Mobutu allies keep key cabinet posts



Break in the deadlock too late to avert economic crisis

Mark Huband in Kinshasa

The Guardian, 15 October 1991

Zaire’s President Mobutu Sese Seko last night announced the formation of a crisis government which bore the hallmarks of an extensive compromise by his opponents.

While the opposition Sacred Union coalition dominates the 22 ministerial posts numerically, the ruling Popular Movement for the Revolution (MPR) and its allies hold the three key posts of defence, foreign affairs, and planning. Outsiders who have no clear political allegiance also play a prominent role in the cabinet.

The opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekedi, retains the post of Prime Minister to which he was appointed two weeks ago. He said the new government would immediately introduce austerity measures intended to confront the country’s increasingly dire economic crisis.

Last week, in an attempt to secure their loyalty after three weeks of rioting by troops, Mr Mobutu promised soldiers and civil servants 500 per cent pay rises, taking their salaries to the equivalent of £35 a month. To meet the payments the government has to find £70 million.

But according to diplomatic sources, container-loads of bank notes printed in Germany during September disappeared on arrival in Kinshasa, increasing the likelihood that it will be impossible for the government to make the payments.

Inflation has increased to 10,000 per cent, 5,000 per cent up on September’s figure, and a million people in Kinshasa are estimated to be out of work because of destruction caused by the riots. At least 12,000 foreign nationals have left the country in recent weeks after either losing or closing down their businesses.

Zaire’s economic crisis has been made worse because the government’s main foreign exchange earner, the state-owned copper mining company Gecamines, has not paid anything into state funds since April 1991because of low profits. Gecamines usually provides the government with up to £60 million in foreign exchange every month, in return for local currency.

In Kinshasa no shops have reopened, and the army barracks have become markets where looted goods are on sale at outrageous prices.

Millions of pounds worth of diamonds from mines in southern Zaire are apparently being hoarded by soldiers who broke into safes, or hauled the safes away in order to steal at leisure.

In the city, only the Spikizi night club is doing a roaring trade. On Saturday the remaining European bureaucrats, whose families have been evacuated, stood shiftily at the bar, hands in pockets, agog at the liberty that the decline of the city, and the country with it, was offering them.

Some French soldiers, breaking an order that they should not be seen away from their billets, took over Kinshasa’s sleaziest bar and brothel at the weekend, hours before they were due to be flown out of Zaire.


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