Dictator must go,Zaire rebels say

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    Rebels are giving Zaire President Mobutu Sese Seko eight days to step down.

    “He has to choose to relinquish power and he is safeguarded, or he perishes with his power,” rebel leader Laurent Kabila said in an Associated Press story published Monday.

    After 32 years of dictatorship, Mobutu’s popularity has dwindled. Zaireans are tired of his oppressive regime and are looking hopefully toward their “liberator” Kabila. Kabila is leading troops toward Zaire’s capital, Kinshasa. They are now only 40 miles away and are looking forward to the overthrow of their president, the AP reported.

    Wesley Johnson, a political science professor specializing in African politics, pointed out the role the United States played during the Cold War in allowing Mobutu to stay in power.

    “It was power politics. Zaire was in a strategic position with relation to the Soviet Union, so the United States chose to funnel money to him in hopes that it would keep him away from the Communists,” Johnson said.

    The hope was that a more wholesome leader would eventually arise and take Mobutu’s place.

    “Although Mobutu was not very educated, he was not dumb. He took the money and rather than investing it in the country as he had promised, he opened Swiss bank accounts and bought property in Europe,” Johnson said.

    Johnson said there were not many potential leaders in 1960. Zaire had been a Belgian colony, and the Belgians had not furnished the country with a good educational system. This translated to lack of experienced leaders at the time of independence.

    Johnson said the only true leader produced in Zaire under Belgian rule, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated shortly after gaining power. That left Mobutu, whose leadership experience was developed as a sergeant in the military.

    Thirty-two years later, Zaire is in no better shape than when the Belgians decolonized it. Poverty is rampant and government corruption is normal. Meanwhile, Mobutu’s personal coffers are full with Western foreign aid, some of which originated in the United States.

    Early in the ’90s, with the close of the Cold War, the Mobutu question was raised again.

    “U.S. policymakers realized they had created a monster. But they didn’t want to dump Mobutu because the alternative would have been anarchy. They decided to wait,” Johnson said.

    Bob Richardson, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been urging Mobutu to use his prostate cancer and weak health conditions as the reason behind his stepping down from office.

    “The truth is, Mobutu has little choice,” Johnson said. “Either Kabila will take over Kinshasa and overthrow Mobutu, or Mobutu can step down peacefully and avoid a lot of bloodshed. I believe there is a stronger likelihood that Richardson will be able to persuade Mobutu to step down. Mobutu has a big ego. But I think it will be resolved peacefully.”

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