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Imperialism and Africa: Where is Zaire headed?

By William Pomeroy, in People's Weekly World, 24 May 1997

The liberation struggle that has brought down the 32-year dictatorial regime of President Mobutu Seso Seko in Zaire will have a deep effect on Africa as a whole, and is producing intensified activities by western powers on that continent.

Installed as ruler with CIA backing in 1965, initially to suppress national democratic forces in the newly-independent former Belgian Congo (renamed Zaire) and then to serve as an intervening bulwark against socialist oriented neighboring countries. Mobutu's usefulness in such a role withered with the ending of the Cold War and of international support for socialist development.

At the same time the enormous corruption of the Mobutu regime which the west tolerated and fostered as long as it was anti-communist, no longer fits the system of exploitation that western transnational companies, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank seek to develop in Africa today.

The exact circumstances that produced the revolt in Zaire are not clear. In eastern Zaire were several fermenting factors. Amidst the Hutu refugees was the armed force (the FAR) that had massacred the Tutsis and was staging raids into Rwanda against the now-Tutsi regime. Widespread reports in Africa and in Europe have declared that the U.S. did the training and equipping of an Alliance army, chiefly at bases in Uganda, partially in Rwanda.

In northeastern Zaire a group of Ugandan guerrillas was based, remnants of the followers of the ousted Milton Obote, their target the government of Uganda headed by President Yoweri Museveni. In addition, in the mountains of eastern Zaire was based the anti-Mobutu People's Revolutionary Party of Laurent Kabila, which had become one of four components of an Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire. Kabila was chosen to head it.

That the armed forces of Uganda and Rwanda entered Zaire to deal with their attackers is likely. That these forces then joined with Kabila's Alliance army in an offensive against Mobutu's army is probable. What is astonishing, however, was the sudden emergence of a well-trained, well-armed Alliance army that swept away the Mobuto troops. How did it materialize?

Uganda's Museveni is presently the most highly praised of African leaders in the west, for making Uganda the most fully compliant to IMF-WB demands. In April Uganda became the first country to win IMF-WB approval for debt relief, occurring as success for the Ugandan role of intervention in Zaire neared.

As U.S. backing for Kabila and the Alliance became increasingly evident, with the U.S. itself calling on Mobutu to resign, France sought repeatedly to mobilize aid for Mobutu. Its efforts to obtain an international U.N. force to intervene in Zaire, allegedly to stop invasion by Uganda and Rwanda but actually to counter the Alliance, were blocked by the U.S. and Britain. A French attempt then to get European Union intervention to prevent a claimed massacre of Hutu refugees by the Alliance in eastern Zaire was vetoed by U.S. ally Britain.

Disapproved by the U.S. and Britain was the recruitment and sending by France to Zaire of a "White Legion" of mercenaries to bolster Mobutu's army. It collapsed when the mercenaries lost heart in a losing battle.

In the French press and in statements of French officials the U.S. has been accused of seeking to oust French influence in Africa. One French official was quoted as saying in bitterness: "The U.S. has three targets: Nigeria, Zaire and South Africa. They will take control of this continent if no one stops them."

As the Alliance drove rapidly across Zaire with little effective resistance, significant features of its policies were revealed. In the early reports Laurent Kabila had been portrayed as a long-time revolutionary, a Marxist with Maoist inclinations, but this soon gave way to an assessment of him as an ex-Marxist who had become an adherent of free enterprise. Underpinning this image were the startling relations developed by the Alliance with big western mining companies.

Within days of the occupation of Zaire's rich mining districts in Kivu, Kasai and Shaba provinces, the mining companies literally flocked to make deals with the Alliance, including the companies with existing contracts with the Mobutu regime, which severed their ties with Mobutu. Alliance leaders almost immediately signed agreements and handed vast mining concessions to the western companies.

The first major deal, significantly, was signed in April with the U.S. company American Mineral Fields, a $1 billion agreement for AMF to mine copper, cobalt and zinc. Most interesting, a large down payment was made to the Alliance, which has been viewed as a form of funding for the rebel movement.

Early in May the Canadian-based Tengke Mining Corporation, which had a contract with the Mobutu regime to mine the huge copper and cobalt deposits of Tengke Fugurume in Shaba, shifted to an agreement with the Alliance, which was given $50 million by the company as an initial payment on the deal, also poured into the funds of the Alliance.

There are two interesting aspects of these and other agreements being made: they are being reached with the Alliance as formal concessions even before the struggle for Zaire has been concluded or a new government established, and they bear the marks of understandings that had been arrived at well in advance. It has not been the common experience of liberation movements.

In an interview Laurent Kabila pledged "to create an economy friendly to private enterprise which will share Zaire's riches with the people." It is difficult to imagine that that is also the aim of the U.S. agencies that reportedly have aided him, or of the big mining companies whose reputation has never been exactly altruistic.

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