Angola, Zimbabwe pledge guns to Kabila

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The Independent Online
THE RWANDAN-backed rebellion in the Democratic Republic of Congo threatened to spiral into a regional disaster yesterday when Zimbabwe and Angola pledged to send in guns and soldiers to save President Laurent Kabila's beleaguered regime.

As rebel forces continued to close on the Congo capital, Kinshasa, Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe, claimed that the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), chaired by the South African President, Nelson Mandela, had "unanimously" agreed to send in troops. SADC considered the rebellion an invasion of Congo by Uganda and Rwanda, he said.

But the announcement exposed divisions within SADC. Some member countries - including the regional superpower, South Africa - were clearly horrified yesterday by President Mugabe's undertaking. Yesterday President Mandela, emphasising that he was speaking as SADC chair, said the situation would be exacerbated by sending in foreign troops.

Although Mr Mugabe, one of Mr Kabila's few close allies, chairs SADC's defence committee, the body's status is under internal review. The meeting at which he claims the decision to back Mr Kabila was taken was attended by only nine member states.

Richard Cornwall of the South African Institute for Security Studies said the SADC split was an ominous sign that the conflict could spread beyond Congo's borders. But he said Mr Mugabe, still bitter about having to hand over the SADC chairmanship to President Mandela, had been engineering an alliance with the governments of Angola, Namibia and Zambia for weeks in support of military intervention. That alliance considers South Africa too close to Uganda and Rwanda.

For Mr Cornwall it marks a parting of the ways for the region's "political dinosaurs", led by the autocratic Mr Mugabe (who faces an uprising in his own country) from Africa's more enlightened democratic leaders. Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's president-in-waiting, is an unofficial spokesman for the latter group.

In the past month, Mr Mbeki has had reason to blush at his prophecy of a political and social renaissance in Africa. In the past two weeks he has railed against political corruption and dictatorial leaders who steal from their people to line their own pockets. Mr Mugabe and a few other presidents appear to have taken this personally.

South Africa's relations with Mr Kabila's government have never been warm. Last year, when South Africa tried to broker a political settlement between Mr Kabila - then himself the frontman for a Rwandan-backed rebellion - and Mobutu Sese Seko, former president of Zaire, as Congo was known formerly, Mr Kabila failed to show up for a meeting on board a South African naval ship.

While Mr Mandela endured a humiliating day-long wait, South African government insiders made clear that Mr Mandela thought Mr Kabila "an arrogant son of a bitch".

Mr Kabila went on to alienate Rwanda and Uganda, who put him in power, primarily to secure their own borders. He not only failed to provide security but courted the enemies of his sponsors.

The current crisis owes everything to the Rwandan Tutsi obsession with survival following the 1994 genocide of 800,000 Tutsis by Rwanda's majority Hutus. The Hutus continue to find refuge in Congo.

The Tutsi army is far superior to anything that Congo and her emerging major alliescan muster. "The Rwandans would make mincemeat of them all," said one political analyst yesterday.

There is considerable admiration - notably within the US government - for Rwanda, regarded as the Israel of Africa. Despite the military might of the minority Tutsi government, however, sheer weight of Hutu numbers make its long term prospects bleak.

In the regional crisis, precipitated by the Congo rebellion, alliances are switching at breakneck speed, based on shifting self interest. Morally the situation is a mire. All alliances are unholy. Sworn enemies at the time of Mobutu's dethroning have become the most convenient of friends.

Senior members of the Mobutu regime, who grew fat and rich during his 30-year corrupt rule, have been sighted in Rwanda. Just over a year after Rwanda chased them from power, the Mobutuists are suspected of bankrolling the rebel army.

In another twist, the rebellion in Congo has breathed new life into a spent political force. Jonas Savimbi, leader of Angola's rebel Unita forces, was written off after Mobutu's departure cut off the supply routes for Unita arms. It is reported that Unita soldiers are now allies of the Rwandan rebels - a development that could hasten an almost certain return to war in Angola. Yesterday, Angola said it was part of a "collective decision" to send Mr Kabila military help.

Without outside intervention Mr Kabila may be banished from Kinshasa by the weekend. It is likely that he will set up a base in his tribal stronghold of Lubumbashi in the south where he may perhaps push for the secession of the Katanga region from the vast, unstable Congo.

Rwandan Tutsis can hardly expect to rule from Kinshasa, where hate radio has been inciting violence against them for the past week. Whether the Congolese opposition figures, which now front the offensive against Mr Kabila, will be seen as credible in Kinshasa remains to be seen.