Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Rebel Province Is Eye of Zaire's Storm

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Rebel Province Is Eye of Zaire's Storm

Article excerpt

While students run wild in the streets of Kinshasa and soldiers loot their way across the country in retreat from the fallen East, Zaire has never seemed so vulnerable to disintegration as now.

But Mbuji-Mayi, which is the diamond capitol and second city of Zaire, is like a pocket of stability in this chaotic country.

Speculation has been rife that Kasai Oriental province, of which Mbuji-Mayi is the capital, might actively pursue secession, as might the neighboring province of Shaba, following the fall of the eastern Kivu region to Tutsi rebels 700 miles to the northeast. But just weeks after Kivu was effectively appropriated by the rebels, Mbuji-Mayi is doing what it has for several years now - being virtually autonomous in a country of crumbling national authority. "Secession is not an issue at this moment," says an official at Miniere da Bakwanga (MIBA), the mainly state-owned company that runs one of the world's biggest industrial diamond mines and provides the main livelihood of the city of 1 million. "People are independence-minded here, but they don't necessarily feel the need to break away." Talking with residents on the potholed streets here, there is a sense of "why bother" for now. While secessionist fervor has overtaken other parts of Zaire, Mbuji-Mayi seems more comfortable with its own arrangement. As one resident says, summing up a commonly expressed view: "What is the point of seceding, when in essence, Kasai Oriental decides its own destiny?" Then he waves a thick wad of bills in the currency used in Kasai. It was phased out by the government in the capital of Kinshasa in 1993, but the province defiantly continues to use it. This gives Kasai some control over its economy, including maintaining an inflation rate that is far lower than the extravagant 500 percent per year in the rest of the country. …

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