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Western Press Review: A New Regime For Africa's Third-Largest Nation

  • Don Hill



Prague, 20 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Is Zaire's Laurent Kabila a new African or only a new Mobutu? Western commentary focuses on this question after this weekend's climactic events, in which Kabila's rebels entered the capital Kinshasa and secured their control over the country their leaders have renamed Democratic Republic of Congo.

NEW YORK TIMES: No one took Kabila seriously last October

In an analysis yesterday, Raymond Bonner and Howard W. French contended that to some Kabila's rise seemed sudden. They wrote: "When the Zairian rebel leader Laurent Kabila announced last October that he would topple President Mobutu Sese Seko, almost no one took him seriously. But in a scant seven months, his rebel army conquered a country as large as the United States east of the Mississippi, including thousands of square miles of some of the thickest jungle in the world. The accomplishment is even more staggering considering that the rebels had no mechanized divisions to move troops, no heavy artillery of their own, no air force and, until late in the war, no engineering units to build bridges over raging rivers they had to cross."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The late, unlamented Zaire was a perverse creation of Mobutu

Kurt Kister comments in today's edition that the rebels' first actions can be perceived as cathartic and bold. Or they can be read as merely more of the same. He writes: "At first glance the victors' behaviour appears to tally with what, in Europe, is a widespread cliche about African coups. Laurent Kabila, the man in command of the guns, proclaimed himself president and promptly renamed the country."

Kister says: "Kabila's decision to rename it the Congo is more than just a conqueror's whim. The commander of the ragged but highly motivated rebel militia has physically ousted the dictator; he now wants to eliminate all traces of Mobutu's system, and in this connection elimination is the right word. The late and unlamented Zaire was a perverse creation of Mobutu's, a cruel mixture of the colonial heart of darkness, military despotism and a gigantic family firm."

WASHINGTON POST: Political reeducation will be the first step to holding elections

Lynn Duke writes in a news analysis today that work on building a government appears to be moving soundly. She says: "The rebel movement that toppled Mobutu Sese Seko and seized control of this country (yesterday) took its first tentative steps toward fixing the ruined economy and civic life of this vast capital city."

Duke says: "Two days after a sweep into the city (officials of the rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces) set up headquarters at the posh Intercontinental Hotel. The corridors were filled all day with the anxious din of hundreds of business, political and civic leaders, all awaiting clues on how the alliance will govern."

She writes: "Repeating what alliance officials have said for months, Deogratias Bugera, an alliance spokesman, said (yesterday) that political reeducation in the post-Mobutu era will be a first step to holding elections. Alliance officials say Zairians are beset by a 'spirit of submission and servility' dating from the days of colonialism and exploited further by Mobutu's three decades of callous rule, Bugera said in the alliance's first news conference here.

"Kabila, who remained in the southern city of Lubumbashi (yesterday), is expected in Kinshasa (today) to announce an interim national government, and he has pledged to establish a constituent assembly in 60 days."

NEW YORK TIMES: Kabila wants to establish a multiparty democracy and a free-market economy

The paper yesterday headlined a news analysis by James C. McKinley Jr., "Kabila Fields a Team Short on Seasoning."

McKinley writes: "Now that rebel troops have taken the capital and former President Mobutu Sese Seko has fled, Kabila has enormous obstacles to overcome in forming a government from his relatively inexperienced group of aides. (His) cabinet is a small clique of a dozen childhood friends, academics, professional revolutionaries and former exiles with little or no experience in running a country. So far, Kabila and his top officials have laid out their plans in broad strokes, saying they want to develop the country and eventually establish a multiparty democracy and a free-market economy."

TIMES OF LONDON: African leaders are taking charge of the destiny of the continent

The paper carries today a commentary by Sam Kiley, who says that a new coterie of leaders is taking African destiny into their own hands. Kiley comments: "France's once strong influence in Africa has waned dramatically, with its ally, Mobutu Sese Seko, deposed and on the run. However, if Washington and London believe their African stars are rising, they may be mistaken. For the first time in a century, African leaders are starting to take charge of the destiny of the continent.

"The fall of Zaire to the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire completes a network of friends and allies stretching from Angola to Eritrea who are expected to reshape the continent in an image of their own, and scrub out the colonial map of Africa drawn up at Bismarck's Berlin conference of European powers in 1884.

"By dint of his victory in Kinshasa, Laurent Kabila has joined a growing firmament of African leaders disinclined to take orders from outside powers."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: French commentators insist that Washington financed the rebel blitzkrieg

In today's edition of the U.S. newspaper, Gail Russell Chaddock writes from Paris that French commentators agree that Gallic influence is waning in Africa. In her analysis, Chaddock finds that the French neither credit an African resurgence nor fault a French retrenchment. They blame the United States, she says.

She writes: "When Africa's third-largest nation changed hands over the weekend, it became the biggest event on the continent since the end of white rule in South Africa. But for France and Zaire's French-speaking neighbors in Togo, Central African Republic, Congo, and Gabon -- which had long backed deposed leader Mobutu Sese Seko -- both events signal the same trend: the expansion of Anglophone influence in Africa.

For France, Francophone Africa was the key to its claim to a global role, and Mr. Mobutu was the key to Francophone Africa. France backed him long after other supporters, such as Belgium and the United States, had stepped aside."

She contends: "Most French commentators insist that the 'plot' to overthrow Mobutu was hatched in Washington. They say that the United States financed the eight-month rebel blitzkrieg across Zaire in exchange for access to key mining, oil, and telecommunications contracts, and enlisted South Africa to manage diplomatic fallout."
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