Make friends with Zaire's Kabila

Saturday, 29 March 1997

There is a tide in the affairs of Africa...

IN 1961, the year following his country's independence from Belgium, Patrice Lumumba, first prime minister of the Congo, was assassinated by the CIA.

At the end of the ensuing civil war in 1965, Lumumba's army chief of staff, Mobutu, seized the reins of power in a coup backed again by the CIA.

Since then, propped up by American money and the patronage of every US president from Lyndon Johnson through George Bush, the self-styled President Marshall Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Nbgendu wa Za Banga has carved a path of destruction throughout central Africa.

It was Mobutu from the north who provided the support for Jonas Savimbi's UNITA in Angola. That bloody civil war has resulted in Angola achieving the dubious distinction of being second only to Mozambique in the number of amputees per capita.

Mobutu was responsible for the assassination of Marien Ngouabi, president of Congo-Brazzaville, in 1977. Mobutu's troops supported dictators in Chad. Not surprisingly, Mobutu was called a friend of democracy and freedom by Ronald Reagan in 1987.

But the seeds of his demise were sowed in April 1994, after a fragile peace accord had been brokered between the Hutu-dominated government of Rwanda and the Rwandan Patriotic Front -- Tutsis who had been driven by the Hutu government into exile in neighbouring Uganda.

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But Hutu extremists -- backed by military assistance from the French government and arms supplied by Mobutu -- were not willing to accept a multi-party government, in which power would be shared between Hutu and Tutsi.

They began systematically exterminating their fellow Rwandans. In the space of three months, they murdered at least half-a-million people.

The Rwandan Patriotic Front responded with a major offensive, driving the armies and militias of the Hutu extremist regime into the west of Rwanda, near the Zairean border.

The French obtained approval from the United Nations Security Council to send a military force to Rwanda on a "humanitarian mission".

French forces were too late to stop the murder of the Tutsi, but provided a shield for the Hutu military to escape into Zaire.

In Zaire, with the backing of Mobutu, Hutu militias used "refugee" camps as staging points to attack the new RPF government in Rwanda.

The Rwandan government finally responded by providing support for the Banyamulenge -- Zairians of Tutsi heritage who have borne the brunt of Mobutu-inspired ethnic violence -- led by Laurent-Desire Kabila, who has fought Mobutu for 30 years.

In three weeks, Kabila's forces broke up the camps, driving both the Hutu militias and the Zairean troops away from the border zone and seizing the area's three main cities.

But Kabila did not stop there. He is marching on Kinshasa.

And the Americans and the French and the Belgians are suddenly clamouring for a peaceful resolution to the Zairean conflict.

Why now?

The time for peace with Mobutu has passed. Let him die, be it through cancer or by firing squad. Either way, he's only got about six months.

Mobutu may well believe what Louis XV said: "Apres nous, la deluge" ­ after me, the flood.

But there is a tide in the affairs of Africa which taken at the flood leads on to fortune.

South Africa should lead the world and build a friendship with Kabila -- now -- to ensure that Zaire finally heads towards democracy.