Independence leaves nations a long way from freedom

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The largest country in central and east Africa, with a population of 47 million, has suffered a torrid 30 years since independence from Belgium in 1960. Mobutu Sese Seko seized power in 1965 and became president five years later, changing the name of the country to Zaire and maintaining an iron grip for three decades until toppled by Laurent Kabila, whose Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire swept through the country during 1996-97. Kabila offered hope of stability in central Africa, but since his victory last year, he has failed to forge unity and now faces rebellion backed by Rwandan forces who helped defeat Mobutu.


The country of 20 million won independence from Britain in 1962, and was ruled for a bloody decade by Idi Amin Dada, who overthrew founding president Milton Obote in 1971. Amin expelled the Asian community, railed against "foreign economic domination" and killed political opponents, but Obote's return to power after Amin's overthrow in 1979 was even more bloody. Things have improved since President Yoweri Museveni, who has been active in the latest peace talks, took over in 1986.


This tiny eastern Congo neighbour has suffered horrific violence between the Hutu majority and minority Tutsis, who traditionally dominated elite government and army positions. During 1994's genocide by the extremist Hutu government, more than a seventh of the country's 7.7 million died, and two million others fled. Today's Tutsi-led government is believed to have been a key force behind the rise of Kabila, but has now turned against him for failing to curb Hutu rebels on the Congo border.


This densely-populated country of 6 million also has ethnic tensions between Hutus and Tutsis competing for scarce natural resources. Given independence from Belgium in 1962, its first democratically-elected Hutu president was assassinated when an attempted coup by Tutsi soldiers provoked a bloody civil conflict. A year later, in 1994, both Rwandan and Burundian presidents were killed in a mysterious air crash, triggering the Rwandan conflict. Further waves of refugees fled when President Pierre Buyoya took power with the backing of the Tutsi-dominated military.


Like Congo, this country has given refuge to those fleeing conflict, but in 1996 it expelled Rwandan migrants and is now in conflict with Burundi over cross-border attacks. Dominated for three decades by Julius Nyerere, whose theories bankrupted the economy, the nation of 30 million first held democratic elections in 1995.


Some 500,000 people have died in the civil war which began after the country of 10.5 million gained independence from Portugal in 1975. A UN- brokered peace deal between the government and rebel forces (the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola - Unita) in 1994 ended hostilities. But the struggle for control of Angola, rich in oil and diamonds, is now threatening to boil over again.