Whatever happened to the new breed of African rulers, hailed as harbingers of hope, peace and prosperity by the west only months ago? The short answer is that their true nature, as ethnic warlords and pawns in Uncle Sam’s strategic game in the African continent, has been brutally exposed as their adventurism and intrigues have set their own region ablaze and threaten to cause a wider conflagration.
The leaders of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda, who came to power after destructive civil wars in their countries, and with western help, were the first to be feted as the new champions of democratic rule and free-market capitalism in Africa. They were later joined by the new leaders of Rwanda and Zaire (renamed the ‘Democratic Republic of Congo’), whom they helped to seize power.
Instead of devoting their energies to rebuilding their ravaged countries, these rulers proceeded to construct ethnic autocracies in their own countries, and to conspire together, with the prodding and support of the US, to bring down the Islamic government of Sudan. The object is to turn southern Sudan into an independent Christian-ruled country as a first step of converting central and east Africa into a belt of pro-US Christian States.
However, what Uncle Sam proposes Allah disposes. The plot failed as war broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea over an avoidable border dispute, and as Uganda, along with four other African States, became deeply embroiled in the new Congolese civil war. Uganda and Rwanda sent armies into Congo to help the rebels overthrow president Laurent Kabila, while Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia despatched forces to shore up the regime.
It was Ugandan, Rwandan and Angolan forces that, with US support, helped Kabila to oust the Zaireian dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko 15 months ago. Uganda wanted Kabila to secure the border between the two countries, to prevent Ugandan dissidents in Congo from launching cross-border raids. Angola wanted UNITA rebel forces in Congo to be neutralised, and the Tutsi minority government in Rwanda calculated that Kabila would curb the Hutu militia that took refuge in his country after the overthrow of the Hutu regime responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.
It was soon after Kabila’s victory that US president Bill Clinton embarked on his much publicised trip to Africa. During a tour which took in all the US’s new friends in the region, he praised Kabila and the other rulers as a ‘new breed’ of African leaders claiming that democracy was replacing tyranny and autocracy was giving way to accountability.
Clinton was not alone in sounding optimistic about the future of Congo following Kabila’s overthrow of the corrupt and ailing Mobutu. Observers and politicians in many countries also hailed the change in the leadership of a huge country rich in mineral resources.
However, the view that the change represented only one dictator replacing another, taken by the Crescent International, has been vindicated. Kabila who is from Katanga, showed himself to be just another despot soon after coming to power. Instead of setting up a multi-ethnic administration, he gave senior government posts to fellow Katangese, including his son. He also surrounded himself with Katangese police and military generals, dismissing all senior Tutsis in the security forces and civil service.
But he made his biggest mistake when he ordered the Tutsi army that helped him to overthrow Mobutu to leave the country. It was this move that triggered the current rebellion, bringing together the defeated Mobutu supporters, other Congolese opposed to his ethnic policies, and the large number of Congolese Tutsis denied citizenship by the former dictator.
He compounded his mistake by calling on the Congolese in late August to ‘take up bows and arrows, machetes and spears to kill Tutsis, otherwise they will make us their slaves.’ The stage was set for a civil war and genocide of Tutsis worse than the 1994 massacres of Rwandan Tutsis.
The ensuing rebellion quickly spread to the capital Kinshasa, and Kabila was only saved by the intervention of Zimbabwean and Angolan forces who bombed rebel positions. Angola accused the rebels of siding with UNITA guerrillas and will continue to send forces whenever Kabila needs them. Zimbabwe is anxious to keep Kabila in power to pose as a regional power.
The Zimbabwean leader, Robert Mugabe, who has always been envious of president Nelson Mandela’s regional and international influence, has deliberately sabotaged the South African president’s attempts to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the conflict. The summit of parties to the conflict convened by Mandela broke up and the delighted Mugabe called a summit of his own. Uganda and Rwanda, which had dispatched forces to help the rebels mainly because Kabila failed in his promise to seal the Congolese borders, attended the conference, as did representatives of the rebels and Kabila himself. But the meeting failed to arrange a ceasefire, let alone agree on a withdrawal of foreign forces. And the rebels, who complained they were not allowed proper representation at the summit, announced they were resuming the fighting.
As usual, the western countries which were responsible for some of the problems, evacuated their nationals, leaving the local people to face the music. The bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania caused more anguish and attracted greater attention in the west - and the United Nations - than this conflict which threatens to engulf the entire African continent in endless and needless strife.
Muslimedia: October 1-15, 1998