Praying for a miracle in Zaire - World - News - The Independent

Praying for a miracle in Zaire

When Zaire's president, General Mobutu Sese Seko, returned to his crumbling, war-torn country last month thousands thronged to Kinshasa airport to greet him. Tens of thousands more lined the broken and pitted 12-mile road into the capital and crammed Kinshasa's main street.

This "spontaneous" outburst of affection from one of the poorest nations in the world surely even brought a tear to the eye of a corrupt old dictator, back on home soil after four months treatment in the south of France for prostate cancer.

When Mr Mobutu left Kinshasa to return to France for more treatment two weeks later he sneaked to the airport by side roads. There was no big- event staging; no special transport to deliver waving crowds to the roadsides and no laminated gold name cards for the army of foreign journalists who flew in for the president's return and were astonished by the uncharacteristic organisational skills of a regime which has grown rich and fat while presiding over the slow death of Zaire.

People who spotted Mr Mobutu's entourage on its way to the airport booed the president; a brave few, legend now has it, even threw stones. This week, Kengo wa Dondo, the Prime Minister appointed during Mr Mobutu's short visit home, issued a rallying call to all Zaireans to support a major military offensive to retake eastern Zaire from the rebels who swept through the region three months ago.

Patriotic demonstrations paralysed the capital when the Rwandan-backed rebellion in eastern Zaire began. This week, as mercenaries from France, South Africa and Angola assembled 800 miles east in Kisangani to replace the unpaid and thuggish Zairean troops who retreated from the enemy, the nationalist appeal met an eerie silence in the capital.

Satellite has defeated the state propaganda machine. In television interviews, Laurent Kabila - the rebel leader condemned as a traitor by the government - has convinced many Zaireans that his rebellion is home-grown, and not merely the creation of Rwanda. He is now a potential saviour, a close second to Etienne Tshisekedi, the main opposition leader.

The city is alive with rumours that Mr Kabila was in Kinshasa on Christmas Day. When he launched his insurrection, he promised Zaire he would reach Kinshasa by then. Zaireans ignore the near impossibility of such a feat: 800 miles of roadless jungle separates the capital from the conflict. But the desperate must be allowed to believe in miracles .

"I would support Kabila if he came to Kinshasa," says January, 34, born two years after Mr Mobutu took power. In his lifetime, Zaire's economy has collapsed and its infrastructure disappeared. The old colonial roads peter out into jungle just outside the city.

January has never had a job. His two young children are in hospital. In a country where inflation is more than 4,000 per cent, barter is the mainstay of the economy. At a hospital pawn shop, full of domestic appliances, January has just handed over a suitcase - one of his few possessions - to meet his children's medical bills.

He lays his misery right at Mr Mobutu's door. "When he was back he promised much and changed nothing," he said. The President raised hopes when he returned by saying he was listening to the nation and would respond positively to their demands. Kinshasa celebrated, sure that Mr Mobuto meant he would reinstate Mr Tshisekedi as prime minister. "Instead he made sure Mr Kengo, his puppet, was appointed," said January. "We just want change from anyone who can give it."

Like almost everyone in Kinshasa, January is involved in a new defiance campaign; refusing to use new bank notes issued last week because they weaken an already worthless currency. Mr Mobutu had the good sense to head back to his French villa before the notes were released. In the last few months, the zaire (the national currency) has halved in value from 80,000 to the dollar to 160,000.

"They are happy to issue the new bills though it means more misery for us," says Lady Matshiaba, 25, a baker. The new notes - nicknamed the prostate - are shunned all over town; and those who ignore the popular protest are beaten by other citizens in the street. "We call it the prostate," said a local teacher, "because cancer kills and this money may kill us".

Kinshasa (Reuter) - The government said yesterday that the army had launched its promised counter-offensive in the east and recaptured the town of Walikale. A defence ministry statement said that 100 rebels had been killed.

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week