US for Mobutu until elections



Mark Huband in Abidjan

The Guardian, 7 February 1992

The United States’ continuing uncertainty over its policy towards Zaire surfaced again this week: the State Department reaffirmed its commitment to President Mobutu Sese Seko remaining in power during a transition period, but simultaneously blamed him for undermining the reform process.

The US assistant secretary of state for Africa! affairs, Herman Cohen, told a congressional sub-commitee: “We’re not asking him to leave. We feel he should remain a president so he can control the military force until there’s an election at which point the people will decide . . . If Mobutu with his control of the security apparatus… does not support a transition process, then it cannot succeed.” However, an attempted coup led by infantry forces on January 23 showed that Mr Mobutu influence is far from complete.

Mr Cohen was hopeful that a new joint effort by the US, France and Belgium could break the logjam in Zaire when the three present compromise proposals next week.

The US statement was followed yesterday by a World Bank decision to release £16.6 million in loans, agreed upon in Decembe 1990 but suspended, to support Zaire’s social services. The US cut all aid and the European Community all except emergency aid last year.

A US Democratic senator, Paul Simon, and a Republican senator, Nancy Kassebaum, said yesterday they feared the US position would allow Mr Mobutu to claim continued backing from the US, and urged that he be forced into exile. “I think that’s an option that has to be considered at some point if what we’re trying to do does not work,” Mr Cohen said.

The US, France and Belgium are determined to see the country’s national political conference reconvened. It was finally scrapped by Mr Mobutu and the prime minister, Nguza Karl-I-Bond, last month.

Zaire’s political crisis, with five prime ministers in the past year, is rapidly reaching the point where most possible combinations of politicians able to oversee a transition from dictatorship have been exhausted.

Mr Cohen said: “We feel the only way to break the impasse is to have a transition government led by someone acceptable to everybody who would be essentially neutral and would have no ability to run for president after the transition.”

After a year that person still has not been found. There are no non-partisan politicians of stature left to oversee the transition.

A solution needs compromises by all sides. The withdrawal of aid has struck at the heart of the economy, with inflation now 23,000 per cent a year. But with politics dominated by the feuds between Mr Mobutu and his enemies, any hope of compromise is fading.


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