Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The US Should Tell Zaire's Mobutu His Time Is Up

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The US Should Tell Zaire's Mobutu His Time Is Up

Article excerpt

THE winds of democracy that have swept through Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union are now sweeping into central Africa. Mobutu Sese Seko, who has ruled Zaire with ruthlessness and rapacity for a quarter century, faces growing unrest that challenges his hold on power.

United States policymakers, who have considered Mr. Mobutu a welcome element of regional stability, should now accept the reality that his days are numbered. Mobutu's departure is more likely to contribute to stability and democracy than his retention would.

Mobutu follows a long line of discredited dictators, including Haiti's Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier and the Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos, who ruined their countries' economies, looted their treasuries, and corrupted their political systems. Mobutu has also relied on fear and strong-arm tactics to keep extensive national discontent with his repressive rule in check. He now seems to have stretched the patience of his countrymen beyond the endurance point.

Corruption on a vast scale is routine in Mobutu's Zaire. Mobutu himself is estimated to have amassed a personal fortune of several billion dollars. He reportedly owns a 16th-century castle in Spanish Valencia, a 32-room palace in Switzerland, an apartment in Paris worth nearly a million dollars, and luxurious estates in Portugal, Spain, Italy, and several other countries.

Unfortunately, Mobutu's transgressions go well beyond personal corruption and greed. It is widely acknowledged that his government engages in systematic abuses of human rights. Detention, beatings, and torture are the all-too-frequent fare of Zaire's citizens.

The economic effects of a quarter century of misrule have been devastating for what used to be one of Africa's wealthiest countries. Mobutu has even managed to give colonialism a good name by driving his country's standard of living below what it was at the time Zaire obtained its independence in 1960.

During the cold war, the US not only supported Mobutu, but even subsidized his discredited regime. Mobutu was necessary, it was maintained, because he provided the stability needed to stem the tide of communism in Africa. …

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