The Dark Horses of 1994: ZAIRE / Darkness encroaches on Mobutu

IS ZAIRE a country any more? The vast undeveloped heart of Africa which balloons out from the Congo river, renamed the Zaire River, is breaking up. So are the countries around it. Chaos, banditry, starvation and disease are likely to affect people in the whole region, hundreds of thousands of whom are already refugees.

In Zaire the writ of the government has never been strong away from the capital, Kinshasa, but now it has collapsed. It is a collapse not triggered by war but by bad government and the inability of the country's ruler to distinguish between his own security and satisfaction and the country's well-being. The President, Mobutu Sese Seko, now flies by helicopter from his floating palace moored on the Zaire River at Kinshasa to his palace in his home village, Gbadolite. There is nowhere else in the country for him to go but he still has most of the country's cash in private bank accounts abroad.

The southern province, whose secession caused the civil war in 1960, has declared independence again and reverted to its old name, Katanga. The eastern province is cut off from the capital and has the added problem of tens of thousands of hungry refugees from Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi. There are no tarred roads between one part of Zaire and another and many of the river boats, the standard method of transport on the river and its tributaries, have stopped.

Civil war rages in Angola and arms and ammunition move across the border as if it did not exist. There is instability in Congo, war in Sudan, collapse in Burundi and instability in Rwanda.

The country has two governments, that of Etienne Tshisekedi wa Malumba, elected Prime Minister but sacked by President Mobutu in February, and that of Faustin Birindwa, appointed in March. Mr Tshisekedi's government is popular but has no power. It is known as the 'green government' because it now meets under the trees. The chances of a unified government coming back on track and preparing for peaceful, fair and free elections are zero.

Western donors have cut off aid to put pressure on Mr Mobutu. The sanctions have not hurt him at all but helped bring the country to a standstill. The US and France withdrew support from the president last year but when he did not fall, were forced to re-enter dialogue with him. A new currency introduced in October is already worth a thirtieth of its value and it is still falling. Last week fuel prices rose by 500 per cent. The price of fuel affects all commerce in Africa and in particular the price of food in towns. Unlike starving peasant farmers, hungry and angry townspeople are capable of changing governments and 1994 could see the end of Mr Mobutu.

But his departure will not bring a stable peaceful government reunifying the country. There is little sign of a nationally respected leader or party capable of pulling the country together. The aftermath will be bloody and protracted.

(Map omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower