Date: Thu, 15 May 97 13:22:32 CDT
From: "Workers World" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: U.S. Relations with Kabila
Via Workers World News Service
A Volatile Mixture: Behind Washington's Maneuvers in Zaire
By Deirdre Griswold, in Workers World, 22 May 1997
A new phase has opened in the struggle in Zaire. Until now, U.S. capitalism's attitude toward Laurent Kabila, nominal leader of the rebel forces seeking the overthrow of Mobutu Sese Seko, has been not just friendly but downright eager.
However, a move by Kabila to nationalize a railroad in mineral-rich eastern Zaire is being criticized in the big-business press here.
Perhaps more significantly, funding for the rebel troops-- who until recently seemed to have unlimited financial and military resources--has dried up, at least for now. They are reported to have run out of cash just when they were ready to take the capital, Kinshasa.
The alliance's shortage of hard currency is so acute, the May 9 Wall Street Journal reported, that "the rebels yesterday were forced to pay foreign pilots with bags full of the nearly worthless currency printed by Mr. Mobutu."
Many of these pilots are from the United States. They had been promised payment in dollars.
U.S. GOT FAT MINING CONTRACTS
Just a month ago, as the rebels ousted troops of the Mobutu regime from the mineral-rich eastern provinces, U.S. and Canadian mining executives flocked there to sign huge contracts with Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo/Zaire (AFDL). There were reports in the business press of Western managers welcoming the rebels.
The government in Kinshasa wasn't even dead yet. But royalty payments from foreign companies were already bypassing Zaire's capital and going directly to the AFDL, providing it with ready cash at a critical moment.
From the Wall Street Journal to Reuters, there were reassuring reports to rich investors that the rebels were ready to privatize the part of Zaire's fabulous mineral wealth controlled by the state mining company, Gecamines.
American Mineral Fields, headquartered in Bill Clinton's home town of Hope, Ark., clinched a billion-dollar deal with the AFDL to exploit the huge Kolwezi copper and cobalt reserves and a new zinc mine at Kapushi. This quashed an earlier bid from Anglo-American Corp. of South Africa.
The U.S. House of Representatives expressed its satisfaction with how things were going on April 17, unanimously passing a resolution calling for Mobutu's resignation. White House spokesperson Michael McCurry made it very clear that the United States wanted to "move beyond President Mobutu."
There were daily reports of rebel troops advancing on Kinshasa.
But on May 5, a day after the ailing Mobutu had been maneuvered on board a ship for face-to-face talks with Kabila brokered by the U.S. and mediated by South African President Nelson Mandela--things changed.
INVESTORS WORRIED BY KABILA MOVE
In Lubumbashi, the mining capital of southeastern Zaire, Kabila's forces announced to Sizarail--a consortium of South African, Belgian and Zairian interests--that they were nationalizing the company's rail line, a strategic part of Zaire's infrastructure.
This move "sent a worrying signal about the rebels' economic policies to foreign companies that are eager to do business in this mineral-rich country," wrote Robert Block from Lubumbashi in the May 6 Wall Street Journal. Kabila's move was made "in a moment of euphoria" as the AFDL troops were moving on Kinshasa against little opposition, a source in the rebel alliance told the Journal.
"The move casts a fog over the rebels' economic policies," concluded the Journal reporter.
A day earlier, Block had written of strains in the AFDL. He quoted a "senior military official involved in the civil war" as saying, "One of the biggest problems that Mr. Kabila faces is that he doesn't have his own army."
The Journal continued: "Since the rebellion began in October, Mr. Mobutu's government has charged that troops from Uganda and Rwanda have done most of the fighting. Mr. Kabila has always denied that outsiders were waging his war. But now, rebel officials, confident that the war is nearly won, have started to talk openly about the presence of foreign soldiers in their ranks."
Block wrote that in recent months, 25,000 young men have been recruited into the rebel army. However, "the bulk of the fighting has been done by foreign troops with significant combat experience. ... The highly disciplined, Tutsi-led units from Uganda and Rwanda have provided the steel for most of the rebels' offensive. They also seem intent on having a big say in the peace."
In a report on May 9, Block went further: "Rwandan Tutsi forces have played a leading role in the Zairian rebels' war effort," he wrote.
Kabila flew to his meeting with Mobutu in Uganda's presidential jet, according to Reuters.
LITTLE ROOM TO MANEUVER
Kabila was for many years a critic of Mobutu. But he did not built a national liberation movement, let alone an army. Given this relationship of forces within the AFDL, Kabila's room to maneuver seems extremely narrow.
Until now his allies needed him to give a Zairian face to the war. And it didn't hurt that he could claim a history of opposition to Mobutu.
Kabila's move to nationalize the railroad was evidently taken on an impulse when it seemed as though Mobutu was finished. It was probably meant to strengthen his position by appealing to the Zairian masses.
But it does not appear to have pleased his well-armed associates in the AFDL. They see it as a blunder that could endanger their close relationship with the United States.
That Washington has been giving overt and covert support to Uganda and Rwanda is no secret in Africa. It is part of a much larger offensive by U.S. imperialism to gain hegemony in central Africa at the expense of French imperialism in particular. France has lost ground as regimes it supported in Rwanda and Zaire have crumbled.
While U.S. military involvement in this process has been covert, the U.S. ruling class has recently gone out of its way to show political support for Uganda. Even as Ugandan troops were on the offensive in Zaire, Hillary Rodham Clinton made a high-profile visit to Kampala at the end of March.
And, to add substance to style, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank then promised to cut $385 million from Uganda's external debt.
There are bourgeois elements from Mobutu's political structure who are ready to switch loyalties. Clinton's Special Envoy Bill Richardson, who brokered the Mobutu- Kabila meeting, is already calling for a "transition" government to include elements from the Mobutu camp.
And, always ready in case things go badly for them, both the U.S. and French imperialists have troops poised in the area, supposedly to evacuate their nationals in an emergency.
U.S. imperialism is also looking warily at the part Angola played in the war. Angola suffered for many years from a brutal war conducted by the CIA puppet Jonas Savimbi. Mobutu, who was originally installed in Zaire with CIA backing, also supported Savimbi. In 1994, Washington brokered a peace agreement. But Savimbi, who still controls an area of Angola that is rich in diamonds, has refused to abide by it.
Angola has sent troops to protect its large oil installation in Cabinda, an enclave separated from the rest of the country by a slice of Zairian territory. News reports say Angolan troops are fighting alongside the rebels. But the Angolan government denies this. However, Angola has every reason to want to see an end to Mobutu's rule.
Even as diplomats like Richardson talk of ensuring a "peaceful transition" in Zaire/Congo, it is the struggle of Western capitalists to control its rich resources that has submerged this important country in war and grief for over a century. In colonial times, this was done openly and boastfully. Today, the looters come in business suits with advice on human rights and democracy.
Yet, with all their experience in taking over and dominating the oppressed countries, these exploiters can make mistakes and overreach themselves. The fall of Mobutu may well open up a bigger struggle that cannot be contained by imperialist diplomacy or threats.
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