Zairean opposition leader becomes PM




Mark Huband in Kinshasa

The Guardian, 1 October 1991

Zaire’s main opposition leader yesterday accepted the post of Prime Minister after a second day of heated arguments between President Mobutu Sese Seko and his opponents.

Etienne Tshisekedi, leader of the Democratic Union for Social Progress (UDPS), accepted the post, without election, from the country’s national political conference, due to reconvene today.

But in a telling display of the mutual disdain the two conflicting political sides feel for each other, Mr Mobutu and his rival, Mr Tshisekedi, who has been given the task of forming a new government, stood feet apart yesterday and refused to shake hands while they posed for photographs.

As a first sign of his determination to exploit his new-found authority, Mr Tshisekedi kept Mr Mobutu waiting for 30 minutes before arriving at yesterday’s meeting where a 12-man committee discussed the appointment of ministers to the new administration.

Mr Mobutu was also late, but in the power play of Zairean politics, Mr Tshisekedi’s tardiness was a sign of his determination to beat Mr Mobutu in the power game which has kept him in power for 26 years.

Opposition party delegates at the meeting, chaired by Mr Mobutu, said they had avoided discussion of who was to blame for last week’s riots, which left up to 130 people dead.            .

The opposition Sacred Union is determined to push for the real sovereignty of the country’s national political conference, suspended two weeks ago. Before the opening of the conference, Mr Tshisekedi had declared he would have Mr Mobutu arrested or exiled once power had fallen into the hands of the delegates.

But according to the leader of the Union of Christian Social Democrats, Joseph Ilio, Mr Tshisekedi was told if he was given the task of forming a government, he would have to get on with Mr Mobutu.

Members of Mr Mobutu’s Popular Movement for the Revolution party have opposed the appointment of Mr Tshisekedi. Mr Tshisekedi, like all opposition leaders, is a product of the post-independence crisis Zaire suffered between 1960 and 1965. He was a provincial administrator in 1961, and became interior minister in 1965, the year Mr Mobutu seized power in a bloodless coup supported by the US and France.

In 1980 he joined a group of 30 rebel parliamentarians who attempted to create a second political party. In the face of political repression and violence, he nurtured the UDPS throughout the 1980s, largely in exile.

Since his return to Zaire from exile in Belgium in February 1990, Mr Tshisekedi has earned widespread support, particularly in Kinshasa. Until now he has been uncompromising over his view that Zaire can only develop if Mr Mobutu leaves office and the country.

During the past two days, it was Mr Tshisekedi who fought hardest for the formation of the government to be put in the hands of the opposition.


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