Unfinished business in Congo Albright visit: Open politics, end to ethnic slaughter remain U.S. goals.

December 18, 1997

LAURENT KABILA, the Congo dissident who fronted for the Rwandan-led forces that toppled the crumbling Mobutu dictatorship last year, has yet to show he can hold his country together and improve the lives of 45 million suffering compatriots. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's visit emphasized U.S. support for his role as transitional president, but also acknowledged the absence of choice. He's the only game in Kinshasa.

What the U.S. wants from Mr. Kabila is freedom for political opposition. This from a power that propped up the tyranny of the late Mobutu Sese Seko for 32 years. Despite assurances, Mr. Kabila has not convinced anyone that he both understands and agrees with open politics. What the diverse peoples of Congo (formerly Zaire) want most, however, is stability and order, transportation that works free of brigandage, and a resumption of economic life. Some people understand politics and mean to resume it, and long to be rid of the foreign soldiers who won Mr. Kabila's victory.

In Rwanda, which Ms. Albright visited first, the problem is the ethnic civil war between Hutu majority and Tutsi upper class that has reached genocidal proportions in both directions and spread atrocities over Rwanda, Burundi and Congo. While Ms. Albright was there, conferring with Hutu President Pasteur Bizimungu and Tutsi strongman Paul Kagame, Hutu thugs slaughtered hundreds of Tutsi refugees from Congo in a camp 80 miles away.

In Kigali, Ms. Albright offered Rwanda aid to the tune of $1.7 million to demobilize soldiers, $1.2 million to educate refugees and $1 million for economic projects. In Congo, she said the administration would ask Congress for $35 million to $40 million in new aid, on top of resuming Peace Corps activities and giving $10 million to a World Bank fund for Congo.

As bribes for good behavior, these would be much too small. No government would alter its policies for them. As token encouragement, they may make sense. For better or worse, budget constraints and congressional isolationism have taken the U.S. out of the foreign aid game, as far as extending influence goes. Repeating the mantra about being the world's only surviving superpower resonates only so far in the absence of largess.

Mr. Kabila in Congo and General Kagame in Rwanda are not beholden to the U.S. They are on their own. Mr. Kagame is up to it, if anyone can be in his tragic country, while Mr. Kabila still has much to prove.

Pub Date: 12/18/97

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