Mobutu ‘is still hoping to work with new PM’



Mark Huband in Kinshasa

The Guardian, 4 October 1991

President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, angry at being labelled a “human monster” by his Prime Minister-designate, still believes their unlikely relationship is workable, Western diplomats said yesterday.

The diplomats said Mr Mobutu had told six key Western ambassadors on Wednesday that he had the constitutional right to sack Etienne Tshisekedi, who is trying to form a national salvation government four days after the President was forced by foreign and domestic pressure to appoint him Prime Minister designate.

But the diplomats denied a Mr Mobutu had said he had dropped or would drop Mr Tshisekedi: “Mobutu said he was not going to dismiss Tshisekedi because he still hoped they would reach an agreement.” The clash has come when the unity of the opposition coalition is already severely strained and more than 1,600 French and Belgian troops have been stationed in the country in expectation of fresh violence. US transport planes have brought in supplies for the troops, and plans for them to leave after all foreign nationals have been evacuated now appear to be on hold.

Mr Tshisekedi’s decision to become Prime Minister under Mr Mobutu was severely testing the tolerance of his own supporters, whose sympathies generally lie with the view that the President is a “human monster”. The remark is thought to have been made to-prove to his supporters that he had not compromised himself or them. But in reassuring his own supporters in this way, he has discarded any possibility of a peaceful handover of power by Mr Mobutu.

Mr Mobutu is expected to increase his efforts to split the opposition to undermine Mr Tshisekedi and reclaim the power of appointment.

During last week’s riots which were led by unpaid soldiers, in which up to 130 people died, there appears to have been a pattern to the actions of the rioters. According to Professor Kabuya Lumuma, a sociologist at Kinshasa university, the only members of the Mobutu regime who had their houses attacked and looted were the conservatives who had objected to democratic change. This suggests that, in some sections of the army, there is a strong desire for political reform.

If President Mobutu intends to stay in power, it is the army which will assist him, as the vast majority of the population in Kinshasa is keen to see him leave. However, if the soldiers’ looting reflects their view of democracy, the President cannot rely on the military as a whole to keep him in power.

Professor Lumuma believes that Mr Mobutu is preparing to leave, though with dignity. Members of the President’s family have already arrived at his luxury villa at Cap Martin in the south of France.

Other observers believe that whether Mr Mobutu gives up office or not, there is little alternative to conflict if he loses power to the opposition.


© Guardian Newspapers. All rights reserved