DR Congo

The battle ground in Central Africa



Central Africa Overview
Zaire Watch continues to alert its readers that there are multiple indications that the situation throughout much of Central Africa is growing increasingly volatile. While Zaire Watch does not necessarily subscribe to the "domino theory" as it relates to the rebellion in Zaire, Zaire Watch does subscribe to the notion that much of Central Africa has been the victim of poor governance and declining economies which do create a climate for widespread political and civil upheaval as people seek to improve their quality of life and pursue economic and political freedom.

Alison Campbell of Care (UK), writing for Crosslines Global Report, in association with the International Center for Humanitarian Reporting, was published recently in the Johannesburg Mail and Guardian. Her article, entitled "Missing the point in Zaire," chastises journalist reporting about events in Zaire for casting these events in a misguided stereotypical way. She writes "A last-minute scramble to bring the combatants to the table rests on the usual tenets, including cessation of hostilities, respect for the territorial integrity of Zaire, and the establishment of an electoral process. This is a derisory range of options for the rebels and their allies - a return, in effect, to the status quo against which they took up arms."

She argues that the real problem has to do with a broader range of small conflicts occurring in the Horn of Africa, where multiple rebellious groups are fighting, including "the Lords' Resistance Army on the north of Uganda, the appearance of another Ugandan rebel group, the West Bank Nile Front, the progress of the Sudanese rebels based in Uganda, and their new incursions into Sudan along the Ethiopian and Eritrean borders." She reports that "The northern-most part of eastern Zaire is a confluence point for all of these. In this area, Zaire has oppressed its own minority groups, facilitated Hutu militants against Rwanda, Ugandan rebels against Museveni, and arms flows to the southern outposts of Sudan's Islamic government army. This degree of regional destabilization would not have gone unremarked in, say, a European context where we have an understanding of, and a language in which to explain, its significance." She goes on say "The rebel alliance (ADFL) is now in a position to stop all that, making life easier for their allies Uganda and Rwanda, and somewhat harder for the fundamentalist government in Khartoum, which may, after all, prove to be the true epicenter of the quake that is rumbling."

There are now five major tinderboxes in Central Africa:

Zaire's rebellion is now in full swing and all indications are that there will soon be a major change in governance in that country. Zaire Watch, of course, is watching this very closely. Rebellious army forces have been openly defying African peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) and have periodically clashed with African peacekeepers in the capital, Bangui, which is only some 1,000 km north-northeast of Kinshasa, Zaire and Brazzaville, Congo. It should be noted that while African peacekeepers are patrolling the streets of Bangui, the French have major military installations and substantial military forces in the area with a demonstrated record of coming into the streets to defend the incumbent political regime in that country. The United States has ordered its embassy to relocate to Yaounde, Cameroon and that evacuation is complete. French and CAR officials say agreements for peace have been made, but this has been and will continue to be a volatile situation.

There has been underway for several years a major rebellion in southern Sudan, in the main by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) rebelling against the Islamic government of Sudan. The Government of Sudan alleges that Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea are all assisting this rebellious movement. There are also many allegations that the United States is fully supporting this rebellion, hoping to cause a change in the government in Khartoum, which the U.S. feels is a rogue state sponsor of international terrorism supported by Iran. Sudan's National Defense Council has extended a general mobilization to counter the fighting in the east and the south. There is also a Sudanese supported rebel movement in northern Uganda. Forces of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) are staging attacks against northern Uganda from bases in southern Sudan. The Ugandan Army has sent reinforcements to its northern districts anticipating a major assault after the current rainy season. Finally, there have been reports of disturbances in northern Cameroon by people who are concerned that the Government of Cameroon intends to delay elections planned for October 1997.

Zaire Update

Zaire Watch now believes that the military picture for Mr. Mobutu borders on being hopeless for him and that the battle for Kinshasa has begun. ADFL leader Kabila understands the military picture, support is no doubt continuing from Uganda and Rwanda to finish Mr. Mobutu off, and support is now openly coming from the Government of Angola as well. There is speculation among military observers that Angola might open up a western and southern front to support the ADFL assault on Kinshasa from the north and east. It has always been felt by military experts that the ADFL would need some extra outside help to credibly threaten Kinshasa. ADFL forces are thought to be in Tshikapa in some force, and are also thought to be advancing rapidly into Bandundu province from the north and east. Kikwit appears to be a near-term major target, one whose loss will severely affect the people of Kinshasa psychologically. The ADFL advance into Bandundu province will also affect the people of Kinshasa in other ways, as they get much of their food from this region. The military forces of Field Marshal Mobutu have essentially retreated to the repose of city life within the walls of Kinshasa. Therefore, from a military standpoint, one need only wait as the remaining dominoes of Mobutu's rule outside Kinshasa start to fall in very rapid fashion. Mr. Kabila is confidently saying that he will be to Kinshasa within three weeks. Journalists, the UN special envoy to the region, and the Government of South Africa all say that Messrs. Kabila and Mobutu will meet perhaps as early as April 23 to negotiate a transition. But no one expects much from these meetings. Mr. Mobutu wants to talk about the transition to democracy and elections, and Mr. Kabila wants to talk about Mr. Mobutu's immediate resignation and the immediate transfer of power. Analysts believe that Mr. Kabila recognizes that Mr. Mobutu will not leave according to the Kabila agenda, so they believe Mr. Kabila is making all necessary preparations for the assault on Kinshasa. Zaire Watch believes it is likely that Mr. Mobutu will resign sooner rather than later. His position is simply too dire to stay on, and he risks losing everything for his friends and family.

Western Intervention Force

The Western powers remain in-place. Western allied forces of the United States, Great Britain, France, Belgium and Portugal are in Central Africa in considerable force, staging out of Brazzaville, Congo, and Libreville, Gabon. Belgian forces are located at Pointe-Noire, Congo on the Atlantic Ocean, adjacent to the Angolan Cabinda enclave, and an advanced Belgian force was positioned at Ndola, Zambia, near Lubumbashi. In addition, Belgian forces have reinforced the Belgian embassy in Kinshasa and the Belgian consulate at Lubumbashi. A U.S. Marine detachment has reportedly also entered Brazzaville to join up with military planners and assist in the coordination efforts. The Western allied force levels now deployed to Central Africa exceed 3,000 and perhaps even exceed 4,000-5,000 rapid reaction and highly mobile combat troops equipped with substantial tactical military transports, helicopters, ground personnel carriers and weapons stocks. The USS Nassau Amphibious Ready Group is on station and is to be relieved by the USS Kearsarge, a similar ready group with similar forces. There is some reason to believe the Nassau and Kearsarge may both remain on station for a while before the Nassau departs. If that happens, then American force levels would increase by about 1,300 U.S. Marines and accompanying air power. It must also be remembered that France has some 8,000-plus combat troops located elsewhere throughout Africa, with high force level concentrations in the Central Africa Republic and Gabon in addition to those deployed to Brazzaville and Libreville as part of this "evacuation" operation.

The U.S. State Department has reduced its Kinshasa embassy staff to a reported level of only seven people, and has asked all Americans to leave Zaire immediately. This action would seem to confirm Zaire Watch suspicions that the Western military deployments are for more than simply evacuations. Zaire Watch continues to believe that Western allied forces are planning scenarios that require them to intervene and remain in Kinshasa until a new government can take over. Zaire Watch continues to believe that the Western allies intend to "persuade" President Mobutu to leave power without forcing a fight for Kinshasa. Zaire Watch believes that the Western allies will indeed move in to Kinshasa to prevent or terminate intensive government hostilities against the political opposition or against the people of Kinshasa. The mission would be to defeat the Mobutu military force and stabilize the city. Zaire Watch also believes that the allies will move in to Kinshasa if a major urban battle appears imminent between the Kinshasa government and the ADFL. Zaire Watch believes that the mission there would be to deter an ADFL attack on the city and escort President Mobutu out of the city to a safe haven at Gbadolite or to a location in exile. In both scenarios, Zaire Watch believes that Western forces would quickly turn the city over to the ADFL to enable a Zairean political solution and reconstruction of the entire country.

Kinshasa Report

Two maps of Kinshasa are presented below.

A broad overview of the city to display the three general locations of foreign embassies.

A more detailed map of Central Kinshasa.

Broad Overview of the Kinshasa metropolitan area
The map above is roughly a 9 km by 6 km view of the Kinshasa. The foreign embassies are located essentially in three different sections of the city. First, a word or two about this section of the Zaire River. This section is part of what is known as "The Lower Congo." This section of the river begins at the Chenal, which is a narrow channel located 35 km northeast of Kinshasa. At Chenal, the river separates into two branches to form a large, swampy lake called Malebo Pool. Then, immediately downstream to the southwest, just past Kinshasa and Brazzaville, the river's elevation drops some 900 feet (275 m), making long-distance navigation impossible between the Malebo pool and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. So, in the region of Brazzaville-Kinshasa, the river currents can pose significant problems to the unfamiliar boatmen. The Zaire River is about 2 miles wide in the area of Brazzaville-Kinshasa.

The American, Belgian and French embassies are located in the northeast section of the city, in what is known as Central Kinshasa, which is enlarged in the map below. The British, European Union, German and Swiss embassies are located about 4 km west of the American, Belgian and French embassies. They are located very close to the Zaire River near the Avenue des Nations Unis which runs alongside the river. Then the bulk of the remaining embassies are located just over 1 km south of these near the Avenues Ambassades, Pumbu. and de la Justice and the westward extension of Boulevard du 30 Juin. As a result, an evacuation appears to require multiple assaults on multiple sections of the city unless the various countries are able to coordinate the movement of their citizens to central locations. It is understandable that the British have brought hovercraft and boats to Brazzaville, some two miles across the river from Kinshasa, since their embassy is very close to the Zaire River. No doubt other nations will also want to use this marine capability as well, however.

Central Kinshasa This map is of Central Kinshasa, which is a 3 km by 2 km section of the city's northeast side. The map above depicts the location of the American, French and Belgian embassies. The forces of these countries are the major ones deploying to Central Africa at this time, although British and Portuguese forces have also deployed.

The deployment of Western military forces is seen by Zaire Watch as for the purpose of handling a broad range of military scenarios, one of which is an evacuation of the city, one of which Zaire Watch believes is an occupation of the city.

Any Western military intervention in Kinshasa, whether for evacuation of citizens or an assault to occupy the city, would probably begin with helicopter and cross-river hovercraft and speed boat assault operations from the Brazzaville airport and Brazzaville port facilities. Brazzaville is located across the Zaire River just northwest of Kinshasa. There are no bridges connecting the two cities, in part because of the enormous width of the river at this location, about 2 miles. The helicopters and boats would drop off combat forces. If the operation were strictly to evacuate citizens, then the helicopters and boats will pick up civilians and return them to Brazzaville for subsequent redeployment to Libreville. If the assault is to occupy the city, then the incoming boats and helicopters will drop off troops and may or may not pick up foreigners who want to leave Kinshasa, and then return to Brazzaville to get more troops. It is not clear where the helicopter and boat landing zones might be. Part of the invading force would probably deploy to protect their embassies, but forces could easily spread out and attack key Mobutu military installations and centers in the city. If an attack against the forces of Marshal Mobutu were launched, then one can expect fierce air assaults on key command centers and military compounds.

The United States has for several weeks now been operating a sophisticated command, control, communications, and intelligence command post from the Brazzaville airport. It is being supported by radio listening posts in Uganda, near the border with Zaire, and in Brazzaville, Congo, near Kinshasa. These listening posts no doubt have been providing American and allied forces with excellent intelligence on a wide array of Zairean government military activities, command posts, staging areas, and force concentrations. In addition, American and allied authorities have visited Kinshasa many times to collect critical information on the layout of the city and the Mobutu military force. The American command post in Brazzaville is designed to do all the planning necessary to successfully conduct almost any kind of military operation ordered by the appropriate authority in the United States government. It is also likely that U.S. and allied forces are now working with fully coordinated plans and that any military operation by the allies into Kinshasa will be a fully coordinated effort.

The Americans are planning psychological operations, which will consist mainly of loudspeaker broadcasts in French, most probably from helicopters, most probably designed to explain to people the reason for the coming assault on Kinshasa and to request the citizens' cooperation. Special operations forces are on the scene and are probably planning to take, hold and neutralize key Mobutu government strongholds and command center operations. Telecommunications supporting the Mobutu effort will be among the top allied targets should such an intervention be required against Mr. Mobutu.