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Subsequent Political Developments, 1990-93

In a press conference following his April 24, 1990, speech to the country's assembled politicians, Mobutu suggested that the three authorized political parties might consist of the long-banned UDPS as well as two wings of the MPR, which he labeled "moderates" and "hard-liners." Nevertheless, despite Mobutu's attempt to constrict the political space he appeared to open up, his speech set off the inevitable multiplication of efforts to publicize existing organizations and to found new ones. The best-structured opposition movement, the UDPS, was the first to react. But on April 29, a demonstration by supporters of its most popular leader, Étienne Tshisekedi, released from house arrest on the day of Mobutu's speech, was violently suppressed. The UDPS claimed five people were killed, although the government denied this. Tshisekedi wound up in the hospital, early in May, after being attacked at his home by men apparently belonging to a government security service.

Joseph Ileo Nsongo Amba (formerly known as Joseph Ileo), in 1960 a political adversary of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and since 1967 a frequent member of the MPR Political Bureau and Central Committee, responded to Mobutu's announcement of the multiparty system by founding the Democratic and Social Christian Party (Parti Démocrate et Social Chrétien--PDSC). On April 29, Christophe Gbenye, a leader of the 1965 rural rebellions, announced that he had filed a request for recognition of the Congolese National Movement-Lumumba (Mouvement National Congolais-Lumumba-- MNC-Lumumba).

Then on May 3, 1990, Mobutu made another speech. Political parties other than the MPR did not legally exist, he told the legislature, and were not yet authorized to hold marches or public meetings. (Thus, the UDPS meeting had been illegal.) Mobutu's twenty-three-minute speech was designed to overcome what he called "ambiguities and misunderstandings" following his announcement ten days earlier of an end to the political monopoly of the MPR. Until the authorities decided which three political parties were to be authorized--and Mobutu did not indicate when the choice would be made--politicians could meet privately to discuss organizational questions.

Most observers believed that Mobutu's espousal of political reform was in part an attempt to appease domestic calls for change, in the wake of events elsewhere in Africa and in Eastern Europe. The fall of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, with whom Mobutu identified, apparently made an impact on Mobutu. In addition, Mobutu undoubtedly felt it wise at least to appear to bow to Western pressure for political reform. It soon became evident, however, that Mobutu had unleashed volatile forces that he could contain only with difficulty, if at all, in the long run. Indeed, Mobutu proceeded to embark on a checkered course of half-hearted moves toward democratization, interspersed with attempts to undercut real reform and periodically interrupted by brutal crackdowns on dissent.

One of the most notorious of the crackdowns occurred in May 1990, when security forces were widely believed to have deliberately massacred numerous protesting students at the University of Lubumbashi. The government claimed that only one student was killed, but international human rights groups and other credible observers estimated the death toll to be between thirty and 100. The incident and Mobutu's refusal to allow an international inquiry into it ultimately resulted in the suspension of aid by Belgium, the European Community (EC), Canada, and the United States.

Faced with strong international censure and growing opposition demands for a national conference to write a new constitution, organize new elections, and lead a transition to a democratic form of government, Mobutu did lift the ceiling on the number of political parties in October 1990, and legislation passed in December 1990 finally opened the door for the formal registration of political parties. He also declared that all registered parties would have access to the media.

By the spring of 1991, numerous political parties existed legally, and the regime announced that some fifty-eight had accepted invitations to an upcoming constitutional conference, the date of which had not been set, despite the rapid approach of December 4, 1991, the date on which Mobutu's constitutional mandate would expire. Among the parties refusing to cooperate with Mobutu were the principal opposition groups, namely the UDPS, which demanded Mobutu's resignation; Ileo's PDSC; and the Union of Federalists and Independent Republicans (Union des Fédéralistes et des Républicains Indépendants--UFERI) led by Jean Nguza Karl-i- Bond.

At the same time, Mobutu asked the prime minister of the first transitional government, Lunda Bululu, to resign in March 1991 and appointed a new prime minister, Professor Mulumba Lukoji. Most ministerial appointees were from Kasai-Oriental, Kasai-Occidental, and Shaba regions in an obvious attempt to undercut support for the UDPS and UFERI, respectively, which drew their strongest support from those regions. Further undermining public confidence in Mobutu's commitment to reform were a brutal March 1991 attack on peaceful Christian demonstrators in Kinshasa, in which, according to human rights groups, thirty-five people were killed and dozens wounded; and an April attempt by police to break up a political meeting in Mbuji-Mayi. Over forty individuals were believed to have been killed and nearly thirty seriously wounded in the ensuing ransacking and looting by protesters.

The long-awaited national conference on political reform, ultimately known as the Sovereign National Conference (Conférence Nationale Souveraine--CNS), finally convened in August 1991. It encompassed over 2,800 political, religious, and civic leaders, representing some 225 political groups, whose declared goal was to draft a new constitution as a prelude to new elections. The conference was suspended by Mobutu on August 15 after opposition groups boycotted it on August 13, claiming that the government was overrepresented at the conference, had infiltrated opposition delegations (it was also alleged that the government had distributed money to some opposition delegates to sway their votes), and was preventing certain groups from attending the conference. The conference was further delayed because of the September 23-24 mutiny by some 3,000 paratroopers in Kinshasa, who were protesting low wages and lack of pay. The demonstration soon turned into a violent rampage, with hundreds of civilians joining the soldiers in looting businesses and homes. Other cities and southern Shaba Region also experienced disturbances. France and Belgium sent several hundred troops to restore order and protect foreign nationals in Kinshasa, and the United States supplied transport airplanes. But the evacuation of some 10,000 foreign residents and the virtual abandonment of numerous foreign-run businesses had a major impact on the economy. Indeed, according to most observers the economy virtually came to a standstill.

The political aftermath of the rampage was an agreement on September 29, 1991, by Mobutu and the opposition to form a transitional coalition government and a promise by Mobutu to reconvene the conference. Under the accord, UDPS leader Tshisekedi was named by Mobutu as prime minister in early October 1991, and Mobutu agreed that the cabinet would contain five Mobutu loyalists and six opposition leaders. However, Tshisekedi was fired after only one week in office in a dispute over the apportionment of ministerial portfolios. After the major opposition coalition, the Sacred Union (Union Sacrée), refused to choose a new prime minister, Mobutu named Bernardin Mungul-Diaka, a leader of a small opposition party, prime minister. Tshisekedi's firing spurred violent demonstrations and riots, including attacks on one of Mobutu's villas in Kinshasa and on the new prime minister's home. Following the unrest, France joined other Western nations that had already cut off economic aid to Zaire. In addition, civil servants resumed a long-standing strike that had been lifted in the wake of what had appeared to be positive political developments.

In late November 1991, Mobutu formed another transitional government, this time under Nguza. Nguza was a Tshisekedi rival in the Sacred Union, which he subsequently left, after other members termed his nomination a "betrayal." Now out of the Sacred Union, UFERI, headed by Nguza, organized another political coalition within the CNS, the Alliance of Patriotic Forces. This alliance of some thirty parties espoused a commitment to political change but rejected what it termed "extremist" stands.

The new government under Nguza included ten ministers from the opposition, although not from the Sacred Union's UDPS and PDSC, which boycotted the new government, and called for a general strike against it. The progovernment MPR, which had not participated in the two previous transitional governments, was included, and in fact pro-Mobutu forces controlled eight posts, including the "reserved" domains of defense, interior and security, and external relations.

The long-term future of the CNS remained uncertain, and prospects for its success were dim so long as Mobutu clung to power. In any case, while the CNS was mired down in regime- opposition conflict, Mobutu's mandate quietly expired on December 4, 1991, and he made it clear that he would stay in power until new elections were held, although no firm date for such elections had been announced.

The CNS had reconvened on November 15, 1991, with a plenary session. However, disagreements over procedures for appointing a new prime minister delayed its formal resumption until December 11. At its session on December 12, Monsignor Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop of Kisangani and president of the Episcopal Conference of Zaire, was elected president of the CNS. Monsengwo's election and his support by all of the opposition parties was a blow for Mobutu's camp, whose candidate for the conference's presidency was soundly defeated. In another blow to the Mobutu forces, the conference also elected Ileo, a leading member of the Sacred Union (and leader of the PDSC), as its vice president.

Following government attempts to pack the conference with Mobutu loyalists and to limit its powers, Prime Minister Nguza called for a suspension of the CNS on January 6, 1992, but it reconvened on January 14 to decide on issues of geopolitical representation. At the same time, pro-Mobutu delegates at the conference suspended their participation, charging that Tshisekedi's supporters from Kasai were overrepresented. On January 19, the government once again suspended the conference, with the prime minister stating that the conference proceedings were "likely to create a political crisis in the country." The suspension of the CNS was criticized by the international community.

Following a declaration by the Sacred Union that it would embark on a "concrete, logical action program" if the conference were not resumed by April 2, as well as pressure by Belgium, France, and the United States, the government announced on March 28 that the conference would meet on April 6. When it met, a majority of the more than 2,800 delegates voted to declare that the conference had sovereign powers not only to draw up a new constitution but also to legislate for a multiparty system. This represented a direct challenge to President Mobutu, who responded that "some decisions made (by the conference) constitute an act of attempting to go beyond bounds." When conference delegates voted on May 6 for an act empowering them to make constitutionally binding decisions, Mobutu reacted by characterizing the step a "civilian coup d'état." To Mobutu the conference's role was limited to devising a draft constitution.

In August 1992, the CNS passed a Transitional Act to serve as a provisional constitution and, under its terms, created a transitional government to govern for two years. According to the Transitional Act, the government would consist of four institutions: a figurehead president "who reigns but does not govern" as head of state; a High Council of the Republic (Haut Conseil de la République--HCR) to serve as a provisional legislature and to oversee new elections; a first state commissioner (prime minister) elected by the CNS as head of government with full executive powers; and an independent judiciary encompassing the courts of law. At the same time, Mobutu and the CNS agreed to abide by the principles established in the Comprehensive Political Agreement (Compromis Politique Global). The Comprehensive Political Agreement includes ten principles, the most significant being that no institution or organ of the transition should use its constitutional powers to prevent any other institution from functioning. In essence, all parties agreed to share power and to abide by the constitutional provisions embodied in the Transitional Act. In January 1993, the official status of the Transitional Act was strengthened further when the Supreme Court of Justice, acting as the Constitutional Court, declared the Transitional Act to be the country's only binding constitution.

As part of its August 1992 deliberations, the CNS, symbolizing its desire for change from the Mobutu regime, also proposed that Zaire resume its old name, the Republic of the Congo, and reinstitute the former national flag and anthem. Under pressure from Mobutu, however, the conference backed down, announcing that the country would keep its name, flag, and anthem until the proposed changes could be submitted to the electorate in a referendum.

Tshisekedi was duly elected transitional first state commissioner by the CNS on August 15, 1992. On August 30, he appointed a transitional government of "national union" including various opponents of Mobutu--but no Mobutu supporters. On December 6, 1992, the CNS dissolved itself and was succeeded by the 453- member HCR, to be headed by CNS head Archbishop Monsengwo. As the supreme interim legislative authority, the HCR was authorized to formulate and adopt a new constitution and to organize legislative and presidential elections. But Mobutu refused to accept the authority of the HCR or the legitimacy of any constitution it might formulate. Instead, in October 1992, he had reconvened the former legislature, which had been abolished, and entrusted it with drafting a rival new constitution more to his liking.

The transitional government has never been able to govern effectively because of its inability to limit Mobutu's powers except on paper. Mobutu clearly violated the terms of both the Transitional Act and the Comprehensive Political Agreement, impeding the work of the other institutions from the very start. Using troops loyal to him, Mobutu seized control of state radio and television facilities, denied HCR members and cabinet ministers access to their government offices, and took control of the central bank. Moreover, Mobutu pursued a deliberate strategy of promoting anarchy and inciting ethnic violence in order to discredit the prodemocracy movement and undermine the ability of the populace to organize against him.

Mobutu and Tshisekedi have been at loggerheads since Tshisekedi's election as transitional prime minister. But the situation deteriorated further in 1993. In mid-January 1993, the HCR declared Mobutu to be guilty of treason because of his mismanagement of state affairs and threatened to impeach him unless he recognized the legitimacy of the transitional government. Opposition forces organized a general strike to force the president's resignation. In the ensuing disturbances, five people were killed and many others injured. Then, later that month, Mobutu insisted on introducing a new currency note of Z5 million (for value of the zaire--see Glossary), which Tshisekedi denounced as inflationary and urged merchants to reject. When many did so, troops who had been paid in the currency went on a rampage of looting and violence during which sixty-five people were killed, including the French ambassador to Zaire.

In the aftermath of the violence, Mobutu attempted to reassert his political authority by convening a special "conclave" of political forces in early March 1993 to chart the nation's future, including devising a new constitution. The HCR and the Sacred Union declined to participate in any such deliberations, which clearly were intended to undermine the existing transitional government. Mobutu also "dismissed" the Tshisekedi government, although according to the Transitional Act he did not have the power to do so. At his urging, the conclave then named Faustin Birindwa as prime minister of a so-called government of national salvation.

Since that time, Zaire has had two parallel, rival governments vying for domestic and international acceptance. The Birindwa government has not received international recognition, although delegations sent by that government have been accepted by several United Nations (UN) specialized agencies. But the Tshisekedi government, although legal and recognized internationally, lacks the power or resources to govern. The result of this situation is government stalemate, which has worked to Mobutu's advantage. Mobutu has continued to use his control of key military units to obstruct the functioning of the transitional government, to intimidate critical opposition leaders and newspapers, to promote anarchy and chaos, and to incite ethnic violence. Tshisekedi's frustration with the impotence of his own government in the face of the country's economic and social deterioration became so great that he requested UN intervention to restore order. In July 1993, the secretary general of the UN appointed a special envoy to Zaire, but no further international action had been taken by the end of the year.

Mobutu's ability to obstruct the democratization process has also been aided by the divisiveness of his opposition. The Sacred Union has had its defectors, including six former members who joined the Birindwa government and were immediately expelled from the Sacred Union. Tshisekedi's UDPS also has its differences with other parties in the coalition, such as Ileo's PDSC and the Unified Lumumbist Party led by Antoine Gizenga. Moreover, Tshisekedi has increasingly been under fire even within the transitional government and his own party for being too authoritarian. But Tshisekedi remains very popular, particularly in Kinshasa, with people who see him as the only opposition politician who has consistently opposed Mobutu.

At international urging, negotiations aimed at resolving Zaire's political stalemate continued throughout 1933 between representatives of the Mobutu-appointed conclave and the Sacred Union. Mobutu critics believed that he was merely using the negotiations to attempt to regain credibility in the eyes of the West. Nevertheless, some progress was made. In October 1933, the two sides reportedly reached agreement on a transitional constitution, a joint transitional parliament, and an electoral schedule (presidential and legislative elections to be held in December 1994). No details were available on the transitional constitution, but it is believed to represent a compromise between the approaches favored by the two sides. (Mobutu supporters favored a presidential or semipresidential system while the opposition favored a parliamentary system.) The mere fact that agreement was reached on some previously thorny issues was interpreted as a positive sign. But most observers regarded any implementation of the agreement as highly problematic. First and foremost, no agreement could be reached on a prime minister acceptable to both sides, and neither Tshisekedi nor Birindwa was prepared to resign. Moreover, Mobutu himself remained a major stumbling power block. The opposition refused to accept his continuation in a position of authority, and he clearly still had no intention of stepping down. Thus, at the end of 1993, Zaire's political impasse was still far from resolution.

Data as of December 1993


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