In Congo's capital, people wonder who these liberators are
May. 30, 1997
KINSHASA, Congo (AP) _ When Laurent Kabila's rebels marched into the capital to complete their overthrow of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, people rushed to the streets to cheer them on.
But they quickly realized what has become a major issue in the patchwork politics of Congo _ the ragged, weary rebels who didn't smile were foreigners to Kinshasa's population, speaking different languages and coming from different cultures.
Almost two weeks later, those differences are still a source of anti-Kabila protests and concern among residents of the capital that outsiders now run their country.
The vast Congo _ Africa's third-largest nation, the size of almost half the United States _ is home to some 250 tribes speaking dozens of languages and dialects. Barely existent transportation makes land travel difficult or impossible, meaning most people see little more than their home regions.
``We in the west (of Congo) rarely come into contact with those in the east,'' said waiter Ahmed Wanzo, 30. ``We don't speak the same language. We don't have the same traditions or attitudes. To us, they're foreigners.''
Politicians in Africa have cleverly and traditionally used ethnicity to divide and conquer the opposition. In Congo, the tall, angular Tutsi minority descended from Arab-influenced people of the east is the usual political scapegoat of darker, shorter majority tribes.
Militant students in Kinshasa target Tutsis as infiltrators from neighboring Rwanda. The students, supporters of opposition figure Etienne Tshisekedi, resent that Kabila's forces succeeded in doing something they wanted Tshisekedi to do _ topple Mobutu.
Now, they say, the Tutsis who marched into Kinshasa should go home.
``They got rid of Mobutu and we appreciate that, but we don't need them anymore,'' said Jean-Pierre Aliba, 21, a chef. ``We've had enough foreign rulers.''
During a protest march against Kabila last week, students chanted, ``He gave our country to Rwanda. Kabila, assassin of Congo,'' and taunted and attacked Tutsi passersby.
``There are no Tutsis in Zaire,'' claimed Joseph Kazadi Kongolo, a businessman who backs Tshisekedi and insists on calling the country by its pre-Kabila name. ``Speaking the same language doesn't make you a true Zairian.''
Few in Kinshasa know much about Kabila and what his Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo stands for. Its roots as a small, regional rebel group that joined a fight against efforts to oust Tutsis from eastern territories raised more questions than answers, and Kabila's failure to speak publicly for almost two weeks after claiming power exacerbated the skepticism.
``I don't know these people,'' complained Sylvester Mbinda, a middle-aged government worker. ``They don't speak our language, they don't come from here. I'm afraid they will demand too high a price for helping Kabila win.''
Such fears were bolstered by Kabila's swearing-in Thursday, when his major foreign backers _ the presidents of Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Angola _ lined up to embrace him and express their support. For only the first time in the eight-month campaign, he delivered a major speech in French _ the common language of most Congolese _ instead of Swahili, the dominant language in the east.
Kabila and the Alliance have called for unity and making the most of Congo's ethnic diversity. But some steps by the conquerors failed to help the situation.
A new government named last week included only one Kinshasa official among 13 positions and reserved most of the power for Kabila. That particularly galled Tshisekedi and his followers, who wanted Tshisekedi to be prime minister.
They have staged two protests that were dispersed by soldiers. The backlash was expected by the Alliance, which realized Tshisekedi's popularity in his home city, said new Interior Minister Mwenze Kongolo.
``A lot of people thought we were fighting for Mr. Tshisekedi and that didn't really make sense, but that's the way they were feeling and we knew it,'' he said. ``We knew that as soon as we refused to put that man in the government, a lot of people would be unhappy.''
Other complexities of the post-Mobutu era are evident. After the rebel invasion of Kinshasa, workers at the state radio building faced a young rebel fighter, assault rifle in hand, who refused them entry.
As the workers showed their identity cards and explained the situation, the problem became clear. They were lifelong residents of the capital who spoke French, a language unfamiliar to the Swahili-speaking rebel from the east.
Eventually, a multi-linguist intervened and the potential conflict was resolved.