Zaire holds its breath as rebels dictate plans for the future

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The Independent Online
In a large school building near the airport at Goma more than 1,000 adults sat hunched over notebooks and scraps of paper, their pens moving in unison. From the platform a man in a blue denim shirt dictated slowly into a microphone.

"Lesson one: The seven errors leading to the failure of the 1964-65 Congo rebellion. Lesson two: The basic cell. Lesson three: Social classes and the class struggle. Lesson four: The principle aims of revolution..."

As he spoke, his words were being echoed in other centres all over the rebel-held swathe of eastern Zaire. With the war against President Mobutu's government going all the rebels' way, their alliance of democratic forces for the liberation of Congo-Zaire has launched a series of "transformation" seminars to "re-ideologise" some of the most brutalised, downtrodden and cynical people in Africa, and possibly on the planet. After 10 lessons - voluntary, the rebels insist - candidates will be evaluated on their ideological correctness and the best pupils may then be hired as public servants.

For a movement that professes to believe in the free market, and which enjoys tacit diplomatic support from the United States, the choice of Marxist teaching material might seem a little strange.

The rebels are now poised to destroy Mr Mobutu's regime, but nobody yet knows what they will put in its place. After three decades of what one Western observer called "kleptocracy" - rule by thieves - many Zaireans believe anything will be better than the devil they know.

With the war still on, the rebels' future agenda remains vague. Originating as a revolt by persecuted ethnic Tutsis in the Kivu region, the rebel movement has broadened its support to include members of ethnic groups from all over Zaire.

Veteran Marxist bush-fighters like the rebel leader Laurent Kabila (a one-time comrade of Che Guevara, the legendary revolutionary) have been joined by committed free-marketeers like the finance minister Mawampanga Mwana Nanga, who spent 10 years in the US and who holds a doctorate in agricultural economics from the University of Kentucky.

The alliance is also strongly influenced by the governments of Rwanda and Uganda, whom Kinshasa has accused of fomenting the rebellion and even of supplying troops and wea-pons. With so many different agendas at work, the only thing that unites everybody is a desire to get rid of Mr Mobutu, generally regarded as a rotten neighbour and a worse president. Louis Hamuli, a rebel spokesman, admitted that, until the war is won, little priority can be given to planning the future. The programme so far is vague and aspirational: An end to corruption, a new constitution, reconstruction, eventual elections, and respect for human rights.

"In principle, the programme of government has not been decided," he said. "It is for the people to decide after the war." He laughed off the suggestion that his government is pushing Marxist doctrine which has long passed its sell-by date. "We want a society that looks after all the people," he said.

"For more than 30 years we had a dictatorial regime, with no political agenda or social programmes, and the population's ideology was damaged. We now need to transform [this] to create a new country, to transform what was deformed."

But with corruption deeply ingrained in its society, Mr Kabila's Congo republic will have to police itself tightly if it is to prove any better than Mr Mobutu's Zaire.

Since the rebels took over last November, the Rwanda-Zaire border post in Goma - a useful barometer of local corruption - has become more expensive and more hostile than ever. Last Saturday, child-soldiers manned the barrier on the Zaire-Congo side - strutting back and forth with peeled sticks and AK47s, harassing and at times beating a group of local women returning from a market in neighbouring Rwanda. They were unfazed by the presence of foreign journalists.

Inside the immigration office the officials exacted an astonishing $700 (pounds 440) for allowing a laptop computer and a television camera to enter the country. The information and finance ministries later admitted that no such "tax" has ever been authorised.

They blame the corruption on officials still in place from the Mobutu regime, but journalists can claim that the authorities have taken no action against the officials concerned and have made no attempt to refund the money. One French reporter fumed: "I lived for two years in Kinshasa under Mobutu and was expelled three times, but it was never as bad as this. You could always make a telephone call and sort things out."

The Information Ministry has taken over Radio Star of Goma and renamed it "The voice of the people", broadcasting round-the-clock praise of the alliance's heroic troops, and denunciations of the "sanguinary enemy".

Newspapers are censored. People in the street lower their voices and look carefully around when asked for their opinion of the rebels. Most say they know there is a war on and are willing to make sacrifices in the hope of a brighter future, but others complain about commandeered cars and houses, and high "import taxes" for food and drugs purchased in the well- stocked markets of Rwanda. "They say they have come to reconstruct Zaire," said one Goma native. "We will wait and see if this is the case."