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The euphoria which surrounded Laurent Kabila after he had deposed the late Mobutu Seso Seko has long since vanished. The former Zaire is splintering apart and opportunists are grabbing everything in sight. What can Kabila do? Can he do anything at all or is he merely a puppet? MILAN VESELY knits together the pieces of an intriguing puzzle to produce this portrait of a nation in turmoil.

A stalled human rights investigation, expulsion of its UN investigators, newspaper editors arrested, rebellion in the eastern provinces and forced confiscation of property - Zaire under Mobutu Sese Seko? No - The Democratic Republic of the Congo under President Laurent Desire Kabila. Even seasoned Africa watchers are surprised at how fast the euphoria over Mobutu's overthrow has evaporated, not just in the Congo itself; but also in the US State Department, the European Community and The World Bank.

That it happened so quickly can be attributed to three factors - President Kabila's actions since assuming power, the Congo's cultural and geographic diversity, and the self interests of bordering countries. Each one of these factors is serious enough to affect the Congo's resurgence individually. When combined, they are accelerating the disintegration of Africa's potentially richest nation.

Not all observers agree. "Give Kabila and his government a chance," the venerated President Nelson Mandela of South Africa urged in a speech to reporters after President Laurent Desire Kabila's swearing-in at Kinshasa's soccer stadium. "They inherited a disaster and it will take time to organise."

Vice-President Paul Kagame of Rwanda was even more blunt. "The West has double standards," he stated. "On the one hand they supported Mobutu for over 30 years while he sucked the Congo dry, and on the other hand they expect Kabila to turn that around in months."

"The problem is Kabila doesn't have the luxury of time," a knowledgeable British Foreign and Commonwealth official said. "The Shaba, Kivu, and Kasai provinces virtually governed themselves under Mobutu. Unless new roads, schools, and social services spring up almost instantaneously, these areas will attempt to secede. After all, these eastern provinces individually are economically viable and are the size of most European countries."

Even more pointed was the opinion of a Ugandan delegate present at the Great Lakes Region Coordination Meeting. "Kabila should have stopped after capturing Kisangani and Lubumbashi, declared a new Congo Republic, and let the squabbling politicians in Kinshasa fight over the dregs," he observed.

So why didn't the 56-year-old Kabila do the politically astute thing? Like all the 1960s generation post-colonial African nationalists, Kabila is a product of his environment. Born a Luba in Katanga (now Shaba) province, President Laurent Desire Kabila studied political philosophy in France. A protege of Mr Patrice Lumumba, the Congo's fiery first Premier, Kabila turned Marxist, returned to the Congo and was implicated in the Simba (Swahili for lion) massacre of 2,000 civilians in Stanleyville (now Kisangani) following Mr Lumumba's assassination, supposedly by the CIA. He then formed the Party of the Revolution in opposition to Mr Mobutu. For the next 30 years he fought an ineffective bush war from the Fizi mountain area bordering Lake Tanganyika. More local war-lord than revolutionary, he played host to the Cuban guerrilla leader Che Guevara in 1965, kidnapped and ransomed three American students and a Dutch researcher in 1975, and got rich smuggling gold.

"It was no way to gain the practical realism of someone like President Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, which is what the Congo now needs," a Belgian Foreign Office official points out.

Even more revealing are Che Guevara's observations on Mr Kabila. "He displays none of the required discipline of a dedicated revolutionary and is too addicted to drink and women," Guevara wrote of Kabila in his diary decades ago. Despite this, some had optimistic hopes when Kabila's ADFL forces took Kinshasa in a relatively "soft landing" in May of this year. Among these was Representative Mr Bill Richardson, the UN Security Council President. Echoing Mr George Moose, the US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, he said: "Kabila shows promise of learning from his mistakes and becoming more tolerant in accepting diverse viewpoints."

Five months later, even the most optimistic cannot say that, after the Kabila regime has banned opposition parades, massacred thousands of Hutu refugees, stalled a UN human rights investigation, and now demands its expulsion.

Perhaps the most enlightening insight into Kabila's character can be deduced from the time he controlled the Babembe tribe in the Fizi mountains. "Kabila loathes the Catholic church for its widespread influence and used to burn what he called "witches" at the stake for resisting his ruthless domination," says Mr Celestin Bembe, referring to Catholic priests and nuns. Mr Bembe, a leader of the Babembe Democratic Alliance, now fights Kabila's army around Bukavu and Goma in the same region where Kabila launched his own rebellion.

So what kind of a country is this 92,000 square miles of pivotal, mineral rich, and multi-tribal Democratic Republic of the Congo?

Consisting of some 250 tribal groupings, each with their own hereditary structures, the Congo is geographically two different countries. In the east the copper, gold, cobalt, and diamond producing provinces of Shaba (previously Katanga), Kivu, and Kasai Oriental/Occidental are the financial bread-basket of the Congo. Without their mines, the Congo is not economically viable. In the west lies Kinshasa, the seat of government, and south of that, the port of Matadi in the Bas Zaire Province, the main outlet to world markets. The infrastructure of these developed western provinces soaks up the money earned by the less developed eastern half of the country.

Therein lies the problem. "To bring these culturally diverse, multi-tribal and economically different areas together requires a tolerant acceptance of a wide spectrum of political opinion," said Mr Etienne Tshisekedi, the now muzzled but popular opposition leader. "And Kabila shows no sign of grasping this," he adds.

To complicate Mr Kabila's problems, the eastern regions have a history of resistance to the central government. Many of the Katangese that opened a second front from Angola in the attack on Kinshasa are sons of Katangese who fled Mr Mobutu's repression after the 1969 death in an Algerian jail of their revered leader Mr Moise Tshombe. Fighting for Kabila was a way of coming home and fulfilling their fathers' dreams of an independent Republic of Katanga.

New repression by Kinyarwanda (the language of Rwanda) speaking Tutsi soldiers has already triggered violence around Lubumbashi. Mr Kabila's heavy-handedness in replacing Mr Gabriel Kyungu wa Kumwanza, the popular Katangese Governor, with his own cousin, Mr Gaetan Kakudji, has alienated these experienced fighters further.

To the north, in Kivu Province, the feared Mai Mai warriors - who go into battle adorned only with war paint and trinkets such as faucets, and who believe that their witchcraft makes them impervious to bullets - have already captured the regional centre of Buyakiri. Closing in on Bukavu, the administrative centre, they assassinated the Military Commander at Bukani airport on 4 September, and are now threatening to capture Goma.

"A new rebellion is underway less than six months after Kabila overthrew Mobutu," Mr Paul Stromberg of the UNHCR said in announcing the withdrawal of his organisation's operations in the area. To complicate matters, ex-Mobutu regulars have regrouped with Rwandese Hutu Interahamwe to start their own guerrilla uprising. So have the Babembe, Mr Kabila's old partners, who formed their DRA guerrilla organisation while in exile in Tanzania.

But Mr Lionel Kanyamuhanga, the Goma regional Governor, is confident that the government can deal with these rebellions. "We are in the process of picking up all the bandits . . . security will be complete," he was quoted as saying on 18 September by Ms Dianna Cahn of Associated Press. Most observers however believe that Mr Kabila's use of Rwandese and ethnic Banyalamunge Tutsi to put down these uprisings will only exacerbate the situation as the Tutsi are traditional enemies of the Mai Mai and Bembe tribes.

"What a mess," a US Aid official says, "and it can only get worse. Mr Kabila simply lacks the statesmanship to resist Rwandese and Ugandan pressure for a military solution, even if he could understand that the problem requires a political concept."

When Vice President Paul Kagame of Rwanda detailed Rwanda's involvement in the toppling of Mr Mobutu, he confirmed what had been common knowledge. It was the battle-hardened Rwandan and Ugandan Tutsi regulars that spearheaded Mr Kabila's victory. Crossing into the Congo via Cynaguga and Ruzizi in eastern Rwanda, their initial purpose was to build a buffer zone to deny the genocidal Hutu militiamen a sanctuary from which to make a come-back. When Mr Mobutu's army turned out to be a "paper tiger" a decision was made to go all the way. To disguise their invasion they used Mr Kabila as a figurehead, called it the Alliance of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL), and labelled it an indigenous uprising.

Just as significant was Angola's involvement in Mobutu's overthrow. Determined to wipe out Mr Jonas Savimbi's Unita supply-line in their own 30-year civil war, the Angolans armed exiled Katangese and together with their own crack MPLA units, opened a second front on Mr Mobutu's southern flank. This bottled up Mr Mobutu's army in a desperate bid to protect Kinshasa. Equally critical was that it saved Mr Kabila's ADFL having to fight through a thousand miles of almost impenetrable jungle.

Of lesser significance was Zambia's involvement in the ADFL's capture of Lubumbashi in the south west. Their logistical support ensured Zambia future access to southern Congolese markets.

Kabila's nightmare is that his backers - Uganda, Rwanda, Angola, Burundi, and Zambia - each have differing agendas. Calling in their IOUs, their military forces have assumed de facto control over strategic areas of the Congo which they are increasingly assimilating into their own countries.

"Kabila is a king with no kingdom," Mr Boniface Ndunge, a Goma businessman reiterates. "And even worse, a king with no army. As soon as his masters don't need him as a front, he's gone."

Just as crucial is the financial factor. Having control over the mineral producing areas of the Congo, the peripheral countries are now milking them dry. Already there is a diamond selling office in Kigali, even though Rwanda has no diamond production of its own. The same goes for gold and coffee which are enhancing the coffers of President Yoweri Museveni's Uganda. In the southeast, Zambia's copper production figures are enhanced by supplies from the Congo, and in the southwest, Angola's diamond stocks are absorbing Katanga's production in repayment for military services rendered.

Even if President Kabila were astute enough to funnel development into his rebellious provinces, he doesn't have the finances to carry it out. The World Bank is aware of this and development aid is not forthcoming. Doubt exists regarding the Congo's repayment ability. That is why no government is rushing to curry favour with the Kabila regime. Only businessmen with limited cash injection and short term exploitation plans are prowling the Kinshasa Hilton corridors.

One further factor limits development aid. Both the United States and the European Community link aid to Mr Kabila's human rights record. Since Rwandese Tutsi forces committed most of the generally acknowledged atrocities against Hutu refugees, Rwanda and Uganda are pressing Mr Kabila to stonewall the UN investigation. They have nothing to gain and everything to lose.

Furthermore, as the rebellions against Mr Kabila gain strength, only the Rwandese and Ugandan Tutsi forces have the disciplined ability to suppress them. The Congolese army, made up of the same tribesmen as the rebels, cannot be relied on. This leaves the new government in Kinshasa proverbially "between a rock and a hard place"!

One final problem restricts President Kabila's ability to make hard decisions. From day one, the eastern Tutsi who brought him to power, surrounded him with their own. Almost half of Kabila's ministers are Tutsi or from affiliated Tutsi clans. In a futile attempt to counter this, Mr Kabila appointed himself Minister of Defence and head of the Army. Unfortunately it's someone else's army! Even if Mr Kabila had the political will to negotiate with opposition groups, he might not be able to do so.

While Mr Kabila continues to wear the crown, others, with sometimes diametrically opposed aims, continue to exercise real power. When the dust has finally settled, whose hand will it be on Congo's fabulous mineral riches?
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Title Annotation:Democratic Republic of the Congo President Laurent Kabila
Author:Vesely, Milan
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Nov 1, 1997
Previous Article:Landmines and lazy diplomats.
Next Article:IMF - anti-corruption champion?

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