Mobutu Cronies Lead Resistance to Reforms
KINSHASA, Zaire (AP) _ They’re called the ″baby dinosaurs″ - wealthy, educated and fighting political reforms that could make their life of comfort extinct.
Hundreds of cronies of longtime President Mobutu Sese Seko - nicknamed ″the dinosaur″ by friend and foe - are trying to maintain their privileges even as a national conference on democracy seeks to break from past corruption and patronage.
At the moment, at least, the influence of the ″baby dinosaurs″ is vast. Some opposition newspapers claim Mobutu has become a virtual prisoner of those he enriched to stay in power during his 27-year rule, and cannot leave now even if he wants.
″I’m the prototype of what they call a ’baby dinosaur,‴ said Dauli Lengema, 35, president of the Belgian-Zaire Chamber of Commerce. ″I’m privileged by the system.″
The elder Marcel Lengema was an ambassador from 1980-86, earning enough money to send his son to study in Belgium, Switzerland and the United States.
But like most ″baby dinosaurs,″ Lengema has avoided directly entering politics. Instead, they chose jobs in banking, law and business.
″My profession is a profession of stability. It’s a contrast with the country. It’s an unstable country,″ said Lengema, an administrator at the Commerical Bank of Zaire.
Mobutu yielded to pressure and established the democracy conference last year after riots by unpaid soldiers caused nearly $1 billion in damage and forced the evacuation of 15,000 foreigners, many of whom provided jobs in the former Belgian colony.
Similar conferences have ended one-party regimes in more than a dozen other African nations since 1990.
Claude Munga Makayi, another ″baby dinosaur″ and leader of Zaire’s Young Republican Party, smokes cigars and idolizes J.R. Ewing of the television show ″Dallas.″
″J.R. Ewing reflects reality. J.R. does whatever is necessary to reach his goal,″ said Munga, called ″J.R.″ by friends for the French acronymn of his party.
Munga and many of the other ″baby dinosaurs″ speak English well and eat and shop at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kinshasa, an oasis of decadence in a capital where three-fourths of the 3 million people are jobless.
For Munga, Mobutu is democratic because he tolerates criticism in Kinshasa newspapers and the country’s national conference. ″Dictatorship is intolerance, and tolerance is democracy,″ he said.
Munga is a delegate at the national conference, which Mobutu tried to pack with supporters when it opened. Opposition groups managed to win control, but the president still controls the military and can shut it down at any time.
Mobutu closed the conference in January but reopened it under international pressure after his troops shot and killed at least 32 people in a church- organized, pro-democracy demonstration.
Munga boasts of recently spending a week with Mobutu. ″We ate together every day, lunch, dinner.″
But he still felt out of touch. During that week Munga could not be reached on his cellular telephone - the only reliable means of communication in the country. The cellular phone office said he had not paid his bill.
″I would feel bad when I came home to Zaire on vacation and we lived in a very nice villa and the house next door did not even have running water,″ said Ngame Zamundu, a business lawyer whose father is a former government minister. ″But I did not feel guilty for what I had.″
Zamundu says the ″baby dinosaurs″ cannot change much in Zaire anyway.
″It’s like a tree that is badly planted and cannot bear fruit,″ he said.