Protests lead Mobutu to reappoint PM

Mark Huband in Kinshasa

The Guardian, 26 July 1991

ZAIRE’S President Mobutu Sese Seko yesterday reappointed the man he sacked as Prime Minister, two days after he tried to split his opponents by proposing a key opposition leader for the post.

Thousands of opposition activists threatened the life of their leader, Etienne Tshisekedi, if he accepted the job, and Mr Mobutu was forced to reappoint Mulumba Lukodji in the run up to the country’s national political conference, due to open on July 31.

Last night, the opposition switched tactics and voted to take part in the conference. The joint decision was taken at a meeting of more than 100 parties campaigning for President Mobutu’s resignation.

Earlier, supporters of the opposition coalition, the “Sacred Union”, surrounded Mr Tshisekedi’s house in Kinshasa after Mr Mobutu announced on Monday that his rival had agreed to become Prime Minister.

But after discussion with other opposition leaders, Mr Tshisekedi was forced to turn the job down. It is now clear that he had agreed to become Prime Minister at a dinner with Mr Mobutu last week. The dire state of opposition funds, as well as a personal wish to take power, lay behind his decision, sources in Kinshasa said yesterday.

The sacked Prime Minister, Mr Lukodji, was appointed last year as part of Zaire’s move towards multi-party democracy. Cabinet changes, including the appointment of a new foreign minister, are expected this week.

Mr Mobutu’s decision to appoint an opposition leader to the post of Prime Minister appears to have been prompted by pressure from Zaire’s two key Western creditors, the United States and France. Both are determined to see the opposition and Mr Mobutu’s regime avoid clashes which could split the country.

Throughout his 26-year rule, Mr Mobutu has split all opposition by bringing exiles and opponents into his government.

Both Mr Tshisekedi and Zaire’s best-known opposition leader, Nguzu Karl-i-Bond, have held ministerial posts in the Mobutu government.

Mr Tshisekedi’s acceptance and later rejection of the prime ministership has been seen as an attempt by the opposition to expose Mr Mobutu’s vulnerability by forcing him to acknowledge a need to bring his opponents into power.

Mr Mobutu has admitted that the administration has been a failure. He said on Monday he hoped Mr Tshisekedi would succeed where two previous interim governments had failed in “redressing the economy and managing the political reforms necessary” for democracy.

The controversy still leaves the strength of next week’s national conference in doubt. The opposition wants it to have the power to take over government.

Having failed to thwart the opposition by using his powers of appointment, the President is expected to take further steps to ensure the conference does not simply bring his years in power to an end.


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