Zaire: Nation Editorial, 4/21/97

Zaire: Nation Editorial, 4/21/97

Zaire: Nation Editorial
Date distributed (ymd): 970421
Document reposted by APIC

[The following editorial first appeared in The Nation, 28 April 1997, pp. 4-5. It is reproduced here with permission of the authors. Any print or other commercial reproduction is expressly forbidden without prior permission of the authors, who can be reached c/o]


By Carole J.L. Collins and Steve Askin

For the first time in the century of chaos that began when Belgium's King Leopold brutally invaded central Africa, Zaire -- the former Belgian Congo -- may be on the brink of peace.

Editorialists are cranking out tired old nostrums about the threat of "chaos" and the "need for dialogue" to end the current rebellion against Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. They ignore the fact that Mobutu's kleptocracy, a rule by theft created with U.S. connivance more than three decades ago and sustained by military repression, has been nothing less than an instrument of constant war against his own people. At press time, Mobutu had appointed an army general as prime minister to put down protest in Kinshasa, the capital.

For this moment, at least, we should rejoice with the Zairian people at the rapid advance of rebel forces led by Laurent Kabila and his Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire, which just took Zaire's second-largest city, Lubumbashi. By banning bribe-taking and intimidation and insisting on disciplined behavior by its own soldiers, the A.D.F.L. is bringing more order to daily life than many Zairians have seen in decades.

This does not mean that the world should be overly sanguine about what future A.D.F.L. rule might bring. Many Zairians and international observers question the A.D.F.L.'s commitment to democracy, its possible involvement in major human rights abuses, its limited ethnic and regional base, its growing use of "re-education camps," its restrictions on aid to desperate Rwandan refugees and its continuing dependence on Rwandan and Ugandan military support. But these questions pale before the far greater cumulative damage Mobutu has done -- and could still do -- to his people before his regime is swept into history's dustbin.

What can and should the US do at this juncture to best help Zaire's people? First, it must do no harm. This means our government must no longer equate Mobutu's government and the rebel alliance as if they are equally legitimate parties. The United States must increase its pressure and unequivocally demand Mobutu's immediate departure. Allowing him and his cronies to prolong and manipulate peace talks to buy time to regroup their political and military forces would be disastrous. We must also not let concern for the dire situation of Rwandan and Burundian refugees provide cover for Mobutu and his allies' efforts to halt the popular rebellion against his rule.

Second, negotiations on a transition to a credible post-Mobutu government must not be limited to a dialogue between Kabila and Kinshasa-based politicians. Even veteran oppositionist Etienne Tshisekedi, stripped for the third time of the prime ministership by Mobutu as we went to press, is no substitute for Zaire's human rights and women's groups, development groups and community peace campaigns. In cities and rural areas across Zaire's immense vastness they have already begun to model democracy at a grass-roots level. Helping their embryonic democratic experiences "trickle up" to national levels is the surest path to genuine democracy.

Third, we must stand up to those cynical Mobutu apologists -- most notably in the French government -- who are pushing the U.N. Commission for Human Rights to launch a one-sided investigation of "rebel massacres" and other human rights violations while ignoring or downplaying such abuses by Mobutu's forces, his genocidal allies from Rwanda and his mercenaries. This would be like focusing solely on human rights violations of South Africa's Africa National Congress while ignoring the pervasive horrors of apartheid that made the A.N.C.'s struggle necessary.

Last, and most important, we must own up to -- and make restitution for -- our government's own crimes in Zaire. The United States, Western European governments, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and many international corporations knowingly conspired to loot Zaire. These all "lent" money to Zaire by the billions, carefully watched and monitored as Mobutu stole it, then cynically demanded its repayment. Mobutu, of course, obliged, squeezing debt service funds from a destitute population in his periodic bouts of structural adjustment.

The debts are Mobutu's, not Zaire's. Just as the United States supports efforts to reclaim wealth stolen by the Nazis, it must help a future legitimate Zairian government reclaim its national treasure. This means Zaire's foreign debt, if not totally forgiven, should be repaid by the corporations and individuals who conspired in Mobutu's criminal pillage of Zaire's treasury. It also means that the West should join in a systematic global search to locate and claim for the Zairian people the bank accounts, palaces and villas, and other wealth that Mobutu and his cronies have stashed around the globe. (Recently, a Swiss Member of Parliament proposed freezing Mobutu's bank accounts, arguing that they belong to the Zairian people. The Swiss government refused.)

These are radical steps. But nothing less will serve to meet our responsibility for the horrors that began when the C.I.A. helped kill Zaire's first and only genuine attempt at democracy by conspiring in the death of that nation's only democratically elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba.


Carole J.L. Collins, a journalist and former American Friends Service Committee Southern Africa representative, and Steve Askin, a financial investigator, have written extensively on Mobutu and his ill-gotten wealth.


Additional resources:

* The "Statement of U.S. Policy toward the Crisis in Zaire," which was distributed through the Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List on March 29, has now been posted on the Africa Policy Web Site, along with a list of signatories through April 8. The URL is

* A 14-page report dated March 20 from Human Rights Watch/Africa and the Federation Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l"Homme, entitled "Attacked on All Sides": Civilians and the War in Eastern Zaire, is available from Human Rights Watch/Africa Publications Department, 485 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10017-6104 for $3.60 (domestic shipping) and $4.50 (international shipping). A brief summary of the report, which documents cases of abuses by all parties against civilians and calls for a full and independent investigation into additional allegation, is available on the gopher site of Human Rights Watch at gopher://


From: Message-Id: <> Date: Mon, 21 Apr 1997 22:04:10 -0500 Subject: Zaire: Nation Editorial

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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