New Leader, New Congo

Article excerpt

Some 30 years ago in the capital Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) of the Belgian Congo (until recently Zaire), I waited for an interview with a young African strongman named Mobutu Sese Seko.

There was a delay, and clearly some tension in the air. When I finally got in to see Mr. Mobutu, there was a wet patch on the carpet in front of his desk. After the interview, I asked an aide what had transpired. Well, he said, just before my appointment, the new leader had a dissenter shot, and they had to clean up the presidential office.

Whether the story was true or not, the end of Mobutu's reign of oppression and misrule has been a long time coming. For 30 years the bulk of the 40 million people of Zaire, renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have seen their potentially rich country despoiled as Mobutu and an elite claque have siphoned off billions for their personal use. Now a new leader, Laurent Kabila, is in charge, and one is tempted to think that Congo could hardly be worse under President Kabila's hand than Mobutu's, and might be a lot better. Well, the verdict is out on that. Kabila is a little-known entity. He has limited experience with running anything of consequence, let alone a huge and disparate country like Congo. He seemed able to control his soldiers as they advanced on Kinshasa, and unlike the raping and pillaging soldiers in Mobutu's army, the rebels apparently won the respect of many villagers whose territory they occupied. But Kabila, many of whose troops were Tutsis from the eastern part of Congo, has either been unable or unwilling to curb atrocities against Rwandan Hutu refugees. Whether or not he can bring some immediate order to the chaotic situation in his country, the larger question is what political and economic policies he will seek to implement. …