Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Rumble in the Jungle (1997)

 From the June 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

To get some idea of the misery endured by the average Zairean under the rule of President Mobutu Sese Seko since his CIA-backed coup of 1965. one has only to look at the support that has accrued to rebel leader Laurent Kabila and the alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Zaire-Congo (ADFL) since October 1996.

As Kabila’s forces have advanced westwards in pursuit of Mobutu’s undisciplined and self-seeking Zairean army, ‘‘liberating’’ village after village and town and after town, they have left behind a misplaced relief. Hospitals and schools have actually begun to function again and there are widespread reports of refuse being collected. Kabila has promised peace and stability and to form a government consisting of members of the ADFL and those non-members who nevertheless remained hostile to Mobutu. Many, though, are prophesying a totalitarian regime styled on the Chinese model— something resembling a ‘‘mixed’’ economy with a one-party, authoritarian state.

State capitalism may well be on the agenda. Back in 1967, having met Che Guevara—and unbeknown to him dismissed by Guevara as an alcoholic and whoremonger—Kabila formed the People’s Revolution Party, whose military wing, the musingile (dwarfs) held out against Mobutu for 18 years. The dispersal of this group when Mobutu’s forces captured their base led Kabila to form a supposedly ‘‘socialist mini-state’’ in eastern Zaire, complete with collective fields, schools and health care services, all subsidised by agriculture and gold production.

The catalyst for the Guevaran-styled re-emergence of Kabila, thirty years after his hero’s death, has been the spill-over of the conflict in Rwanda into eastern Zaire. For many years the eastern borders had been settled by Tutsis, escaping the ethnic unrest in Rwanda and Burundi. In 1994, Mobutu exacerbated tensions in what was already a volatile area by making bases available to the Interahamwe and Hutu and Tutsi refugees fleeing a new wave of unrest.

All that was needed was for Kabila to galvanise the unrest and refocus the Tutsi Banyamulenga’s anger westwards, coupling it to the ongoing unrest between Mobutu and forces loyal to former prime minister Etienne Tshisekidi, which now make up a section of the ADFL.

It has been a war that has involved many players and which can still impinge upon the politics of at least another seven countries.

Angolan troops were all too ready to come to Kabila’s aid. They after all had an old score to settle, Mobutu having supported UNITA for 20 years. The rebel army also consisted of Eritreans, and deserters from Mobutu’s army and glory-seekers form Zambia and Tanzania, with support coming from Uganda. Rwanda and Washington. Mobutu found help in the form of mercenaries from France. Belgium and Serbia, and reportedly former members of the British SAS.

Many have died in the war—most notably the refugees from another conflict. For the Western powers, however—perhaps the real fire stokers on the sidelines—this is a small price to pay for the rewards that lie ahead. Which Western power elite could not be interested in Zaire? For the average profit-crazy capitalist. Zaire is a potential treasure-trove, rich in oil. gas. gold, silver, diamonds, coal, cobalt, cadmium and germanium, not to mention uranium. These are just a few of the real reasons why the West awaits a propitious resolution to the crisis in Zaire.

The US, of course, has long awaited the chance to wrest influence from the French protégé Mobutu. A chief concern for the US at the moment is Sudan to the north-east. A pro-Washington Zaire, siding with similar US allies Ethiopia. Eritrea and Uganda may well be part of a wider US game-plan to frustrate the ambitions of Sudanese islamists (time-honoured enemies) and to consolidate US interests north and south of Zaire.

Socialists eagerly await news of stability in Zaire, but with no real expectation that it will bring much improvement to the lives of average Zaireans. In a country potentially as rich as any in Africa, they will continue to live every aspect of their lives subject, as before, to the worst exigencies of a profit-driven market system, controlled by men far away who hold their destiny in a flick of a pen. This the reality of stability under capitalism—a euphemism for exploitation.

We can only hope the Zairean working class can draw parallels between the outgoing and incoming incumbents and one day realise that it is folly to put trust in leaders and their control of the forces of repression.

John Bissett

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