THE DEATH RATTLE of the 32-year tyranny of Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire came when Gen. Nzimbi Ngbale donned civilian clothes and hopped a speedboat to sanctuary in neighboring Congo. If a last stand was going to be made, the presidential guard he commanded would have made it. The departure of President Mobutu from Kinshasa and announcement of his giving up power were anticlimax.
Taking over an unresisting Kinshasa is a daunting challenge. It is a Third World megalopolis of some five million people, who need water and food and sanitation, reached by few roads, a mighty river and an airport.
The insurgent Laurent Kabila has been handed Zaire by the brutal stupidity of the Mobutu regime. The ultimate provocation was the order of the deputy governor of South Kivu province, last Oct. 7, that 300,000 Banyamulenge "return" within a week to Rwanda, from whence their Tutsi ancestors had come two centuries earlier. Instead, the Banyamulenge rose, became the initial army of Mr. Kabila, who had been without followers for three decades. They made common cause with the new regime in Rwanda to repress the refugee Hutu militia.
One ethnic group and region after another came to terms with the rebellion or offered services. There has been little fighting. The worst atrocities have been Banyamulenge reprisals against defenseless Hutu refugees. One of the great ironies is that mighty Zaire was brought low by spillover of the ethnic tragedy of tiny adjoining countries, Rwanda and Burundi. Had Zaire any strength, that would have had little effect. Mobutu ruled by keeping his country weak.
Unlike President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, who has played a statesmanlike role trying to broker a peaceful transition for him, Mr. Kabila defeated a regime. Unlike Mr. Mandela, Mr. Kabila had no help of moral pressure or economic sanctions from Western powers. Unlike Mr. Mandela, the powers that did help were African regimes with scores to settle.
The reality is that Mr. Kabila is coming untested to power by the will of the Zairian people who were fed up with what the U.S. and France thought was good enough for them. They think anything has to be an improvement, and they are probably right.
Pub Date: 5/17/97