30,000 take refuge amid power struggle in Zaire


Mark Huband in Lubumbashi

The Guardian, 7 October 1992


THOUSANDS of refugees fleeing tribal clashes in southern Zaire are trapped in Shaba province following worsening tensions provoked by a power struggle between rival politicians.

The politicians are demanding expulsions and the devolution of power to Shaba, which has seen three secessionist wars since independence.

Up to 30,000 people have taken refuge in military bases and school compounds in the Shabaian town of Likasi and surrounding villages.

The Luba tribe from Kasai province was attacked by the Luba and Lunda tribes from Shaba in September, leaving up to 60 confirmed deaths, hundreds injured and houses burned. The Kasaian Lubas are now trying to leave Shaba for Kasai after further threats from civilians, soldiers and provincial officials.

The clashes erupted in response to Shaba’s leading politican, Nguza Karl-i-Bond, being forced to resign as prime minister on August 15 after Zaire’s national conference on political reform appointed Etienne Tshisekedi, a Luba from Kasai, to the post.

The clashes and the strong support in Shaba for Mr Karl-i-Bond and his political party, the Union of Federalists and Independent Republicans (Uferi), have added a destablising element to Zaire’s already violent transition to multi-party democracy after President Mobutu Sese Seko’s 27-year dictatorship.

Mr Karl-i-Bond, who claimed the national conference was dominated by Kasaians, returned to Shaba after resigning and said that the province would not accept the Tshisekedi government’s authority. He has since formed an alliance of small opposition parties with support from President Mobutu’s largely discredited former ruling party, the Popular Movement for the Revolution (MPR).

Meanwhile thousands of Kasaians are stranded after fleeing from youths forcing them to leave Shaba.

In an interview yesterday, Shaba’s provincial governor, Kyungu wa-Kumwanza, a close ally of Mr Karl-i-Bond, outlined his controversial view that the two tribes could not live alongside each other in Shaba, which most Zaireans now refer to by its unofficial pre-Mobutu name of Katanga. “The Katangese no longer accept the Kasaians here,” he said. “Their presence is an insult. They are arrogant and don’t hide it. It is not possible for the tribes to live side by side.”

Supporters of the Tshisekedi government believe the clashes were deliberately provoked by Mr Mobutu, who used Mr Kyungu and Mr Karl-l-Bond to stir up trouble as a way of undermining the new government and allowing his own political survival by making him appear indispensable as a peacemaker and president.

Meanwhile Shaba is being used by Mr Mobutu and Mr Karl-i-Bond to undermine the six-week old government.

On a local level, there is strong resentment among the Lunda towards the Luba from Kasai, who dominate many of the key administrative and business positions in Shaba. Lunda trace their perceived domination by the Luba back to the early colonial period when the Belgians brought Luba into Shaba to work the mines.

Shaba’s copper and cobalt mines provide up to 80 per cent of Zaire’s gross national product when running at full capacity. During the Mobutu dictatorship, most of the money was siphoned off and used to build up Kinshasa, creating strong resentment of outsiders among the Lunda and other Shabaians.

Mr Kyungu, whose appointment by Mr Mobutu to the governorship was a sweetener to Shabaians – it meant they had their first Shaba-born governor – asserted yesterday that the Tshisekedi government had little authority in Shaba without the support of the former prime minister: “Karl-i-Bond is the only man [in Zaire] who can really say that he controls an entire province. He can do what he likes here,” he said.

On Sunday, Shaba’s traditional chief was sacked for not supporting Mr Karl-i-Bond. The event is unprecedented: he can only be replaced when he dies.

A personality clash between Mr Karl-i-Bond and Mr Tshisekedi, as well as the former’s decades-old reputation for alternately accepting posts from Mr Mobutu, going into exile, and later being lured back by the president, has led to intensified speculation about Mr Karl-i-Bond’s intentions.

The Tshisekedi government is now considering putting him and Mr Kyungu on trial for inciting the tribal clashes in Shaba, and is determined to replace Mr Kyungu as governor.

These measures will intensify pressure on the anti-Tshisekedi Shabaians to harden their stance, at a time when Mr Karl-i-Bond’s support outside Shaba appears to be shrinking.

Mr Karl-t-Bond’s isolation will raise the spectre of an increasingly bitter fight for greater autonomy, based on a symbolic struggle between the personalities involved. “The desire for secession is total among the population of Katanga, because they have been misunderstood,” Mr Kyungu said.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited