Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Zaire, Factions Jockey as Mobutu Era Wobbles

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Zaire, Factions Jockey as Mobutu Era Wobbles

Article excerpt

Six months after a rebellion erupted in the east, Zaire's capital has become a political vortex.

At the center of the confusion are rebel leader Laurent-Desire Kabila, President Mobutu Sese Seko, and Etienne Tshisekedi, long-time leader of the nonviolent political opposition in Kinshasa. Each is vying for power over one of Africa's largest, potentially richest, and most strategic countries.

The walls dividing each camp, however, have begun to come down. Mr. Mobutu's party says it is willing to share powers with the rebels - an indication of just how weak and scared the ruling elite has become. "If it's the price we have to pay for peace and territorial integrity, why not?" says Banza Makualyi, a leader of Mobutu's Popular Revolutionary Movement. "Together we can prepare a consensus. One party can rule after elections." The opposition can't seem to decide whom to accommodate: an up-and-coming rebel leader in the east or an ailing president who still pulls the strings in Kinshasa. The main debate in Kinshasa last week was over who would be the next prime minister. The transitional parliament ousted Leon Kengo wa Dondo from the post and is now seeking someone who can assure the survival of both the opposition and ruling political class. "The political class as a whole is quickly turning to negotiations ... and if they don't cut a deal with Kabila, they will all be marginalized," a Western diplomat says. Mr. Tshisekedi is a favorite candidate. He has already been prime minister twice during this decade but was fired after falling out with Mobutu. (He insists he still holds the post and has weekly "cabinet meetings" at his house.) By refusing to collaborate with the corrupt leadership, he has become a hero of the poor. But before the democracy movement began in the late 1980s, Tshisekedi was a minister in Mobutu's regime and a member of his party. What is unclear is whether Tshisekedi, who has a strong stubborn streak, would be willing to cut a deal with Mr. Kabila, a long-time revolutionary who has apparently received help from neighboring Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. Before Kabila managed to seize about one-quarter of the country, it appeared as though he thought Tshisekedi might be useful in garnering support in Kinshasa and the diamond-rich Kasai region, where Tshisekedi was born. …

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