excerpted from the article

Mobutu Was "Choas"

The downfall of a U.S. third world client

By George Wright

Z magazine, June 1997


[President] Mobutu [Sese Seko] has dominated Zairean politics since the United States orchestrated the overthrow of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in 1960, soon after he came to power in that country's first national elections. The United States opposed Lumumba's nationalist and non aligned policies, and simplistically viewed him as an extension of the Soviet Union's foreign policy. While serving as Lumumba's army chief-of-staff, Mobutu carried out the CIA-backed coup d'etat on September 5, 1960, in which Lumumba was dismissed, and played a central role in Lumumba's assassination in January 1961.

Lumumba's assassination sparked populist uprisings in different parts of the country, forcing the U.S. to decide on the best way to contain those revolts. Between 1961 and 1965, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations supported several civilian governments to prevent the Lumumbists from gaining political power, while still backing Mobutu. The U.S. also promoted a paramilitary campaign which used anti-Castro Cubans and white mercenaries to defeat the populist revolts. In 1965, the political strategy was questioned after President Joseph Kasavubu dismissed Moises Tschombe and appointed Evariste Kimba prime minister. The Johnson administration perceived Kimba to be a Lumumbist. Therefore, a second coup d'etat was carried out, putting Mobutu into power. By 1967 the pro-Lumumbist elements were effectively suppressed. Since the 1965 coup d'etat Mobutu has been among the most autocratic, repressive, and corrupt dictators in the Third World, commanding a kleptocracy that has siphoned billions of dollars from the national treasury.

In addition to backing Mobutu, the United States considered him vital in protecting the enormous mineral wealth (cobalt, copper, diamonds, gold, cadmium, and uranium) that French, Belgian, South African, and United States multinationals exploit in Zaire. In fact, the United States came to the defense of his regime whenever Mobutu was threatened by militant opposition. The U.S. rationale was that if Mobutu lost power, Zaire would revert into "chaos." The U.S. often collaborated with France and Belgium in those operations, despite competing interests the three countries might have had at that time.



Angola to Zaire's southwest is also integral to the developments in Zaire. Both the Angolan government (headed by Eduardo Jose dos Santos) and Jonas Savimbi, who heads the Union for the Total Independence of Angola, were preoccupied with developments in Zaire. Because the internationally sponsored peace agreement in Angola was not completely resolved, owing to Savimbi's refusal to participate in a government of national unity with the Angolan government, the threat of renewed violence existed. Savimbi had been dependent on Mobutu since the mid-1970s when Zaire sided with the unsuccessful covert U.S. operation aimed to prevent the MPLA from gaining control of Angola. Throughout the 1980s, Mobutu allowed Zaire to be a conduit to supply UNITA with weapons and munitions, as Savimbi destabilized Angola in concert with South Africa. Subsequent to the 1992 Angolan elections, in which Savimbi was defeated by the MPLA, UNITA used Zaire as a base for its renewed attacks on Angola. Savimbi understands that, if Mobutu's regime collapsed, he would lose Zaire as a base for his machinations. The Angolan government supports the ADFL as a means to finally end UNITA's military lifeline, as well as Zaire's support for secessionists in the oil-rich Cabinda Enclave.


A Post-Mobutu Zaire?

The optimism ... among Zaireans and the Zairean exile community has not been felt in that country since the 1960 national elections. The imminent end of the Mobutu regime breeds hope. But what will the post Mobutu Zairean political culture look like? The United States wants a political transition based on power sharing similar to that implemented in South Africa. Even if Mobutu disappears, the U.S. wants his cronies to participate in the transition, leading to multi-party elections. The U.S. is also trying to discredit Kabila, to prevent him from assuming power, by claiming that he lacks experience as a political leader. The U.S. is doing this because it does not know exactly what the self-proclaimed ex-Marxist will do once he gets power. The U.S. ploy is suspect (witness the long list of political leaders it has supported throughout the Third World. Despite Mandela's lack of experience in governing, the U.S. had no problem supporting his presidency).

Over the past seven months the ADFL, under Kabila's leadership, has not only stated what it intends to do in a post-Mobutu government, but has also given an indication of how the ADFL will govern. The primary message the ADFL has propagated is that it wants to eliminate Mobutu's kleptocracy, rid the country of all vestiges of Mobutu's Zaireanization project, and oppose "tribalism." Politically, the coalition is committed to multi-party elections. Kabila has assured the international community that the ADFL would prevent any regional secession, although he also claims the ADFL will extend greater autonomy to the provinces. As for the economy, Kabila claims the ADFL will pursue free market policies. He has also assured businesses that the ADFL wants multinational corporations to stay in Zaire and help rehabilitate the country; negotiations that the ADFL has already conducted with numerous corporations reinforce this.

However, a post-Mobutu Zaire faces an enormous task for the future. The most pressing problem will be establishing a democratic political system without ethnic bloodletting and vendetta. In recent African history, the hope of political change has often tragically reverted to extreme violence; Ethiopia, Uganda, and Angola are traumatic examples that come to mind. How the new leadership will address the legacy of hatred and violence rooted in colonial and neo-colonial rule will be crucial. This will require an adept political hand, one that Kabila seems to possess based on his performance since October 1996. Moreover, if peace and stability can be achieved in Zaire, perhaps political stability can be sustained throughout the Great Lakes region, the Sudan, and Angola.

The other problem facing Zaire is the reordering of the economy away from the nation's wealth being siphoned to the multinationals and Mobutu. That can be accomplished by establishing honest, efficient, and ac countable politics. This implies commitment to a national development plan, which aims to rehabilitate and reconstruct the social and economic infrastructure of the country. Zaire, rich in minerals, hydroelectric power, and fertile soil, has the resources. This also implies that the new regime must foster a populist democracy where women's groups, the human rights community, grass roots organizations, and the rest of civil society all have a say in the distribution of resources. This also means that the United States and the international financial community should consider all of Mobutu's wealth as stolen and it should be repatriated to the country.

The problem with that scenario is that Zaire's 'second independence" isn't happening in the 1960s and the 1970s, where the Cold War allowed space for nationalist projects to consolidate (particularly in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Angola between 1977-1979, despite U.S. hostility). Instead, it is happening in the late 1990s, a decade characterized by globalization, structural adjustment, neoliberalism, and GATT. The U.S. foreign policy imperative has been to smash any nationalist development project, while the international financial organizations (IMF, GATT, etc.) destroy any vestige of national sovereignty, forcing countries to further integrate into the world capitalist system and subscribe to the neo-liberal prescription. The political mechanism for achieving this has been U.S. defined "democratization," the system the Clinton administration is trying to drive down Kabila's throat at this very moment. Recent history has shown that the United States will not let up until those goals have been achieved. If Kabila can prevent the United States from making these economic and political determinations, perhaps Zaire's "second independence" may be the keystone to African resistance to the "New World Order." If Kabila doesn't succeed, things will get worse.

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