Related topics

Rebellion signals realignment in Africa _ this time, by Africans

May 19, 1997

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ Laurent Kabila’s remarkable rebellion in Zaire signals a change in Africa on a scale unseen since the continent was carved up by European powers in the late 19th century.

The end of Mobutu Sese Seko’s three-decade reign of corruption and kleptocracy opens up the center of Africa to new economic and political alignments that have little to do with traditional European or U.S. interests.

Much of the impetus for the change comes from Uganda and South Africa _ whose leaders see Africa’s future in terms of regions and economic blocs, rather than as individual nations whose boundaries were arbitrarily drawn by Europeans.

Despite achieving independence in the 1960s, African nations long continued their relationship with Europe _ mainly France, Belgium, Britain, and, to a lesser extent, Portugal _ as client-states without independent domestic or foreign policies.

During the Cold War, African countries often served as proxies in the turf wars of the United States or the Soviet Union.

The current change is important because it is African-inspired and oriented, born both of circumstance and of the desire of a new generation of leaders to move beyond narrow ethnicity and the accumulation of wealth as the reasons for seeking and exercising power.

The end of the Cold War and South Africa’s transition to a multiracial, democratic society made it possible for Africa to begin a new relation with itself _ and the rest of the world.

India and Korea have become major investors and traders in eastern and southern Africa, and they don’t demand political allegiance or correctness in return.

Rather than looking toward Europe or the United States, nations in eastern and southern Africa are looking toward what is being called the Indian Ocean Rim, stretching from India and Pakistan down through Mauritius and on to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda _ and now, Zaire.

And the new African leaders have widened their horizons _ not by going to Paris or to London but by moving around in Africa and exchanging ideas with their peers.

Gabon, Congo, Togo, Chad and the Central African Republic _ still client-states of France _ could not help Mobutu because France would not help them do so.

Rwanda and Angola had precise reasons for helping Kabila’s rebel alliance get rid of Mobutu: Mobutu was the main backer of the 32-year Hutu regime in Rwanda that refused to allow Tutsi refugees return home. And he allowed Zaire to be used _ for a price _ as a U.S.-supplied conduit for arms to UNITA rebels in Angola, which helped fuel a 20-year civil war.

The future relationship of Rwanda and Angola with Zaire depends on how well Kabila manages to juggle the competing interests within his alliance, whose military successes are due in large part to the strategic thinking of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Rwandan Gen. Paul Kagame and Angolan Gen. Joao de Matos.

Museveni _ the leader of a 10-year bush war against Ugandan dictators Idi Amin and Milton Obote _ aided the Rwandan Tutsis’ overthrow of the militant Hutu government in 1994.

Museveni believes that only through regional development blocs _ and the political structures to accompany them _ can Africa develop the economic base that makes democracy viable.

There has been much hand-wringing over the supposedly inherent chaos of central Africa. But the region is no more doomed to perpetual ethnic conflict than Western Europe was _ once the economic problems got sorted out.

Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has rushed to do business in what is its natural market _ the rest of Africa.

Kenyan policy analyst Sam Mwale sees South Africa as the driving force in the integration of Zaire into a larger African economic community, and sees Deputy President Thabo Mbeki as the champion of South African business interests.

A peaceful and relatively prosperous Zaire will buy South African products and will ship its mineral ore south through Zambia.

Ugandan businessmen _ many of them from the same Asian families kicked out of Uganda by Amin in 1972 _ are already opening banks in eastern Zaire and supplying shops with everything from bed linen to boom boxes.


EDITORS: Susan Linnee is Associated Press bureau chief in Nairobi. She has covered Africa since the early 1980s.

Update hourly