EC may act on Zaire food shortage




Mark Huband in Kinshasa

The Guardian, 28 September 1991

Emergency European aid to Zaire worth £700,000 was being considered yesterday as a food shortage in the capital Kinshasa increased fears of more rioting once stocks run out.

Meanwhile, foreign nationals continued to stream out of the city yesterday. Heavily armed Belgian troops guarded a convoy taking evacuees to Kinshasa airport, while African and European residents made their way to the city’s port where ferries carried them across the Zaire River to neighbouring Congo.

France has now sent around 1,000 soldiers to Zaire.

Yesterday the government Niger became the first to condemn the sending of French and Belgian troops to Zaire, saying it was an infringement of its sovereignty.

Both the French and Belgian governments say they have sent troops merely to protect foreign nationals.

The Zairean President, Mobutu Sese Seko, allowed the troops to enter the country for this purpose. The Zairean opposition coalition, the Sacred Union, said it regarded their presence as a humanitarian gesture by European governments.

It is unclear how long the foreign troops, who are, in effect, maintaining the peace in Kinshasa will remain in the country. In France, Zairean opposition critics of the foreign military presence claim the troops are here to ensure the survival of President Mobutu’s government, and stop the country’s economy falling apart.

There is no evidence that this week’s rioting’ and looting, in which the army played a key role, was politically inspired. Soldiers earn around £4 a month, and the violence appears to have been a response to their poverty. On Monday their demands for a pay rise were met with what is thought have been an enormous government handout.

Opposition leaders say the rioting is the result of the economic plight. Inflation is running at 3,000 per cent.

However, some members of the Sacred Union believe that while the army is clearly prepared to create chaos and destroy much of the country’s economic life, it does not mean that soldiers want to see the President hand over power.

There has been little suggestion that a coup is in the making, and it seems President Mobutu is determined to hold on to power, aware that previous violent outbursts during his rule have eventually died down.


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