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African solution needed for African crisis

By William Pomeroy, in People's Weekly World, 22 March 1997

One of the most significant features of the crisis in the Central African state of Zaire, where rebel forces have rapidly liberated a huge area from the corrupt, despotic regime of President Mobutu Sese Seko, has been the relatively quick collapse of an old imperialist method for putting down anti-colonial movements in Africa: the use of hired white western mercenaries.

During the wave of freedom struggles from the 1950s onward that brought independence for numerous former African colonies, mercenaries were frequently employed to install neo-colonial puppets wherever western companies were determined to retain control of rich mineral and other resources.

The Belgian Congo, as Zaire was called in colonial days, was one of the main areas where mercenaries played this role, keeping the countries huge deposits of copper, cobalt, gold, diamonds, tin and other resources for exploitation by western interests.

In the period from independence in 1960 to 1965 mercenaries were employed by successive neo-colonial collaborators like Moise Tshombe to drown in blood the effort of Congolese progressives to establish a national democratic government. They paved the way for General Mobutu, army commander-in-chief, to seize power in 1965 with western backing and to "stabilize" the situation.

Mercenaries since then were brought back repeatedly to deal with rioting by the hungry, sporadic rebellion, and even Mobutu's own army turned disorderly looters because they were left unpaid as Mobutu himself stripped the country's treasury to become one of the world's richest rulers.

The present crisis in Zaire and the reactions it has created in the rest of Africa are demonstrating, however, that a resort to the hired gun is no longer feasible for imperialism and that forces have developed in Africa itself to settle conflicts peaceably.

Zaire has become an arena of complex struggles for power as a discredited and disintegrating Mobutu regime totters toward collapse. On one level a strong rebel movement, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire, is advancing upon the country's industrial and governmental centers. Besides this internal battle, on another level, a less-visible struggle for big power dominance over Zaire is occurring between France and the United States.

France today is the chief backer of Mobutu, including serving as a bolt-hole for him and his wealth in the event of his overthrow. French sources claim that the U.S. is covertly aiding the rebel Alliance, headed by Laurent Kabila, with an eye to strategic influence in the post-Mobutu regime.

Besides the imperialist conflict, a number of African countries are reportedly involved in the warfare in Zaire. Uganda, Rwanda and Barundi, Zaire's neighbors, are said to be supplying aid to the rebels and even troops, while Ethiopia and Eritrea are accused by France of providing training.

At the beginning of the year an armed force of 300 white mercenaries - French, Serb, Croat, American and British in the main - led by a Belgian officer, arrived in Zaire and took part in attacks by Mobutu's army against the rebels. In less than a month the mercenary force was disbanding and in flight from Zaire. The fact that the mercenaries collapsed when they came up against highly-motivated, well-armed and trained Africans is one indication of the changed conditions in Africa from 30 years ago.

Those changes came to the fore last month when a major initiative was announced by African states to settle peacefully the tinderbox situation in Zaire. The foreign ministers of five African countries - South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswans, with South Africa's Alfred Nzo in the lead - journeyed to Kinshasa, Zaire's capital, to confer with Zaire government leaders. The presidents of the five countries then met in Cape Town where a Zaire government official was also present.

The announcement that came out of these talks was that the Zaire government had agreed to meet with Laurent Kabila, tentatively in Cape Town, to discuss a ceasefire and the holding of democratic elections. In these exchanges the main mediating role has reportedly been played by Thabo Mbeki, the South African deputy president.

This African initiative has occurred significantly while the western powers have been maneuvering for a new arrangement in Zaire. A deal between the U.S. and France is one such move, reported to have been discussed during the Albright visit to Paris. A United Nations intervention has been another western gambit as rebel victories have mounted.

After the announcement for the South African-headed move to bring about Zaire government-Kabila negotiations, the Clinton government hastily dispatched its assistant secretary of state for Africa, George Moose, and a senior member of the National Security Council, Susan Rice, to Cape Town. They are, it was reported, "standing by to help." An African initiative to find an African solution to an African crisis may well have an outcome unlike that intended by the use of mercenaries, or through private imperialist deals.

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