On May 17 the forces of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) took Zaire's capital Kinshasa and changed the name of the country to Democratic Republic of Congo putting an end to 31 years of dictatorship by Mobutu Sese Seko.
The irresistible advance of the ADFL began only seven months ago in Eastern Zaire. How has it been possible for these forces to take over a territory nearly as big as Western Europe? Who are they and who is backing them? And what will this new situation bring for the impoverished masses of the new Democratic Republic of Congo?
The immediate origins of the conflict can be traced back to the massacre of Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994. The then president of Rwanda Habyarimana engineered a mass killing of the Tutsi minority of the population. In three short months, over a million people were killed. The massacre only ended when the forces of the Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) finally took power. Hundreds of thousands of Hutu fled the country, mainly to Zaire fearing revenge. Amongst them were many of those directly responsible for the massacre, former Rwandan army officers and the Hutu (Interahamwe) militias, armed by the Rwandan president Habyarimana in order to organise the massacre.
Once in Eastern Zaire, the Rwandan Hutu militias started to reorganise their forces, hiding inside the refugee camps and actually running them. Using the refugee camps as military bases, they carried out attacks on both the new Rwandan government and the local, Tutsi population (the Banyamulenge). The latter were not "foreigners", but had lived in the area for two centuries. The Hutu militias rearmed themselves with weapons supplied by British, French and South African arms companies. Most of the international aid companies turned a blind eye. In the meantime they and the Zairian regime made a big business out of the humanitarian aid sent by Western powers. The French and Belgium governments were especially keen to help the Hutu Interahamwe militias to take back control of Rwanda from the RPF government, which was backed by Washington.
The last straw was last October, when the regional governor issued a decree to expel all Banyalumenge Tutsi to Rwanda - probably an attempt by Mobutu to divert attention from the problems of the population by provocking a tribal-based conflict. This was the reason why the Eastern Zaire Banyamulenge Tutsi, supported by the Rwandan and Ugandan armies, attacked the refugee camps. A big section of the Hutu in the camps were being prevented from going back to Rwanda by the Interahamwe militias who were using them as a human shields for their operations. Once freed from their pressure, hundreds of thousands went back to Rwanda. Another section, mainly those responsible for the 1994 Rwandan massacre went further into Zaire with all those they managed to force to go with them.
By now in Eastern Zaire an alliance had been formed between different forces against the Mobutu regime. This alliance (the ADFL) was not an ethnic-based force as it has been presented in the Western media, but included people from different areas of the country. The different groups in the Alliance were Kabila's People's Revolutionary Party created in 1967 after the defeat of the struggle against Mobutu's regime; the Democratic People's Alliance created in 1995 as a self defence organisation of the Banyarwanda and Banyamulenge in North and South Kivu; the Revolutionary Zairian Liberation Movement, created in 1994 in the Bukuvu region; and the National Resistance Council created in 1993 by opposition forces in Kasai.
They were supported by the Rwandan government in order to put an end to the guerrilla war against Rwanda by the Hutu militias. The Ugandan government backed them as a reprisal against the Mobutu regime for its support to the Islamic rebels operating against Uganda from Zairian territory. The Angolan regime supported them in retaliation for Zaire's support for the UNITA troops in wrecking their country. And finally, US imperialism backed them as a part of its regional war of interest against French imperialism. But this was not the main reason for their success.
After the fall of Stalinism we were promised a New World Order of peace and prosperity. But we do not hear much about this these days! In fact one of the features of this new period is an increase of inter-imperialist conflicts in the search for new markets and new fields of investment, exacerbated by the crisis of capitalism. In Africa this struggle is mainly between French imperialism (the former, now much enfeebled, colonial ruler) and US imperialism. Different chapters of this drama have already been played out in Rwanda (where France supported Hutu president Habyarimana and the US were supporting the Tutsi RPF forces), Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic (where France sent paratroops to defend "its" president against mutinies on a number of occasions), Sudan (where there is a renewed offensive of the South Christian forces in an alliance with other opposition forces, including the "Communist" Party, supported by the US and its local ally Ethiopia), and so on.
But the main reason for the rapid success of the ADFL forces can be found in the extreme unpopularity of Mobutu's regime; the extreme lack of willingness to fight of his Army, demoralised and badly armed and equipped and unpaid for months; and the support of the local population in the liberated areas. The pattern of the struggle was graphically described by Colette Braeckman in Le Monde Diplomatique (February 1997): "The ADFL has not had to wage violent confrontations: it has been enough for the rumour that they were coming to spread, for the Zairian Army to retreat in a disorderly fashion. Every time the scenario has been the same: refusing to fight, the soldiers start looting the local population for the last time, extracting from them the tribute which they have got used to taking." Mobutu's regime had previously used the tactic of not paying its soldiers in order to provoke riots and looting against the population, thus preventing a popular revolt.
The disintegration of the army went so far as to affect layers of the officers. An army lieutenant was quoted by the Times on February 17 as saying: "There must be a change of government. Mobutu must go into exile or retire. If this does not happen and our comrades in the field are not paid, fed, armed, and properly led, we will clean out all the ministers and anyone above the rank of major" The hiring by the government of mercenaries, mainly former members of the South African army, made no difference. These "heroes", as could be predicted, ran like rabbits as soon as they met serious resistence.
The old regime had become one of the most hated in Africa. Mobutu and the clique around him were specialists in extracting wealth from the country and the population and transferring it to their own pockets. The regime became known as a kleptocracy (rule of the thieves) and Mobutu has been aptly described as a "walking bank account with a leopard skin hat".
Zaire is potentially one of the wealthiest countries in Africa. It leads the world in industrial diamond production, produces about a quarter of the world's cobalt, holds 80% of world reserves, and ranks sixth in copper production. The Mbuji May diamond mine (in Western Kasai) alone has annual profits of 450 million dollars. Zinc, tin, manganese, gold, silver, iron ore, and uranium are also found there. Energy resources include 13 percent of the world's total hydroelectric potential, oil reserves, and some coal deposits.
Nevertheless its population did not derive the slightest benefit from these riches. Per capita income is around $100, when the World Bank puts the poverty line at $370. This figure is actually the same as in the early 60s, while Mobutu's personal wealth is $5 billion, almost as much as the country's foreign debt. In 1994 the amount of money going directly to the president ($327 million), was lower than the actual state budget of $300 million. Life expectancy in Kinshasa is between 40 and 45 years. Hyperinflation has become chronic, reaching 6,030% in 1994.
But although all Western regimes now hypocritically expose his crimes and corruption, they conveniently forget that it was they who put him in power in 1965 when, with the help of the CIA, he betrayed and murdered the revolutionary leader Patrice Lumumba. The West defended him time and again from the revolt of his own people.
When the threat of "communism" had disappeared he was no longer of any use for imperialism. He was also becoming too expensive and difficult to control. They thought it would be better to reform from the top in order to prevent a rebellion from below. It is not the first time that a puppet of imperialism has become useless for them and they try to replace it by a more reliable and cheap form of government (Haiti, Philippines). Sometimes they had even had to resort to military intervention (Iraq, Panama).
What does Kabila stand for? He started out as a left, fighting with Che Guevara against Mobutu's regime in the 1960s. Since then, however, he has travelled a long way and no longer talks about "Marxism", but of the need for a "social market economy". Now it seems he has excellent relations with the big multinational companies. He renewed the mining concessions to international companies even before the end of the civil war. The first major deal with the Alliance forces was signed in April by the US. company American Mineral Fields, a $1 billion agreement for AMF to mine copper, cobalt and zinc. Early in May the Canadian-based Tengke Mining Corporation shifted its contract with the Mobutu regime for the copper and cobalt mines in Shaba to an agreement with the Alliance. In both cases the ADFL received large amounts of money which was used to finance the military operations. It is hardly conceivable that mining companies would be financing Kabila if they thought he was going to take over the economy and run it in the interests of Zairian people.
In fact, one of the reasons why the US finally ditched Mobutu was his insistence in maintaining some sort of control over the mining exploitations through the state owned company (not for the benefit of the Zairian masses, but to increase his own wealth, of course!). As the Financial Times said when the ADFL took over the mining provinces: "Rebel control of Zaire's most important mining and diamond trading centres would enable the privatisation of Zaire's mineral wealth to proceed unhindered by the ailing president." This is quite clear. But nevertheless, things may not be as clear as this would suggest.
The fact that Kabila has come to power on the basis of a military take over does not please US imperialism, and even less French imperialism which supported Mobutu right to the end. They were insisting all the way in an "all inclusive agreement with all opposition forces" and a "peaceful transference of power". This was clearly expressed by the Financial Times (April 28): "The US and other Western powers are anxious for Kabila to win control of Kinshasa as part of a negotiated settlement (...) rather than at the head of an all-conquering rebel force, answerable to no one".
Obviously what worries them is the implications for other dictators in the area (supported by Washington). The Times, on May 20 carried the following declarations by a western ambassador in Zaire, which accurately reflect those worries: "What's worrying us is we don't know where, or when, these men are going to stop. Will they try to take on every bad guy on the continent: Is Sani Abacha [Nigeria's dictator] next? How comfortable is Mr Moi in Kenya?"
Understandably the new regime has raised a lot of expectations amongst the masses. After decades of oppression and plunder they wanted a change. There were several general strikes in the capital in the last few months demanding the end of Mobutu regime. "People want Kabila to win the war and come here, simply because we're fed up with the way of living here under Mobutu", Luke Mkaal, a business person, told Associated Press reporter Tina Susman on February 14.
Socialists and workers all over the world will welcome with enthusiasm the overthrow of Mobutu. But the problems of Zaire cannot be reduced to just one individual, Mobutu. He was only in there because he guaranteed the imperialist exploitation of the country's natural resources, and the general interests of imperialism against Stalinism in the area. The model the US is preparing for Zaire is Uganda, a country with an authoritarian regime (but one backed by the US), where the government is implementing all World Bank and IMF plans for the benefit of imperialism.
The only solution for workers and peasants in Zaire is independent class action to defend their own interests. Only by nationalising the country's vast natural resources and means of production and putting them to work in order to solve the many problems of the masses, can the situation begin to improve. We have to remember that it was precisely the drop in the coffee prices caused by the World Bank's Structural Adjustment Plan for Rwanda which forced many (mainly Hutu) small farmers into the Interahamwe militias which sparked the 1994 massacre in Rwanda. Capitalism can only mean, war, starvation and misery for the African masses. But even on the basis of a socialist programme it would be impossible to solve the problems of the Zairian population on their own. The key to the solution lies in the countries a strong proletariat, especially South Africa and Nigeria. A socialist revolution in Zaire would be an important first step, but only the spreading of this to the rest of this plundered continent could offer hope for the masses. On the basis of a genuine socialist programme, the workers and peasants of Africa can yet light a beacon which can set the world ablaze.