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New Left Review I/222, March-April 1997


Colette Braeckman

Zaire at the End of a Reign

President Mobutu Sese Seko’s triumphal return in December to his capital Kinshasa, a place he had avoided for many years, proved only a nine days’ wonder. After just three weeks, and despite his parlous physical condition, he was off to Morocco and Egypt in search of military aid, and to France where he can liaise with his most faithful backers as well as benefit from the ministrations of his doctors. During subsequent brief stays in Zaire, he has preferred a remote palace in Equateur to the capital. The President’s belated and brief appearance allowed his subjects to see that he was so ravaged by illness as to be barely recognizable—his compatriots, supporters and adversaries alike, suddenly became aware that a page was being turned. Zaire’s problem now is to foil the efforts of the zombie President’s most crazed supporters—namely, the officials of the Quai D’Orsay and the dgse (the French intelligence service)—and to find a way to remove a man who has monopolized power for thirty-six years. Until the rebellion last November, Mobutu obscured the political horizon so thoroughly that, despite all evidence to the contrary, many members of the country’s political class, even oppositionists, and most foreign observers, saw him as politically indispensable, the sole guarantor of the country’s unity. The Western powers are even now prepared to believe that a man who has given his country decades of ever-deepening corruption, nepotism and pillage is capable of leading it into the era of democracy! The European Union and other members of the international community offered to spend $250 million to finance closely supervised elections in Zaire, pretending to believe—or perhaps really believing—that the dictator who had ruined the country still had a good chance of winning a free election.

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