DR Congo

The End Of Mobutu's Dictatorship

Originally published
Info-Zaire - No 128
Translated from a document produced by Entraide Missionnaire (Emi) - Montreal

The End Of Mobutu's Dictatorship

May 17, the day that troops from the Alliance des forces democratiques pour la liberation du Congo/Zaire (AFDL) arrived in Kinshasa, is a date which will long be remembered in the history of Zaire, a country which is once again being called the Democratic Republic of Congo. Following the capture of the mining regions, and the taking of Kikwit, a city which supplies the capital, there was no doubt that Kinshasa would soon fall - if for no other reason than Mobutu's regime had already been weakened. The question was rather: at what price? There were fears that Mobutu would refuse to leave as promised, and would fight to the death, or that he would have his prominent adversaries killed before taking flight. The bulk of the forces loyal to Mobutu were concentrated in and around Kinshasa: some 3,000 soldiers of the Division speciale presidentielle (DSP), as well as several thousand UNITA soldiers, along with former members of the Rwandan army and the Hutu militia. in actual fact, the AFDL met with serious resistance for the first time at Kikwit, and particularly at Kenge, where more than 200 civilians and 100 soldiers were killed on May 7. This was the setting for the intense diplomatic efforts undertaken by Special american Presidential Envoy, Bill Richardson, along with South African President Nelson Mandela and his Vice-President, Thabo Mbeki, in attempting to set up a meeting for Mobutu and Kabila to negotiate. Under pressure, Mobutu and Kabila met for the first time aboard the Outeniqua, a South African boat, on May 4, off the coast of Pointe-Noire. The negotiations were presided over by Mandela himself, and attended by Mohamed Sahnoun, who is a Special Representative of both the United Nations and the OAU. Nothing of consequence came out of this meeting. A second meeting set for May 14 had to be cancelled when Mobutu was left waiting in vain for Kabila's arrival. In actual fact, the forces on both sides were decidedly unequal. The only reason for the diplomatic efforts was to convince Mobutu to yield power little by little, in order to avoid bloodshed, and so that the AFDL could enter Kinshasa without fighting.

Another summit was held on May 8 at Libreville, in Gabon. Organised by friends of Mobutu with ties to France, it was ttended by the heads of state of Congo, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, and Gabon; along with the Minister of External Affairs for Cameroon. They called for a negotiated settlement to the conflict, and appealed to the Haut Conseil de la Republique-Parlement de transition (HCR-PT) to appoint a President. It was as if they were looking for someone who could lead the transition and negotiate in Mobutu's place. Two days later, the Bishop of Kisangani, Mgr Monsengwo, was reported to be at the head of the HCR-PT, from which he had been dismissed in July, 1995. But it was too little, too late. Real power was already within the reach of the AFDL. The population of Kinshasa had already prepared themselves to welcome the rebel troops. On May 13, the government declared a curfew from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. while the opposition parties announced a 'general strike' for May 15 and 16, calling upon the citizens to stay home to avoid a bloodbath. On Thursday, May 15, three top Generals: Likulia, Mahele and Nzimbi, respectively Prime Minister, Minister of Defence, and Head of the DSP, met three times with Mobutu to inform him that they could not defend Kinshasa, and to encourage him to relinquish power. They are likely responsible for having prevented a massacre. On Friday, May 16, Mobutu abandoned power, and took refuge in his palace at Gbadolite while still holding on to his title of Head of State. General Mahele was left to engage the rebels. Between Friday night and Saturday morning, he travelled to Camp Tshatshi to calm the members of the DSP there. While at the camp, he was accused of being a traitor and was murdered. In spite of his denials, it is widely believed that Mobutu's son, Colonel Kongolo Mobutu was behind this assassination. Colonel Mobutu's brutality has earned him the nickname Saddam Hussein. Witnesses have confirmed that on the night in question, he went to the Hotel Intercontinental, looking for those who had encouraged negotiations with the rebels. On Saturday, immediately before those whom he had been looking for arrived, Colonel Mobutu fled to Brazzaville.

On May 17, AFDL soldiers entered into Kinshasa without fighting. They were warmly welcomed by a population happy to have finally rid itself of the reign of terror which had left it weak and drained. According to la Voix des sans Voix, four days after the arrival of the rebels, Red Cross workers had gathered a total of 318 bodies, relatively few in a city of 5,000,000 inhabitants where large scale retaliation had been feared. Most of those killed were either civilians and soldiers caught red anded while looting or were armed soldiers. On the morning of the same day, Laurent-Desire Kabila proclaimed himself President of the Republic, and took complete authority over the transition. He promised that a new government would be formed within 72 hours, and a new constituent assembly in 60 days. He suspended the Acte constitutionnel de transition along with all of the institutions which had sprung from it, including the parliament. Consequently, the nomination of ministers to the first government of the Third Republic on May 22, was not based on the country's constitutional texts, but rather on the statutes which governed the creation of the Alliance des Forces democratiques pour la liberation du Congo". Although the people were overjoyed when they were liberated by the AFDL, their enthusiasm is quickly waning as they see increasing signs that their country is under occupation by strangers. They are suspicious of the new authorities. In fact, no one knows who Kabila's chief generals are - perhaps he is no more than a pawn in their service. Several times already, members of Kabila's entourage have contradicted or qualified his opinions; for example, with respect to the organisation of elections within two years. The people fear falling into the hands of yet another dictatorship and giving up the gains made at the Conference nationale souveraine (CNS), where they had been widely represented. Nonetheless, it seems the people have chosen to give the new President some time to show whether he really will work towards democratisation, as promised. In the past, the people have responded en masse to chief Opposition leader etienne Tshisekedi's calls to action. Tshisekedi had called for a boycott of the new government on Monday, May 26. By and large, the people did not respond to his appeal for a general strike, and went about their daily business. Several hundred students alone took to the streets in protest on May 23 and 24. On May 26, this led President Kabila to ban until further notice all public meetings and all activities by political parties, for security reasons. In addition, two days later, he banned the use of cellular phones by civil servants. In defiance of those in power, the opposition nevertheless quickly organised another demonstration on May 28, calling for the withdrawal of Rwandans from the army, and for the establishment of real dialogue. After just two hours, the demonstration came to a violent conclusion. The war is not yet over. The border between Kinshasa and Brazzaville remains closed. In response to accusations, houses are being searched to see if there are any remaining weapons. This has led to retaliation and extortions, unacceptable in a lawful state. What is more, not all of the regions are presently under AFDL control, many of the soldiers having fled to Matadi and Equateur. On May 29, following yet another protest demonstration, Kabila took the oath of office as President of the Republic in front of some of the regional heads of state. That evening, he assumed complete legislative and executive authority for himself as the Head of State, until such time as a new Constitution is adopted.

A Constitutional Void In Congo

The intense political turmoil in Kinshasa can be explained in part by the constitutional void brought about by the May 17, 1997 coup d'etat. In fact, the declaration of a takeover by Laurent-Desire Kabila's politico-military coalition essentially rescinded the Acte constitutionnel regissant la periode de transition. It has been replaced by a decree which has taken the place of the constitution. It must be remembered that the Acte de transition was the result of a hard won wide national consensus, coming out of the CNS. Even though it was not always recognised by former President Mobutu and some of his allies, the Act nonetheless defined what was to be the ideal constitutional framework for the new Congo; including, a federal structure for the future state as well as parliamentary guidelines for those who were to run it. The parliament, the Prime Minister and the President, whose powers were substantially reduced, were to make up the backbone of the new state. All of these positions, which drew legitimacy from the Acte constitutionnel de transition, vanished following the coup d'etat. Though legitimised by popular support, stemming from Kabila's promises to oust Mobutu's dictatorship from power and to put democratisation on track, the coup d'etat is now being denounced by both civil society and the political class, who are disappointed at having lent their support to a military leader who appears more and more to be another dictator. In return for having legitimised the coup d'etat, the legal opposition was to have shared power. Kabila is being criticised for having rejected the plans of the CNS and imposing the statutes of the AFDL as the source of all power and legitimacy. Many do not see a place for themselves within the context of these statutes, however.

The AFDL has thus appointed itself the State Party. Its President governs by decree. He has therefore been able to put a halt to all political activity; all strikes, all demonstrations, even peaceful ones; in addition to suspending many other rights and freedoms. The new regime is thus based on power concentrated solely in the hands of its self-proclaimed President. Kabila is, at the same time, President of the Republic, Head of State, Chief Executive, Minister of Defence and President of the National Security Council. No other institution has the right to limit his power. Each day, the people are discovering more and more that the Third Republic, which was formed by statutory order on May 22, 1997, is now ushering in a dictatorial regime. At the moment, no one can predict how long it will last.

Kabila's First Government

There are 14 ministers. Ten are from the AFDL, and four others, who had recently belonged to the legal opposition; namely, he UDPS and the Front patriotique, were named on a personal basis. The AFDL holds the following portfolios: Defence (Kabila), the Interior (Mwenze Kongolo), Foreign Affairs (Bizima), Finance (Mawapanga), Information and Propaganda Ghenda), Mines (Kambale), Planning and Development (Babi), Justice (Lwanghy), Transportation (Mova), and Education (Kamara); while the independents, who have become de facto members of the AFDL, have been appointed to the following ministries: Posts and Telecommunications (Kinkela), Health (Dr. Sondji), Agriculture (Bandoma), and Public Service Justine Kasa-Vubu). This government is disputed in Congolese public opinion as being unrepresentative. Those who support this argument have overlooked the fact that the AFDL had wanted to rely solely on its own members in forming the government, and not on representation from all of the provinces, regions and social strata. Besides, this new government is far from perfect: there is a criminal at the head of the Justice Ministry. In fact, Celestin Lwanghy was convicted in 1994 by the appeals Court in Brussels of theft, forgery and passing forged currency. In addition, the Kabila government's program is significantly lacking, its speeches vague, and its room to manoeuvre with respect to the military quite limited. Most of its members do not even understand what the population has been through, having taken refuge outside of the country for decades.

Changing Symbols

Kabila's deeds and actions seem to indicate a haste to establish a new order and to completely rid himself of Mobutu's regime.

There have been many symbolic changes: a new name for the country, a new flag, a new national anthem, new names for national roads, a new name for the national soccer team, and a new national currency. The country's new name, the democratic Republic of Congo, was chosen by Kabila. It is not the name which had been decided on by a consensus of all those who took part in the CNS. The name which was to have been put to a popular referendum was the Federal Republic of Congo, in anticipation by the CNS of a decentralisation of power. Kabila also decided to return to the former flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo, with its six stars. It is well known that these stars represented the six provinces which made up the country at the time. When Kabila took power, the country had eleven provinces. Is there some significance attached to his choice? With Zaire once again known as Congo, it followed that the original national anthem, la Congolaise, should be adopted. To indelibly mark May 17, 1997 as the date in history when Kinshasa fell, l'avenue du 24 Novembre, which had commemorated the date of Mobutu's rise to power, was renamed l'avenue du 17 Mai. Elsewhere, the city of Kisangani was renamed Stanleyville, and is no longer the capital of the province of Haut-Zaire, but of Orientale province. To the south of the country, the province of Shaba will in future be known by its former name of Katanga. Kabila also announced his decision to replace the zaire with a new currency, the Congolese franc. The national soccer team, les Leopards, will in future be known by its former Swahili name, les Simba - a name which had been used by Kabila's troops, and which means the Lions. To make a long story short, the new administration is determined to erase anything which would remind it of the former Mobutu regime, and has reclaimed the symbols in place prior to 1965, as if nothing had happened since!

'Strategies' For The Elimination Of Rwandan Refugees

Since the scattering of the refugees of the Kasese and Biaro camps south of Kisangani on April 23, only a little over 37,000 of the 85,000 people who had been living there have been located. They have been repatriated from Kisangani to Rwanda by air. Many lost their lives during the operation, due to the excessive zeal of the rebel soldiers. On May 4, ninety-one refugees hastily packed into a train which was to transport them to Kisangani, were crushed to death. This prompted the UN to accuse the rebels of seeing the refugees as little more than cattle. Where are the other 50,000 refugees from the two camps? Some 3,000 were able to flee 82 km south of Kisangani. Little by little, others are emerging from the forests. One rebel soldier has testified under cover of anonymity, that a number of refugees had been massacred by soldiers in a hail of bullets or hacked to death with axes. According to his testimony, Tutsi soldiers have been taking refugees emerging from the forest prisoner, and executing them. He himself had to help dig up the bodies and burn them. He added: "By the time the UN comes in to investigate, there will be no proof left." He gave a photographer from the Associated Press a map indicating where the communal graves were, as well as the location of a crematorium 10 kilometres away. The photographer travelled to the area just outside of Biaro, and was able to identify seven areas where the ground had been freshly turned. Humanitarian organisations, along with inhabitants of the region have also confirmed that special units of 200 to 400 soldiers of the Rwandan army were dispatched on April 17 to eliminate the refugees. Survivors themselves tell of mass killings taking place in the forests.

Further testimony by priests, civil servants, and inhabitants of Mbandaka, confirm that when rebel forces entered the city on May 13, they killed more than 200 refugees gathered on the dock at the city's port. Further into the city, according to both the inhabitants and to Red Cross employees, 140 others were massacred. There were former soldiers of the Rwandan army among them, but they had all been disarmed. These are only a few examples which support those reported by other groups. The situation is so serious that Emma Bonino, the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Action, has accused the AFDL of not only systematically obstructing humanitarian efforts, but of having transformed Zaire into a veritable slaughterhouse. On May 16, in an addendum to its report of April 25, Doctors Without Borders (DWB) made the following conclusion: "At the present time, it [the situation] can only be described as dramatic. To a large degree, it seems to be the result of a deliberate strategy on the part of the AFDL to eliminate all of the remaining Rwandan refugees, including women and children." Can this really be seen as a deliberate strategy on the part of the AFDL? According to diplomatic sources, this is the price Kabila must pay for the help he received from Rwanda during the war of liberation. It is not surprising that upon its arrival on May 4, the UN fact finding mission on the massacres in the east of Zaire was halted at Kigali, and never did get authorisation from Kabila to travel on to Goma to undertake the investigations they had been asked to conduct. The delegation included UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Zaire, Roberto Garreton; Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Executions, Bacre Wally Ndiaye; and a member of the group focussing on disappearances, Jonas Foli. It is not surprising that the members of the enquiry were not going to be allowed to confirm, with their own eyes, tangible proof of the numerous eyewitness accounts of massacres carried out by Tutsi soldiers against the Hutus. Sadly, the international community remains unmoved by these mass killings.

Mobutu: The Refugee And His Fortune

Following his departure from Kinshasa on May 16, Mobutu did not even have the time to catch his breath at his palace in badolite. On Sunday, May 18, he was forced to flee in haste to Lome, in Togo when AFDL soldiers threatened to take over the region's airport. From Lome, where his friend Eyadema found his presence to be an embarrassment, Mobutu travelled to Morocco on May 23, where he waited for the green light (the end of elections) before holing up in his palace in the south of France. But, he and his family (whom Chad did not want to keep) are likely to be hunted down wherever they go. The AFDL representative in France has threatened the country with reprisal if the former dictator is allowed to take refuge there. Furthermore, the new authorities of the Democratic Republic of Congo intend to make Mobutu pay back as much as possible of his fortune. All the while, the dictator is said to be short of cash to maintain his present lifestyle. The new government has begun the task of tracing Mobutu's numerous holdings throughout the world, along with identifying the banks where he deposited the billions stolen from the people. Presently under house arrest, the former heads of the MIBA in Mbuji-Mayi and la Gecamines in Lubumbashi will be called upon to locate this fortune. By May 13, representatives of the AFDL had already filed for an injunction to freeze Mobutu's assets in Switzerland. After having seized his opulent villa in Lausanne, worth a reported $5.6 million US, Swiss authorities ordered all of Mobutu's assets in Switzerland liquidated. however, it is believed that Mobutu does not have many other assets in Switzerland. Similar demands have been made to seize Mobutu's assets in several other countries; including, the United States, France and Belgium.

The assets of the other privileged members of the Second Republic, including those of Seti, Pay-Pay, Nzimbi, Nyembo Shabani, and so on, are spread out across the globe and must also be tracked down. These people are as much criminals as the individuals from the West who, with full knowledge of what was going on, allowed Mobutu to reduce his people to poverty.

Massacre At Uvira

It has just been learned, from a reliable source, that on the night of May 25 to 26, several persons were apprehended and killed at Uvira. Soldiers opened fire into the crowd when people took to the streets to express their outrage. About 30 people were killed, and another 100 wounded. Since the area has been under AFDL control, tensions have been mounting. The Banyamulenge have criticised the local populations of wanting to exclude them from the administration of the territory, while the Bavira, the Babembe and the Bafulero consider the Banyamulenge invaders. Daily, there are deplorable abuses of power: acts of contempt and humiliation, beatings, confiscation of property, disappearances and assassinations.

Contributors to this issue: Kadari Mwene Kabyane, Elonga Adjadje, Roland Rivard, Aleli Mboka, Michel Sunguza and Denis Tougas. (translated into English by L. and J. Lazazzera - Toronto)

Info-Congo/Zaire is also available in the original French version from Entraide Missionnaire, 15 de Castelnau St. West, Montreal, Quebec H2R 2W3

Tel. (514) 270-6089 Fax (514) 270-6156