Africa has to take full responsibility for her woes ... we have set out along the new road

Mandela heralds the dawning of a new age for troubled continent
Click to follow
The Independent Online
The day after Laurent Kabila declared himself President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa's great hero, President Nelson Mandela, announced another dawning: the coming of the new African age.

An African renaissance, he told Zimbabwean politicians on Monday, was at hand. Patriotism demanded that African leaders strive to find African solutions to the woes that crowd what many regard as the world's basket- case continent.

"Thus we have striven to the best of our ability to make a contribution in finding a truly African solution to the problems of Zaire and the Great Lakes region," he said.

The South African president, who presided over recent peace talks between Mr Kabila and the now ousted dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, was developing a theme. A few months ago, Mr Mandela's deputy, Thabo Mbeki, held an audience of American businessmen spellbound with the same lyrical idea; the death of a victim continent and the rise of an Africa which would eventually stand on its own two feet.

In Africa it is easy to understand the notion's appeal. Thirty years after independence from European colonial rule, the continent still languishes at the bottom of the economic heap, its recent history dominated by war, political despots and famine.

Abroad, the idea is warmly received by pragmatic politicians who envisage an end to expensive interventionist policies. It also assuages the guilt that comes from knowing the colonial powers' vicious carving of Africa lies at the root of the continent's current problems; particularly when the world's greatest living statesman argues it is time for Africa to stop blaming the colonialists and "take full responsibility for her woes".

If the renaissance forecast by South Africa is a political vision for the continent, who can quibble? Left by its former white rulers with a severe inferiority complex, a vision of what might be is essential.

But it is debatable whether a new wind of change is beginning to blow across Africa. It is even more arguable whether events in the former Zaire last weekend were really an example of African solutions at work.

Exactly how much influence South African diplomacy had in the creation of the relatively "soft landing" waiting for Kabila's rebel forces in Kinshasa is not yet known. We will have to wait for Mr Kabila's memoirs.

But Mr Mobutu finally relinquished power not because President Mandela and Mr Mbeki sat on a boat all weekend trying to bring him and rebel leader Laurent Kabila together - but because Mr Kabila's rebels forced him to do so.

Mr Kabila has taken power through the barrel of a gun; just as his mentor Yoweri Museveni did in Uganda, and his ally, Defence Minister Paul Kagame, did in Rwanda.

Right up to the end, long after the international community cut him loose, French pragmatic supporters of Mr Mobutu, were insisting he had to be persuaded from power.

"Your Anglo-Saxon democracy will fail," warned a French diplomatic source, forecasting blood on the streets of Kinshasa, just before Mr Mobutu fled. "Mobutu needs to be massaged and wooed like a woman."

According to Ghanian academic George Ayittey, author of Africa Betrayed, there was nothing renaissance-like, or uplifting, about the forces bringing change in Zaire. The downfall of a dictator by military means, he said, sent out the wrong signals. But was there any other way?

The proof of a renaissance will rest not so much in the way power was transferred, as in what Mr Kabila now does, how successfully Congo-Zaire's economy is reformed and the influence other African leaders have on Mr Kabila's thinking.

Those who do see signs of change in Africa point not just to post-apartheid South Africa and the new post-war peace in its neighbouring countries, but to a new post-independence generation of leaders in central and east Africa. Led by Uganda's President Museveni, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Rwanda are ruled by governments characterised by strong and corruption-free administration and relative personal freedom. They managed to secure western loans and support while avoiding multi-party democracy.

If Mr Kabila is not in the Museveni mould and is, as some forecast, another despot in the making, it will be a tremendous blow to the region and the continent as a whole. At the moment, no one knows. "He is absolutely unknown," said a western diplomat and as yet he "has no policies. His advisers are running round like headless chickens".

With so much to do in the bankrupt and ruined Congo-Zaire, Mr Kabila, like President Museveni, may argue that democracy in the short-term will get in the way. But for Congo-Zaire's new ruler multi-party democracy may become a measure of success in the way it has not been for his mentor. "In Uganda's case, Museveni could argue that after Idi Amin, multi-party democracy would divide the country along tribal lines," said a Western diplomatic source.

That argument is not as strong in Congo-Zaire, where politics is less tribally defined and political understanding, particularly in Kinshasa, more sophisticated.

With Zaire in ruins, sceptics say President Mandela's renaissance may well be far too premature, the result of hopeless romanticism from a man still dazzled by the light of South Africa's own miracle.

Leading article, page 19

Renaissance man

Complex problems spanning decades will not lend themselves to easy solutions. But the time has come for Africa to take full responsibility for her woes ... We are convinced that our region and our continent have set out along the new road to realise Africa's dream of her renaissance.

Now that colonialism and apartheid have been consumed by their own fires, the time has come to act, and to act in the interest of the people. History enjoins us to do so: and we dare not fail.

Nelson Mandela