Date: Tue, 31 Dec 96 08:41:49 CST
From: rich@pencil (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Zaire: Interview with Kass Kasadi
/** headlines: 114.0 **/
The Liberation Movement in Zaire Takes Off
Interview with Kass Kasadi, 25 December 1996
Zaire has received a lot of media attention in the past few months. This attention has mainly been directed toward a specific region in the east of the country called Kivu province. The fate of the refugees has deterred people's attention away from the background leading up to the current situation. While the UN security council already revised the scheme to send peace keeping forces, a plan suggested to them by the would-be Africa expert and Secretary General Boutros Ghali, experts in the European Union vehemently demanded the installation of peace keeping troops for humanitarian reasons. Would a deployment of international blue helmets bring about a solution?
NEWSLETTER asked Zairain political scientist Kasadi, co-founder of the Zaire Information Centre in Germany, to explain the development of the situation and the motivation of the conflicting parties. Mr. Kasadi is also of the opinion that the world is currently witnessing a historical moment in the Zairian saga. The liberation movement is taking off determined to expel the real executioner of the refugees and hundreds of thousands of other people in Zaire: the dictator Mobutu. This interview was conducted by Bernd Schneider.
NEWSLETTER: Mr. Kasadi with your background as a political scientist and your decades-long involvement in the opposition to Mobutu, did the escalation of the conflict in eastern Zaire catch you by surprise?
KASADI: Not at all, the word escalation is already misleading. The conflict in eastern Zaire is not new. Thousands of people have become victims to Mobutu's attempted displays of power in this area for decades. Therefore, the long-lasting resistance is rather a typical example for the movements we can observe in many central African countries.
Eastern Zaire was never controlled by Mobutu. This area has been one of the most resilient strongholds of Patrice Lumumba, the hero of Congo's independence, since the 1960's. After Mobutu's coup d'état in 1965 and take-over of power in the capital of Kinshasa, parts of the opposition retreated to the mountains at Lake Tanganjika. Mobutu's army have never succeeded in conquering this safe haven for the past 30 years.
NL: The opposition troops fighting in this area are Lumumbists?
K: The alliance is composed of four parties. On October 18th, 1996 the parties Parti de la Révolution Populaire (PRP), Conseil National de Résistance pour la Démocratie (CNRD), Mouvement Révolutionnaire pour la Libération du Zaïre (MRLZ) and Alliance Démocratique des Peuples (ADP) signed a joint protocol to unite them in the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération (Congo-Zaïre). In this protocol, they declare the armed struggle as being the only way to eliminate the Mobutu dictatorship. The opposition's objective is to reinstall an order in accordance with the constitution from the time of Lumumba.
NL: You are saying, the opposition define themselves through their political position and not based on their ethnic identity?
K: Exactly. The Alliance define themselves through their political goal and this goal is clear: Mobutu's system has to go as a pre-condition for the return of democracy. Putting this rebellion into an ethnic context does not make any sense at all. In reality, the people leading the movement come from completely different parts of the country.
NL: How did this conflict articulate itself over the past decades?
K: The most visible incidents are the numerous massacres committed by government troops. Such brutal massacres occurred frequently in the 70s and the 80s and also in the more recent past. They were intended to be a demonstration of power in 'disobedient' provinces. This happened not only in Kivu, but also in other provinces like Katanga, Shava, Bandundu, or Kasai that were never really under Mobutu's control. But also in the capital Kinshasa the regime used brutality to silence the opposition. However, these incidences never made global headlines. The images of the current fightings are extensively covered, because western media have a leaning towards human interest stories like the refugees.
NL: Were cities like Bukavu or Goma also not controlled by Mobutu?
K: In big cities like Bukavu the situation was slightly different. However, the majority of the population lives in rural areas. There Mobutu and his governors always had less influence. The current movement has developed from the bottom to the 'top'. Cities were ruled from the 'top'. This has changed in the liberated areas.
Within a very short time the opposition forces liberated an area more than 900 kilometres in diameter. This was only possible, because the people living there were longing for their liberation. Today, the troops of the alliance are approaching the gates of Kisangani. The city's population is reported to be looking forward to their arrival. In response, the DSP ( Division Spéciale Présidentielle) have implemented daily punitive actions against ordinary soldiers and civilians. It shouldn't be forgotten that people living there stood aside Lumumba and Kabilas thirty years ago. Although these people have become older now, they still shape public opinion in the region.
NL: If the population had this attitude for so long, then why did the Alliance choose this particular point in time as the right moment to take up the armed struggle?
K: Two factors above all contributed to this decision. Firstly, there was the assessment of the state of army. During his entire rule Mobutu ordered purges to get rid of forces that were organising against him. He literally inherited the army from colonial structures, still there have always been forces in favour of democratisation. Due to the purges, the relationship between the dictator and the armed forces was never completely at ease. Evidence of Mobutu's mistrust toward the army are the substructures that the dictator established within the forces. He purposely used the principal of reward and punishment and unequal payment to play the units against each other. The last step in the strategy was finally, the establishment of his presidential guard, DSP, an elite corps which he used to control the army. In recent years, ordinary privates didn't even get their wages, which unfortunately led to numerous pillages. The soldiers became armed gangs controlling the streets of the cities. The opposition correctly interpreted the level of demoralisation of the troops at this point in time. The soldiers refused to fight. Many soldiers in fact changed sides; for instance, 700 paratroopers surrendered without firing a bullet in the city of Beni in the province of Haut-Zaire.
Secondly, it became known that Mobutu himself had plans to wage an attack. A secret meeting took place at the Sheraton Hotel in Kampala, Uganda in December 1995. At this meeting a plan was drawn up to launch a destabilising attack on Uganda and Rwanda in December 1996. Mobutu is the attacker. He hoped that in context of an unstable situation, he could present himself once again to the international powers as the one keeper of stability in the region. After this plan was leaked the opposition made the decision to initiate a preemptive strike instead of taking the risk of being run over in the chaotic frontlines.
NL.: And haven't there been measures of the Mobutu system aimed directly against the Banyamulenge, e.g. taking away the right to Zairian citizenship from them?
K.: This is an interesting question which, unfortunately, is often improperly dealt with in Zairian media as well. The first constitution after our independence stated clearly that every person that had been living on congolaise territory prior to independence day has a right to the citizenship of Congo. Since Mobutu seized power he has tried twice in 1981 and 1995 to violate the letters of the constitution. Now he did it again, and again he bears in mind to destabilise a region first and then pop up as the keeper of stability.
This is the context in which he instrumentalises even the refugees in eastern Zaire as pawns sacrificed on his political chess board. He himself prevented repeatedly the return of the refugees to Rwanda, or Burundi respectively. He forced these people into continued hardships in order to gain political (and indirectly financial as well) profit from their situation. You could observe that these people returned home in large numbers, as soon as the ring of troops holding them as hostage was broken by the opposition forces.
The recent decrees issued on this region by the parliament, in which Mobutu controls three quartes of the seats, must be considered as an attempt to play against each other the large numbers of people in the area competing for food and resources. These decrees were directed mainly against the farmers in the Muleng mountains. When these farmers were deprived of their citizenship they responded by saying: "We are Zairians and now we have to defend ourselves! We must protect ourselves against the imminent genocide!"
The expulsion of the Tutsi officially started with the launch of "Operation Café" in spring 1996. In Kivu, this "ethnic cleansing" was committed by the DSP, the SARM (Service d'Actions et des Renseignements Militaires) and the SNIP (Service National d'Intelligence et de Protection). You can find a comprehensive description of the situation in the most recent report issued by United Nations special rapporteur Roberto Garretin in September 1996.
NL.: You are saying that they do not fight as "Tutsi against Zairians", but as Zairians struggling for their civil rights?
K.: Of course. However, the term "civil rights" is quite relative in this context, since the entire population is currently deprived of these rights. Therefore, the opposition explicitly named as objective of its fight the abolition of the dictatorship. Most media and western literature dealing with Africa overemphasise the question of ethnic background. The repeated presentation of a "fight between Hutu and Tutsi" is nothing but a simplification. Let me repeat it: in the leadership of the movement which is named by western observers an uprise of the Banyamulenge, you will not find a single Tutsi. Kabila comes from north Katanga, André is from Kasai like myself, Nindaya is from north Kivu, but non of them is Banyamulenge. What unites them in their fight is their clear political aim: the removal of the dictator Mobutu. This is the political basis of the Alliance. As one side in this conflict they do receive external support, for instance from Uganda and Rwanda. But external support is nothing new for conflicts of that kind at any place in the world. Which successful armed resistance movement did not receive external support?
NL.:But does the support from Rwanda pursue the same objectives like the opposition?
K.: Rwanda certainly has an interest in destroying the bastions of the reactionary forces of ex-dictator Habyarima. There has been a continuous noise from these camps threatening to reconquer power in Rwanda. When the mentioned attack plans of Mobutu became known in Rwanda, a co-operation with the opposition forces to launch a pre-emptive strike was a close option. By this time, Mobutu had already started to deploy unofficial government troops in the region along the border. They consisted of the Mogrivi militias, officially commanded by Kengo's education minister Sekimonyo Wa Magango, Interahamwe militias and ex-soldiers of the Rwandas former dictator. Therefore, Rwanda's government and the Alliance had diverging aims, but also a common enemy at this point in time.
NL.: If these forces were able to unite, why is it than that the Zairian opposition appears to be so split? In Kinshasa even the more liberal media print articles against the "foreign aggression". The elected leader of the opposition in the transition parliament, Tshisekedi, called for donations for the Zairian army. What caused this seeming change of mind amongst former enemies of the dictatorship?
K.; If this appears to you like a change in mind, I should take this opportunity to clarify the intention behind Tshisekedi's argumentation. He has asked the population for support for the people serving in the army. These people are Zairians, they belong to us. The many who now turned their back to the front need clothes and food. A man hoping to govern Kinshasa in a short time cannot afford to appear in front of the public and demand the death of maybe 40,000 Zairian soldiers. He made an effort for members of the forces, but not for those willing to fight at the front. In an interview Thisekedi recently gave in France (interesting enough) he stressed that "we will not fight against the troops of Kabila." "Not a single Zairian shall shed his blood in eastern Zaire, because this is an internal conflict." In 1982, Kabila's party, the P.R.P., contributed to the founding Tshisekedi's party, the leading opposition party in Zaire UDPS. Of course they communicate with each other. In a statement presenting the general political aims the Alliance clearly states that they are prepared to negotiate with the forces united in the radical opposition. Some representatives of this opposition like Olengankoy, are now imprisoned in Kinshasa and charged for collaboration with Kabila.
Another aspect is that especially the people living in Kinshasa are more hesitant with a decision to join in a protest, after living thirty years under Mobutu. In the provinces and in particular in eastern Zaire the situation looks quite different.
NL.: It is difficult to understand why the people in Kinshasa, who suffered for so long under the plague of armed soldier gangs should all the sudden develop solidarity with the Zairian army.
K.: This is only the image you learned from international media wires. The people followed neither the call for donations from the billion dollar thieve Mobutu, nor those of opposition leader Thisekedi. The ordinary people are against it. One must separate two aspects here. The parts of the army that stopped fighting are considered as part of the population. As individual citizens they are offered support in order to gain them for the opposition. But the fighting troops and Mobutu's special forces do not get any support. The position of the opposition is as such: in order to put an end to the suffering Mobutu has to resign. If he does not it is him being responsible for the ongoing hardships.
NL: Mobutu is dying. His cancer of the prostate did progress. Recently he received surgery in Switzerland and, after being expelled from there as an unwanted person, he received chemotherapy at the Côte d'Azur in France. Although he returned to Zaire just before Christmas, he probably won't survive the next couple of months. Can all this that is currently happening in Zaire be the beginning of a new order following the era of Mobutu?
K.: Yes. It has been known for long that Mobutu is suffering from cancer. First rumours appeared already in the late seventies. This means that the question for an order following the time of Mobutu does exist for long, as well. Which direction does the current development take? There are two, actually three groups deciding this question. Among them are oppositional people living in exile like myself, there are those people living in Zaire and fighting so passionate against Mobutu, and there are those people who consider themselves as potential heirs of Mobutu and who want to continue the cleptocracy and fight against the opposition. Among the latter are, for instance, many officers of the armed forces. A new order will come and it will be negotiated in the rows of the two groups of the opposition.
NL: What kind of an order does the Alliance strive for after eliminating Mobutu? Will that be a market orientated Zaire? Will it be a federal Zaire?
K.: The opposition in Kinshasa and those fighting at the front, who consider themselves as liberators both refer to the order that existed previous to Mobutu, the constitution introduced by Lumumba. This means to maintain the province structure and a decentralised societal structure. Economically, Zaire shall be market orientated, but with all necessary means to deal with supply shortages from a central level.
NL: You described the situation in Zaire clearly as an internal affair. The most tragic feature of this road to a new order in Zaire is the situation of the refugees in eastern Zaire and their supply problem.
K.: Yes, of course, it is tragic when children and elderly people are dying. But the supply problem does not only exist for the refugees, but for the entire population. Should measures be implemented which are of benefit only for the refugees, then this could lead to distribution clashes with the population. Thirty years living under Mobutu meant thirty years of living with a supply shortage. Only to change the supply situation in the whole of Zaire can put the country into a position to help the refugees. I am not talking about houses or a land shortage. Imagine the size of Zaire. We could host a million people if they were ready to participate in a democratic society. The important thing is, however, to guarantee an even supply in order to prevent possible tensions.
NL: Are you in favour of an international intervention or not?
K.: No. We do not need an international intervention, but we need to be given this opportunity to chase away Mobutu. The money a deployment of UN forces would cost should rather be spend to reconstruct our production facilities., and to reduce the foreign debt burden inherited from the Mobutu regime.
NL: Humanitarian aid organisations estimate the number of people dying each day at 1,800. Are these people being sacrificed for strategic reasons?
K.: They are victims. They are a protective wall for Mobutu and they are being instrumentalised. The opposition forces holded their march on Kisangani in order to protect civilian lives. But Mobutu wants these people to die under the eyes of the world to provoke a decision that this cannot go on and needs UN forces to help, and help Mobutu indeed. In the meantime even the designated commander of the UN forces, Canadian General Barrin, has declared after a meeting with Kabila that he considers a UN intervention not necessary. The Mobutu regime just wants to hide behind the UN soldiers. Did Mobutu call for an international intervention during his expulsion of the Baluba from Shaba, or at other similar occasions? In Zaire today there are more than one million refugees subsequent to ethnic cleansings committed by the Mobutu regime. Important would be to support the liberators after the war.
NL: Mr. Kasadi, thank you very much for this interview.
(translated from German by Nicole Willock & Bernd Schneider)
NEWSLETTER - exclusive interview by Bernd Schneider Reprint or any other kind of re-distribution of this article prohibited, unless permission is given by the author.