Mobutu appoints rival after riots



Mark Huband in Kinshasa

The Guardian, 30 September 1991

Crisis talks between President Mobutu Sese Seko and Zairean opposition leaders last night resulted in the president’s main opponent being asked to form a crisis government, with the grim task of coping with anti-government rioting and looting in which 117 people have died.

After eight hours of talks, the meeting in the capital, Kinshasa, gave the leader of the opposition Democratic Union for Social Progress, Etienne Tshisekedi, responsibility for forming the new government. A spokesman for the opposition coalition said Mr Tshisekedi had accepted the post.

He will not become prime minister but will simply be responsible for appointing the new government to deal with the country’s economic plight.

President Mobutu will remain head of state, and any appointment Mr Tshisekedi makes will have to be accepted by the country’s suspended national political conference, which is due to reconvene tomorrow.

Responding to opposition pressure, President Mobutu yesterday sacked his army chief of staff, General Manzembe Mayibanga. He was replaced by the government’s chief of military intelligence, General Mahele Liyeko, who managed to stop troops pillaging Kinshasa’s international airport. They had occupied the airport after mutinying last Monday over not being paid.

The sacking came after five hours of discussions between the president and leaders of the opposition coalition, known as the Sacred Union. Last night the meeting, the first between President Mobutu and his opponents since the legalisation of opposition parties in March 1990, agreed on the composition of a committee which will appoint the new government.

Five members of the Sacred Union and five government officials will spend the next two days advising Mr Tshisekedi on the new administration. Two days of discussions had been been deadlocked over the appointment of the person to appoint the new government.

In July, Mr Tshisekedi was offered the post of prime minister by President Mobutu in an effort by the president to split his opponents. Thousands of Mr Tshisekedi’s supporters surrounded his house and threatened to burn it if he accepted.

Acceptance of the post if he is offered it again by President Mobutu, will be strongly opposed. “It will be a disaster for the opposition coalition if they agree to serve in a government while Mobutu is still there,” said one member of the Sacred Union last night.

The capital has become increasingly tense since the discussions with President Mobutu began. State radio yesterday confirmed that the riots left 117 people dead and 150 injured.

Last night, the Belgian defence ministry said Zaire had agreed to another 200 of its troops being sent to help evacuate Belgian nationals. They will take supplies, also, for 900 Belgian troops already in Zaire.


© Guardian Newspapers. All rights reserved