‘Sacred unions’ take on Mobutu


Zaire’s opposition is playing to win, reports Mark Huband from a Kinshasa stadium

The Guardian, 31 July 1991

EIGHTY thousand opposition supporters yesterday staged the biggest rally seen in this Zairean capital, ignoring the government’s refusal to authorise the meeting of the 148 political parties known as the “sacred unions”.

After the sudden disappearance of the state-run buses from the streets of Kinshasa, the supporters arrived on foot and packed a football stadium. The rally was the last before the country’s national political conference, due to begin today.

But the conference may yet be stalled. The opposition yesterday rejected the composition of the delegates’ list, which it says, has been packed with members of the ruling Popular Movement for the Revolution (MPR), led by President Mobutu Sese Seko.

Yesterday’s rally was a clear sign of the breadth of opposition to the Mobutu regime, which has ruled for the past 27 years. People waved the Congolese flag and called the country Congo in defiance of the Zairean identity Mr Mobutu has attempted to create since he seized power in 1964.

Some time after the revolution, when “good became bad and bad became good”, said Nguza Karl-i-Bond, leader of the Union of Federalists and Independent Republicans, “all the best intentions were lost”.

Mr Nguza explained-why he rejoined the Mobutu regime when it had sentenced him to death. ”’It’s like a cat chasing mice. To save themselves the mice select somebody to become the friend of the cat so he can attach a bell to the cat so that the others can know when he is coming. But there’s a chance the cat might turn against that mouse. I was that mouse, so I was sentenced to death in 1978.”

Mr Nguza was Mr Mobutu’s foreign minister. As such he experienced the deliberate blindness of Zaire’s Western allies to the human rights abuses of the country’s “kleptocratic” regime. “The West shut its eyes. It was part of the strategy.

“When an African dictator was against communism, he was to be encouraged. When I had meetings with Western officials, they would say as the meeting was closing, ‘Oh, and I by the way, what about the human rights situation?’ But it was to clear their conscience.”

“But now the time has come, because there’s no more need for this head of state. Western governments can see the problems they used to close their eyes to.”

As with many opposition movements that have emerged in Africa in the past 18 months, the parties in Zaire are concentrating more on the ejection of the incumbent ruler than on specific policies.

At yesterday’s rally, former members of the old regime, who have since launched their own parties, were cheered by the crowd. Gathered as they were in the special enclosure of the football ground, they had the air of club shareholders looking over their latest investment.

But the Success of the opposition depends on the success of the national conference: “We have to come out of the conference a different country. We can’t do anything in the economic field until we change the political field,” said Mr Nguza.

Despite unity on the issue of ejecting the government, there are differences over what should be done in the interim. While Mr Nguza, who will stand for the presidency, would accept Mr Mobutu as a figurehead, the other main opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekedi, wants Mr Mobutu arrested or forced to leave the country.

However, opposition claims that the government is on the run appear premature. Neither France nor the US, Mr Mobutu’s main Western allies, is encouraging him to make a rapid departure, though they are encouraging a democratic system that will inevitably force him out.

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