Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Zaire after Mobutu: Outsiders Can Help

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Zaire after Mobutu: Outsiders Can Help

Article excerpt

President Mobutu Sese Seko's last-minute pleas that Zaire hold elections before he gives up power came far too late (especially since he himself impeded previous plans to hold elections this very month). But now the longtime Zairean leader's sway over his 45 million countrymen has imploded. By the time this column appears, opposition forces led by Laurent-Desire Kabila may already have reached the capital, Kinshasa.

The issue, clearly, is not the holding of elections before Kabila takes power but what outside parties can do to structure the incentives for him after that.

The evidence available about Kabila's intentions is not reassuring. In particular, the arbitrary, possibly even genocidal, treatment of Rwandan refugees in zones he controls raises a real concern that his philosophy of rule may be little different from the autocracy of Mobutu. What can outsiders do to prevent chaos and give Zaire's hard-pressed residents a better future? The international community has a strong interest in the welfare of both refugees and citizens in Zaire. But at least for the refugees, however horrible their treatment to date, the broad outline of a solution (speedy repatriation to Rwanda) has been agreed. So, too, at some fundamental level, has the "right" of the international community to pursue an interest in their welfare. In the case of Zaire's own people's welfare, by contrast, no such "right of external concern" has been forcefully articulated by the major international actors. Nor has any such concern been accepted as legitimate by Kabila. The Zaire in which Kabila is approaching power is one that, after decades of Mobutuism, is politically and economically stunted, as well as cross-hatched by multiple ethnic rivalries. The very speed with which Mobutu's forces collapsed means that Kabila was never called on to devote much effort to developing the skills in coalition-building and negotiating that will be needed to effect a broad democratic opening in Zaire. And we have seen how Kabila treated the remnants of the ethnic Hutu groups who previously tried to oppose him. Magnanimity is not this man's middle name. …

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