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Western Press Review: Fact -- Mobutu's Zaire Is No More; What's Next?

  • Don Hill

PRAGUE, 19 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary on the fall this weekend of the 32-year dictatorship of Mobuto Sese Seko in what has been known since 1971 as Zaire generally celebrates the tyrant's fall. But the consensus of commentators expresses skepticism about what Laurent-Desire Kabila's new Democratic Republic of Congo portends.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Crucial event in post-colonial Africa

A news analysis by Judith Matloff in today's edition of the U.S. newspaper says that a new hope among the people is unsurprising, given Mobutu's excesses. Matloff writes: "President Mobutu Sese Seko's departure as the leader of Africa's third-largest country is one of the most significant events to shape the post-colonial continent. It alters the balance of power in the region and finally ends any notion of cold-war alliances in Africa." She says: "Mobutu is widely assumed by Western diplomats to have stolen billions of dollars of Western aid, reducing the minerals-blessed country to such a pathetic state that even his own unpaid Army did not defend him."

The writer says: "Mobutu lost control of the situation when he went to France for medical treatment. Ailing and weak, he was confronted with the fact he could not muster up his divided and unpaid army to mount a credible defense against Kabila. The final straw was Mobutu's alienation of his neighbors Burundi, Uganda, and Angola, whose own insurgents he had backed. They joined Rwanda's support of Kabila along with Zambia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe."

Matloff concludes: "Now that rebel leader Kabila has taken power and promised to create a transitional government, there is hope among the people of what is now called the Democratic Republic of Congo."

TIMES OF LONDON: No longer guerrillas but liberators

Writing in an analysis today, David Orr also stresses the jubilation of the inhabitants of the nation's capital. He says: "In the space of a weekend, everything has changed - and changed utterly. The country known as Zaire since 1971 is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. The rebels, who on Saturday marched into the capital, are no longer guerrillas but liberators."

He writes: "In the seven months since they started their insurgency in the remote east of the country, the fighters of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire have crossed 1,000 miles of bush and jungle. They have driven the demoralized Zairean armed forces in disarray before them. There has been little engagement apart from rare occasions in which Angolan, Serb and other mercenaries made a stand against the advancing troops."

Orr says: "A transitional government of public salvation"' is to be established by tomorrow and a multiparty constituent assembly in two months. Elections are due to be held within two years."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Hope for democracy defies experience

Tomas Avenarius commented this weekend that if hope for democracy is great it defies experience. He writes: "The man who was once king of the Congo is fleeing from his plundered empire. His fall took place amid the usual accompaniments. The generals declared their loyalty to their master, the Swiss banks barred accounts from which they had profited handsomely up till then and western diplomats cynically make reference to the cancer which they say will soon solve the Mobutu problem anyway."

Avenarius concludes: "Kabila is said to have commented sceptically on holding early elections, saying a phase of stabilization is necessary. This will come as no surprise to the people of Zaire. Up till now their will and well-being have always counted for little."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Severe looting and revenge plagues the country

Bob Drogin and Mary Williams Walsh write in a news analysis today: "Laurent Kabila's victorious rebel army moved to restore order and consolidate authority across this still-tense capital Sunday on a day marked by jubilation in the streets but marred by looting and revenge killings."

The writers say: "Severe looting erupted in some areas, but most appeared targeted at the lavish homes, cars and property of military officers, politicians and other powerful or notorious figures in Mobutu's hated regime. More worrying was an eruption of lawlessness and mob violence. Bloated corpses lay along several roads, and dozens more were burned in street bonfires by elated crowds eager to avenge years of official armed thuggery in this city."

NEW YORK TIMES: Horrid past precedes uncertain future

Saturday's editorial says that Mobutu's regime was horrid but that the amount of improvement Kabila will bring remains to be demonstrated. The newspaper editorializes: "(Mobutu's) was a destructive and flamboyant dictatorship, sustained with the cynical assistance of the United States and France. Few Cold War alliances reflected so poorly on those involved. Mobutu ran his resource-rich country like a satrap, smothering political opposition, selling off its minerals for the benefit of a few, and demanding a fawning allegiance that often bordered on parody. Washington accepted the abuses as the price of maintaining a Cold War ally, and France was happy to use Mobutu to retain its influence and economic links in Central Africa. Zaire deserves better, but may not get it. Rebels who have fought a successful seven-month campaign will assume power in the days ahead without governing experience or a clear commitment to democracy and the rule of law."

It concludes: "It will take years for Zaire to recover from the Mobutu regime, even under enlightened leadership. An immediate effort should be made to freeze Mobutu's assets in Europe and anywhere else he placed them. His fortune alone could give Zaire an economic boost. The only pity is that his sacking of Zaire did not end years ago."

WASHINGTON POST: New government risks new problems

Writing from Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast, James Rupert analyzes the prospects for free government in the Democratic Republic of Congo nee Zaire. Rupert says: "As Laurent Kabila won his battle to end Mobutu Sese Seko's nearly 32 years of autocratic rule in Zaire, his plans for organizing a tightly controlled government appeared to risk more political struggle. Kabila's rebel alliance said it would install a new government within three days, but it gave no new information about how that government would be shaped. In recent days, however, alliance leaders interviewed at their headquarters in Lubumbashi, in southern Zaire, made clear they plan to keep as much power as possible in their own hands, bypassing the established political elite of Kinshasa, the capital."

The analyst concludes: "Kabila's organizing tactics and some of the rhetoric with which he discusses Zaire's predicament resemble those of the East African leftist movements in which he began his rebellions against Mobutu 30 years ago. As Kabila has emerged from that obscure past to take control of Zaire, he has stressed his commitment to market economics and political pluralism. But he has not expressed a readiness, after so much struggle, to give up power by submitting to fully free, competitive elections."