority. Food crops are mainly cassava, maize, plantains, peanuts and rice; while cash crops include coffee, tea, sugar, cocoa, rubber, oil-palm and tobacco (5).
Prior to 1960, this sector contributed 30% to GNP and employed 70% of the work force (7). In the post-colonial period large plantations were appropriated by the state and allowed to deteriorate from a lack of investment. Competition from more lucrative mining jobs drained away the pool of agricultural workers. By 1991, 40% of the population lived in urban centers as compared to 24% in 1966. As a result, agriculturally fertile regions became increasing dependent on exports from other regions. As infrastructure declined and access to distant markets became impossible, rural populations in many regions such as Equateur, Haut Zaire and Bandundu reverted to subsistence farming and agriculturally-rich Zaire became a net importer of food.
North and South Kivu, now under control of ADFL rebels, were the only remaining agricultural regions with a significant export capacity. Because of the favourable climatic conditions, the Kivu regions have always attracted an unequal percentage of international agricultural development programmes and investments. Hence, its production capacity did not mirror the dysfunctional state of other regions. Despite the loss of foreign investment in 1993 and the deterioration in the road network, it remained a significant export region providing basic staples via air transport to the regions of Kinshasa, Kasai and Shaba as well as with neighbouring countries.
C.4 Hydroelectric Power The Zaire river (ex-Congo) carries the second largest volume of water in the world. The undeveloped Equateur region's hydroelectric capacity could potentially provide enough electricity to cover all of Africa's current and future electrical needs. The Inga hydro-electric dam built in 1987 near the port of Matadi, Bas Zaire, currently provides power for the Shaba and Kasai mining industry; however, further industrial growth was been hampered by an erratic and insufficient electrical supply. Zaire currently exports power to the Congo, and South Africa has also expressed an interest in purchasing power. A smaller hydro-electric power station was built at Mobayi-Mbongo in the Equateur region on the border with the Central African Republic in 1989 but has not been significantly exploited.
D. SOCIAL Zaire's education system in most rural areas has come full circle. As in the early colonial period, the education system is, for the most part, once again run by religious agencies and only available to the few who can afford it. The non-payment of teachers' salaries resulted in the closure of schools in many rural areas throughout the early 1990s. Precarious health services continue to exist in some rural areas. Medical personnel have survived the non-payment of salaries through fee or barter-for-service arrangements and the sale of medication. Moderate malnutrition rates are as high as 40-50% in some areas, even in agriculturally-rich Kivu. Vaccination programmes have been halted with the expectation that Zaire will see a resurgence in preventable childhood diseases (4). The lose of health and education services have further fuelled the desire for greater economic autonomy from Kinshasa.
E. MILITARY While the armed forces are estimated at 60,000 strong, many speculate that a significant number of the soldiers registered on the payrolls are false names whose salaries go to their officers. Although Mobutu came to power through an army coup, he maintained his power through the Israeli-trained Division Special Presidentielle (DSP) most of whom originate from his Nbandi tribe in Equateur. Relative to other military units DSP soldiers are well paid and better equipped, which has ensured their loyalty and superiority when called on to quell rebellions by other army units.
Mobutu divided control of the various military units among generals, whom he shuffled frequently. Few commanding generals were considered professional soldiers and, although feared, they commanded little respect from their soldiers.
Mobutu's control over the rank and file has been waning
since 1990. Salaries for some units have not been paid
in years. Resentment and anger have festered among
soldiers who are unable to support their families,
lack essential equipment and supplies, and are poorly
trained for combat. Extortion of the local population,
who view them more as an occupation force, is often
their only source of income. Because of growing animosity
towards the government, arms stores are closely controlled
Most of the above information was gathered from news and wire services, the
journal 'Africa Confidential'and interviews with various local sources.
Other sources include:
1. 'Zaire', Africa South of the Sahara, Europa publication Ltd., 1994, p.946-956
2. Unpublished Report by UNDP Kinshasa, 1996
3. Africa Confidential, 19 Jan. 1996, Vol. 37 No.2, p.7
4. 'Zaire-Country Profile', The Economist Intelligence Unit 1995-96
5. Africa Confidential, 16 Dec. 1994, Vol 35 No.23, p.1
6. Africa Confidential7 Dec. 1990, Vol.31 No.24, p.5
7. Untitled Docuement, Country profile of Zaire
8. 'Ethnic Confict in North Kivu', Law Group Report, 1996
9. 'Che Guevera and the Congo', The New Left Review, No.220, Nov./Dec. 1996,
10. 'Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Zaire', UNCHR, 16/09/96
11. 'The Coming of Kabila', NewAfrican, No.349, Feb. 1997, p.12-13
This report is part of a series of briefs designed to assist the humanitarian community undeerstand the complexity and history of the current situation in Zaire. Part I: List of Key Political Players was released on 24.02.97. Part III: Zaire Who's Who and Part IV: Eastern Zaire Who's Who will be released 27.02.97.
The above has been compliled from varied sources and in no way reflects the views of the United Nations.
Nairobi, 27 February 1997
[Via the UN DHA Integrated Regional Information Network. The material contained in this communication may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN DHA IRIN Tel: +254 2 622123 Fax: +254 2 622129 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer.]
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 1997 08:53:16 +0300 From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <email@example.com> Subject: Zaire: IRIN Briefing Part II, 27 Feb 1997 97.02.27 Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.3.91.970226173628.8294Afirstname.lastname@example.org>
Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
|Previous Menu||Home Page||What's New||Search||Country Specific|