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Date: Mon, 19 May 1997 12:01:19 SAST-2
Subject: Will Kabila be a dictator?
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Will Kabila be a dictator?
A position paper by Professor S. N. Sangmpam, Syracuse University, 15 May 1997
The debate about the post-Mobutu era is about governance and who should control power. Many proposals, most of which revolve around elections, the Kinshasa-based opposition, and Tshisekedi, have been made. Understandably, the thought of Kabila's rule has raised fears about his dictatorial leanings, lack of experience, dependence on Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania, and so forth. I argue in this "position paper" that Kabila and his Democratic Forces Alliance (AFDL) constitute at this juncture the only best option open to the Zairian people.
Kabila and AFDL are not the first to challenge the Mobutu regime. Since 1965, when Mobutu took power, there have been countless attempts to either overthrow the regime or to weaken it. In addition to the 1960s popular rebellions in Mulele's Kwilu and the Eastern regions, of which the Kabila movement is a remnant, there have been such imagined or real plots as the Kudiakubanza plot, the 1975 coup monte et manque, and the 1978 coup in which military officers were implicated. One also needs to mention the student movement of 1969, the Shaba invasions by the Angola-based Front National de liberation du Congo of 1977 and 1978, the 1978 peasant uprising in Idiofa, North Shaba and Kivu, the dramatic defections of Mobutu's closest allies and aides such as the regional commissioner Monguya, ambassador Mbeka, foreign minister, director of the political bureau of MPR and prime minister Nguz, and others such as Kamitatu and Mungul-Diaka, who called for the overthrow of the Mobutu regime. Since the 1980s, the opposition has taken a democratic facade. More than foreign pressure for democratization, there has been an internal resistance movement initiated in 1980 by Etienne Tshisekedi and his colleagues in the MPR-controlled legislature. In a fifty-one-page open letter to Mobutu, Tshisekedi and his colleagues vigorously denounced the policies of the regime and their effects on the Zairian population. The group later was instrumental in the "democratization" process by creating an opposition party, UDPS. When, in 1990, the Mobutu regime was pressured by its foreign donors (the USA, France, and Belgium) to introduce democratic reforms, UDPS and other "radical opposition" parties pressed for change, in contrast with those parties associated with Mobutu's MPR.
However praiseworthy many of these opposition and resistance movements may be, the harsh reality is that they all failed. Obviously, repression and crude violence played a role in the failure. But the reason for the failure, and indeed, for the effectiveness of the repression, is to be ascribed to the "nature" of the Mobutu regime itself. To be sure, Zaire is not a "sui generis" case; its type of state is similar to other third world states--which I have called an "overpoliticized State." But countries differ because of their regimes. Under Mobutu, the Zairian regime was a clientelist regime, relying on a network of clientelism. Internally, a network of clientelism was constituted in which Mobutu, his kins, and selected closest allies (e.g., Kengo), regardless of their regional origin, were "patrons" vis-a-vis a host of "clients," who were officials, ministers, bureaucrats, university professors, military officers, and businesspeople whose material survival depended almost entirely on the patrons, who tightly controlled all major economic and political resources. The clientelist relationship was based on the norm of reciprocity. Whereas Mobutu and other patrons provided the clients with financial, economic, and other resources, including the license to steal without fear of legal repression, the clients, in turn, provided Mobutu with political support. This internal network of clientelism was supported by Foreign powers (USA, France, Belgium), which provided economic, military, and other resources.
This network of clientelism explains why all the above opposition and resistance movements failed. Indeed, in the internal clientelist network, the masses (peasants, workers, unemployed, and students) were the "outsiders," who could be and were easily repressed thanks to the support accorded Mobutu and the patrons by their clients and foreign powers. Although Mobutu and the patrons depended on the political support of the clients, in a situation of scarcity in which Mobutu controlled almost all economic resources, including crude wealth (gold, diamonds, and cobalt), the clients depended more on Mobutu and the patrons than the latter depended on the clients. As a result, whenever the clients attempted to withdraw their support (e.g. the above mentioned defections of his ministers and aides), they became easily vulnerable to economic and material hardship wherever they lived. Aware of this dependence, Mobutu easily took advantage of them. Because clients were kept in an insecure position, they used their ethnic or other backgrounds to denounce each other, which explains the purge and the "discovery" of plots in the army and the dismissal and counterdismissals of many of the clients. Yet, as disfavored clients attempted to form an opposition, Mobutu easily coopted them back by providing them with material resources often via ministerial appointments through which they could enrich themselves. One understands, then, why all the aforementioned officials, who fled, came back to support Mobutu, and why such a high level of manipulation of economic resources deeply impoverished the country. Once they reintegrated the clientelist network, and being fully aware of the hardships suffered during the "opposition" time, the clients became even more pliant to Mobutu's wishes. Under the circumstances, no genuine opposition was possible since the temporary absence only allowed the clients to wait for reintegration in the circuit. The 1990-96 "democratic" stalemate, including the defection of former UDPS members and the formation of a plethora of "parties," reflects perfectly this situation. The end result was the strengthening of the Mobutu regime.
This means that the Mobutu regime could not be changed or overthrown by the type of Kinshasa-based opposition described above. Only a military frontal attack of great magnitude, in a changed international context, could accomplish such a goal. Kabila and AFDL provided the means for such an attack, and they have succeeded. Should they rule the country or not? To better answer the question, let us examine the three possible power-holding scenarios.
Scenario 1. Hold Elections Immmediately after the Military Victory
Holding elections, even without Mobutu involved, means in effect holding elections under the Mobutu regime without Mobutu, by simply adding the Kabila Alliance to the already existing myriad of political parties . Indeed, the Mobutu regime, built for the last thirty two years, and based as it is on a network of clientelism, cannot be dismantled by the sheer fact that Mobutu himself is out of power. Mobutu may be out, but the patrons of the clientelist network are still present, so are all the clients. Recall that Kengo, who has fled to Switzerland, has maintained that he expects to go back to Zaire to run when elections are held. Although the Kinshasa-based "radical opposition" may maintain its relatively anti-Mobutu stand during such elections, pro-Mobutu parties will run on their Mobutist platform. It is almost a sure guarantee that the clientelist logic that prevailed under Mobutu, which has deeply structured the behavior of both pro-Mobutu parties and the "radical opposition" will lead, if not to extremely violent and rigged elections, at the very least to a stalemate of the kind that has been experienced since 1990. This situation is even more likely when the Kabila Alliance is added in the mix. Indeed, once faced with the fundamentally anti-Kinshasa reformist platform of AFDL, the Kinshasa-based opposition (pro-Mobutu and "radical opposition" alike) will close ranks against Kabila by relying on their shared clientelist roots and experiences (note that most of the "radical opposition" members were part of the clientelist network from which they benefited immensely). This common front against Kabila is already in the making when one remembers that the current "transition parliament" has requested, as a way of countering Kabila, the reinstatement of Monsengwo, the former speaker, who was repudiated because of his complicity with Mobutu. If cornered, AFDL is likely to retaliate militarily with severe consequences. In either case, immediate elections lead to a dead end. Within the entrenched Mobutist clientelist logic, partisan and electoralist politics are inconsitent with and deadly for transition politics.
Scenario 2. Allow Tshisekedi to govern
The role played by Tshisekedi in opposing Mobutu since 1980 is well known. Indeed, unlike many of his colleagues of the early UDPS days, who defected to the Mobutu camp, Tshisekedi has more consistently maintained his opposition to Mobutu. For this reason, he became, for a savior-starved population, a messiah. For his valiant effort, he deserves praise and credit. Nevertheless, a Tshisekedi rule is not recommended for two reasons.
First, regardless of his consistent opposition, Tshisekedi is an unwilling partner in clientelist politics (not to mention the nonverified fact that, through his son's marriage, he is now linked to the Mobutu family). That he was elected/appointed three times prime minister and fired three times by the Mobutu forces after only short stays in the office is revealing. Within the clientelist politics of the Mobutu regime, Tshisekedi is highly vulnerable. Because the Kinshasa-based opposition directed against him flows directly from clientelist politics, Tshisekedi is an easy target for both the patrons and clients, which makes him impotent. As soon as he assumes office, the forces that have opposed him since 1990 will be set in motion against him because they know his basic weaknesses. The ethnic card played against Tshisekedi during the stalemate period attests to this situation, a direct result of clientelist politics of opposing clients against each other. Tshisekedi, in other words, will not be allowed to govern, a badly needed commodity during the transition period.
Second, a Tshisekedi rule would mean that Kabila and AFDL, who provided the necessary (and almost sufficient) condition for the overthrow of Mobutu, are deprived of political power that they wrested away from Mobutu. Two consequences will follow. The first consequence is that Kabila and AFDL, who, unlike Tshisekedi, control military might, will be tempted in the face of Tshisekedi's resistance to use military force with deadly implications. The second consequence is that, facing the Tshisekedi opposition in Kinshasa, Kabila and the Alliance might be forced to retreat to the Eastern part of the country (including Bandundu and Kasai) which contains the agricultural and mineral wealth of the country, leaving Tshisekedi only with the impoverished and barren capital city, Kinshasa. In either situation, the country would reach a dead end.
Scenario 3: Allow Kabila and AFDL to govern
Kabila's reported brutal behavior toward his fellow combattants and especially his failure to deal more forcefully with the Rwandan Hutu refugees are legitimate reasons for concern. They need to be addressed in the broader context of the Zairian-Rwandan-Burundan and Hutu-Tutsi-Banyamulenge relations. Despite this, Kabila and AFDL remain the viable option for Zaire for the following reasons.
First, because Kabila and AFDL were not part of the clientelist politics of the Mobutu regime, and because they control the only viable military force, they are better suited than any other political group to govern during the transition period. These two reasons allow them, unlike any other group, for a 3-year-transition period to dismantle the Mobutu regime and its clientelist politics. Such dismantlement would involve severe punishment for both patrons and clients of the Mobutu regime, the confiscation of their stolen wealth, and the establishment of a legal and coercive mechanism that would render them completely inoffensive. Dismantling the Mobutu regime is a sine qua non for establishing the minimum of economic, social, and political infrastructure during the transition period. This minimum is, in turn, a prerequisite for viable elections and a new start for an economy debilitated beyond recognition and repair.
Second, Kabila's extensive relations with Rwanda and Burundi, hence his familiarity with the explosive Tutsi-Hutu-Banyamulenge relations, and the very involvement of Tutsi in his army, rather than being a hindrance, present Zaire with a unique historical opportunity to solve the problem, including the possibility of total political unification of the three countries. No other group in Kinshasa is able to deal with the issue.
Third, Kabila and AFDL offer a net advantage in reorienting Zaire's foreign relations. In the clientelist network that prevailed under the Mobutu regime, three foreign powers played a major role for different reasons. Belgium did so to maintain its colonial interests and links. France intervened in an attempt to supplant Belgium, which is part of a broader scheme to maintain its dream of a "middle" superpower. The United States did it for reasons of superpower interests. For space reasons, this issue cannot be fully explored here. Suffice it to say that of the three, France has been the most detrimental to Zaire (and indeed to Africa).
The relative weight of Belgium's colonial interests in Zaire, its relative dependence on them, and its lack of any continental ambition have made Belgium very cautious in its dealing with Zaire. As goes Zaire, so goes the bulk of Belgium's economic interests. For this reason, Belgium was able to accept the fact that Mobutu's rule and its attendant form of governance was often detrimental to Belgian interests. As a response, Belgium did not always support Mobutu. One recalls its lukewarm support of Mobutu for the 1977-78 Shaba Wars and, more recently, its open support for Kabila. America's long involvement in Zaire and its negative side effects are well known. But this involvement is part of superpower interests, which, although detested, is to be understood in light of what we know of the international system. The latter, in its ancient and contemporary forms, has always relied on one or two superpowers, depending on the historical moment, which impose order and hegemony consistent with superpower interests. In this sense, US involvement in Zaire is consistent with superpower missions. American support for Mobutu was part of superpower interests of the Cold War era. Neither Zaire nor any other country of the world can escape this reality, which does not mean that countries should not find ways to protest against the superpower's encroachments.
France's policy, in contrast, is part of a strategy of chasing an elusive status of a "middle superpower" via the "francophonie" and an assertive neocolonial policy toward Africa. The strategy consists of competing against the superpower, the USA, for Africa's favors and to replace former colonial powers such as Belgium in their former colonies. The results are particularly and far more destructive for Zaire (and Africa). Indeed, the competition against the USA and Belgium led to France's total communion and complicity with the Mobutu regime, whose favors it sought. France's involvement in the Shaba War and its hopeless support of Mobutu in the face of Kabila's advances are a testimony. This complicity was strengthened by the overall France's African policy, which, through an inferiority/superiority complex and deep dependence ties imposed on "francophone" leaders, has created what may be called a "French-supported committee of wrongdoers," who support each other. This explains why Morocco's Hassan II, Gabon's Bongo, or Togo's Eyadema support Mobutu. Moreover, by constituting itself as the rescuer of Zaire and the "rightful" intermediary between Zaire and the United States, France paternastically provides Zaire and other African countries with an illusion of economic and political security. It reduces Zaire's capacity to compete in the international economy, in which increasingly only hard work pays off as shown by Asian and other countries, or to compete equally and confidently with other countries for whatever benefit can be derived from direct relations (and not by the intermediary of France) with the world superpower.
There is, then, need to completely remake Zaire's relations with France. Because of their "francophone" attachments, Kinshasa-based opposition groups do not have the independence nor the willingnes to undertake such a task. By contrast, given their relations with Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda, all of which have displayed an independent stand vis-a-vis France, Kabila and AFDL are uniquely qualified to reorient Zaire-France relations.
Will Kabila be a Dictator?
The answer is no. In addition to the obvious fact that the need to rebuild Zaire's economy will require foreign assistance, which is now almost universally subordinated to democratization, one needs to mention the paradoxically crucial role the opposition, which I questioned above, will have to play. Recall that Kabila will have three years for the transition to establish the basic infrastructure and to dismantle the Mobutu legacy. In committing themselves to the dismantlement of clientelist politics, Kabila and AFDL accept ipso facto a new role for political parties, including a constructively active participation in the framing of the new constitution that will serve as the document of reference for governing the country after the three years of transition. Moreover, the three-year transition will allow opposition parties to reorganize themselves and sharpen their messages and platforms. (In fact, AFDL and other major parties should attempt to incorporate into their structures, through persuasion and the force of argument and policies, many of the current "parties"). This new role assigned to political parties and the relatively entrenched opposition tradition among the masses who suffered under Mobutu will constitute a formidable deterrence against any dictatorial moves at the end of the transition period. Indeed, faced with this formidable opposition in the waiting, which they themselves nurtured, Kabila and AFDL have only two options open to them. If they succeed during the transition period, they will be elected at the end of the transition for a normal term in office. If they fail, another party will be elected to succeed them at the end of the transition period. These constraints will prevent Kabila from imposing dictatorship for the following reasons.
First, for dictatorship (or authoritarianism) to be a successful form of rule, it requires an elaborate strategy of implanting it. Much time is needed, as shown by the Mobutu regime and other similar types of rule. Because Kabila will have three years at most, during which the urgent task of establishing the basic infrastructure (if only for his own chances of being elected) will preoccupy him, he will not have enough time to develop an authoritarian or dictatorial regime.
Second, Kabila and AFDL will not have recourse to military force if they do not win elections at the end of the transition period because, contrary to what would happen if they were barred from ruling after their military success against Mobutu, they will have had three years to show whether they are competent or incompetent. After three years of transition, which will have mobilized a more sophisticated opposition, any attempt at supporting a bad policy record via dictatorship is doomed to fail. In any case, one of the political infrastructure to be established by the transition government with the assistance of the opposition parties will be the new constitutional role assigned to the army. Because such a role will differ from that assigned to Mobutu's personalized army, Kabila will be perforce deprived of the means to personalize the army for dictatorial purposes.
Third, the claim that Uganda's Museveni or Rwanda's Kagame will prevail on Kabila, and might actually lead him to adopt their brand of authoritarian rule does not stand up to facts. The complete defeat of the Mobutu army in the face of Rwandan and Ugandan armed support of Kabila's forces is ascribable to Mobutu's clientelist politics. After a three-year transition period, during which the opposition will have become more assertive and participant in the framing of the constitution of Zaire, neither Rwanda nor Uganda will have the means or the willingness to impose their will on Zaire. They can only advise but cannot dictate their policies.
For all the above reasons, common sense and compassion for the suffering masses of Zaire dictate that we (including people, like me, without any party affiliation in Zaire) lend our support to Kabila and AFDL.
For comments contact:
Dr Alex Tindimubona;