Mobutu’s opponents call on army to revolt



Mark Huband in Kinshasa

The Guardian, 2 November 1991

Zaire’s opposition yesterday called on the army to break with President Mobutu Sese Seko and support the new opposition government, which met at the same time as a new Mobutu administration was being sworn in.

It is the first time that opposition leaders have called the 80,000-strong Zairean Armed Forces to step into the political void and take sides. The army chief-of-staff, General Liyeko Mahele, has insisted that his forces will not step outside their military role. Opposition leaders have regularly claimed that the army is on their side, saying that in a showdown only a few elite units would support President Mobutu, although there has been no. proof that this is so.

Mr Mobutu presided yesterday over the official installation of the new administration led by his Prime Minister, Mungul Diaka, at an extravagant ceremony in the great hall of the presidential palace outside Kinshasa. Despite Mr Diaka’s claims that his government represented both opposition and pro-Mobutu opinion, the ceremony had all the trappings of a pro-Mobutu rally.

Members of the Diaka government bowed to Mr Mobutu and his wife where they sat on gilded thrones, before signing up for their ministerial posts. Prominent among them was the new interior minister, Midao Bahati, who had a plaster covering a wound on his head.

According to his wife, Mr Bahati was kidnapped on Wednesday night and driven round Kinshasa by pro-Mobutu agents intent on persuading him to accept his ministerial post. His wife pleaded for assistance at the French embassy. When she returned home, Mr Bahati had been returned by his kidnappers and had decided to accept the job.          .

Meanwhile, back in the centre of Kinshasa the sacked Prime Minister, opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, was chairing the first cabinet meeting of his parallel government in a lean-to behind his house.

The ministers of the opposition government asked foreign governments not to co-operate with the Diaka administration, a request which will effectively force those pressuring Mr Mobutu to relinquish power to declare whether they continue to recognise his authority.

“As a state we do not recognise government, we recognise states. So, we will be doing the same as in our own country, which is to address both Mr Diaka and Mr Tshisekedi as Prime Minister,” one Western diplomat said.

The emergence of two governments is seen as very dangerous, as it will force the army to decide whom to follow.

Mr Tshisekedi said after his cabinet had met that be had received the French and Belgian ambassadors separately earlier in the day and asked them to send troops back to Zaire. They replied that their governments would study his request, Mr Tshisekedi said.

“The people are unsafe because Mobutu wants to suppress political leaders and bomb printing presses,” he said he had told the diplomats.

“The people will use all legal means to support my government,” Mr Tshisekedi added. His cabinet would meet every Thursday morning from now on.

Meanwhile, the last independent printing press in Kinshasa, Terra Nova, has decided to close down following threats, after it had rejected earlier advice to stop publishing anti-Mobutu newspapers.


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