The Wars Origins (cont.)
The Motivations of the Anti-Mobutu Alliance
HY DID RWANDA, UGANDA, ANGOLA, and other African states initiate and/or support this war against the Mobutu regime? The answer for Rwanda has already been given, the presence on its borders of UNHCR camps with close to a million Hutu who had been allowed to reestablish their political leadership and military structures. For Uganda, a similar but no doubt less pressing motive existed. The DRC had for some time been used as a rear base by anti-Museveni forces such as the Lords Resistance Army, the West Nile Bank Front, and the Allied Democratic Forces, some of which were supported by the Sudan government. By occupying the frontier region in the DRC, Uganda hoped to end this threat. Angola had very much the same motive. UNITA had for years not only been supplied via the DRC but there were UNITA bases in the country.
There were two other, perhaps more vague, reasons to support an anti-Mobutu alliance.
First, for some African leaders, an old leftist, even Marxist, sympathy and friendship circle played a role. Hence, the antagonism toward Mobutu long allied to Western powers during the Cold War and the support given Kabila by Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, and by Sam Nujoma, President of Namibia.
Second, the notion that a new dawn with new leaders had begun in Africa which required change, especially in a country as important as the DRC. This theme could be seen as applying to Ethiopia, Eritrea, and, of course, Uganda and Rwanda. The latter view had some resonance in the U.S. and was one of the reasons why the U.S. did not respond to appeals by Mobutu regarding the violation of the Congos sovereignty.
Kabila Seeks a Cultural Revolution
During the anti-Mobutu alliances quick march to Kinshasa, Kabila transformed himself from spokesman of the AFDL to its president. Because the foreign allies (Rwanda, Uganda, and a bit later Angola) preferred to keep their military presence and predominance as quiet as possible, Kabila was able to give a very personal imprint to the alliance. That imprint was profoundly affected by the period during the Cold War when he was a leftist some thought Maoist revolutionary. Thus, it soon became clear that he planned to lead a veritable cultural revolution in the Congo and not simply rid the country of Mobutu and the system he had created.
Kabila initiated political lessons which were to be conducted on a very wide basis and which were virtual copies of the ones employed in Hewa Bora, the small revolutionary redoubt he had led in South Kivu from the mid-60s to the mid-80s. These lessons had an arcane quality which had little relation to the society the DRC had become since independence. For instance, according to these lessons, Congolese society was divided into seven classes; the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, comprador bourgeoisie, national bourgeoisie, petite bourgeoisie, cultivators, workers, and proletarians! Ordinary citizens were to be watched by committees chembe-chembe organized on a street-by-street basis. Both established political parties and civil society organizations were disdainfully excluded from participation in the decision making processes. The party the ADFL and the state were to overlap.
Kabila appears to have been so convinced that his revolutionary package would find great support among the masses of Congolese that he held elections in the towns which fell to the anti-Mobutu forces. Although organized in a rather crude fashion, people literally gathered in the agora and elected local officials by raising their hands; they turned out to be fair and honest. But it is here that he began to come up against Congolese realities he seems not to have expected. The elections were won either by members of the largest party belonging to what is commonly referred to as the non-violent opposition (opposition meaning to Mobutu but soon also opposition to Kabila), the UDPS, or by members of one of the civil society NGOs which had in the previous approximately seven years achieved real strength and respect among the Congolese. Soon, no further elections were held. Without a real, strong, and united national revolutionary party, and the cadres to go with it, he did not have the tools to overwhelm resistance from the public.
Rejecting Political Pluralism
While liberation from Mobutu gave Kabila and the ADFL some credit and popularity, the ideology which they sought to impose on the Congolese public was very rapidly rejected.
The Congolese public wanted a symbiosis between the armed and the non-violent opposition to Mobutu. In a poll conducted in Kinshasa in August 1997, i.e. at the beginning of the Kabila regime, 86 percent of respondents favored a meeting between Kabila and the leaders of the non-violent opposition. In the first six months, Kabila always polled less than Etienne Tshisekedi, the leader of the largest of the non-violent opposition parties, the UDPS. Moreover, the long, even if unsuccessful non-violent struggle which many political and NGO leaders had been involved with and which had genuine popular support with real roots and often real organizational structures led them to expect a role in a post-Mobutu regime. But Kabila had no inclination to share power. His past did not suggest it, and his ideology positively opposed it. So he did not respond to the desired meeting and his success at ousting Mobutu failed to give him broad popularity. The honeymoon was one of the shortest a successful revolutionary leader had ever been granted!
What then was the power base of the early Kabila regime? There were three real sources of power:
First, there were the Tutsi soldiers (in the early days there was little distinction made between the Rwandan and Congolese Tutsi ), but they were rapidly resented as foreigners by the Congolese public.
Second, there were the Katangans, but old intra-Katangan conflicts (to be discussed later) made their loyalty less than certain even though they were at least viewed as genuine Congolese.
Third, there were the kadogos, the young men and boys who had been recruited into the ADFL army as it marched from the east to Kinshasa, but their youth and brutal behavior caused great resentment. As Colette Braeckman put it, their violence shocked a population which was used to negotiate ... with Mobutus unpaid soldiers and who now encountered men who were unwilling to palaver [negotiate, talk it over]. In Kinshasa and the western Congo it would indeed, have been difficult to palaver since few of these soldiers spoke the local languages. In that sense, they were all foreign.
While Kabila did not share power with political parties or NGOs, he did coopt individuals with diverse political and ethnic backgrounds. His closest allies and his Cabinet ministers were generally people without their own political base. Many of them were returned exiles. This made them totally dependent on Kabila. However, this approach did not sit well with the general public.
The Early Kabila Regime May 1997 to August 1998
Changes the Public Appreciated
If it is true that Kabila had one of the shortest post-revolution honeymoons on record, that does not mean that the change from Mobutu to Kabila was unappreciated. Kabila had disappointed the Congolese by not compromising with the non-violent opposition, by not respecting and working with civil society, by making party political activity illegal and by reducing rather than expanding human rights. But his regime did accomplish changes which in the eyes of the general public were important and appreciated. Foremost among these was the vast improvement in personal and property security which resulted from the fact that ordinary citizens were no longer repeatedly held up by unpaid soldiers and policemen. Of course, this was less appreciated by the elites than by the man in the street. Members of the old elite who did not succeed in making deals with the new rulers saw their property confiscated and their personal security in danger. Another major accomplishment which impacted on the ordinary citizen was the radical reduction in the rate of inflation. Based on public opinion polling results unfortunately with one exception limited to Kinshasa one can say that the public tended to define the new regime as a dictatorship but also approved of some of the changes it had succeeded in putting in place. It did not particularly like the new leaders and it viewed them as dangerously close to being the pawns of the foreign troops which had brought them to power, but its general performance was given substantial approval.
The one public opinion poll which it was possible to conduct outside Kinshasa produced results which clearly indicate that regional identities were very important in the opinions expressed about the Kabila regime. In Lubumbashi, support for Kabila and his policies was very substantially higher than in the rest of the country. In Mbuji Mayi the home base of Kasai Luba, of the UDPS and of Tshisekedi the support was, not surprisingly, the lowest. The Lubumbashi results are interesting because Kabila is generally regarded as part of the greater northern Katanga Luba community and Lubumbashi is in the south where the traditional competitors if not enemies of the Luba, the Lunda, predominate. Thus a regional rather than a strictly ethnic sense of identity manifested itself.
The New Force Armées Congolaises FAC
Integrating and disciplining and assuring the loyalty of the different armed units would be an essential and indispensable task for any new ruler, especially for one who rejects pluralism. For Kabila this was an especially daunting exercise because there were so many different armed soldiers and because none of them, perhaps with the exception of the kadogos, had any reliable loyalty to him. In effect, the following potential participants in a new national army were available.
- The Katanga Tigers. These were, in the main, the remainder or the sons of the Katanga Gendarmes who had fled to Angola after the Katanga attempted secession was defeated by a U.S. backed UN military operation in 1962. At the time, they were mainly south Katangan Lunda, but in subsequent years they were joined by other Congolese who fled the Mobutu regime into Angola. Among these newcomers were Katanga Luba from the north, as well as some former members of the Mulele led rebellion in Bandundu province (196367). The Katanga Tigers were first used by the Portuguese but later were allied with a variety of Angolan politico-military forces. They ended up as close supporters of the MPLA-dominated Angolan government. From this base, they attacked the Congo in 1977 and 1978 by which time their ideological idiom had made a 180° turn; from pro-Western Tshombists they had become anti-Mobutu Marxists. When they joined the 199697 attack against the Mobutu regime, they did so in conjunction with the Angolan army. Their civilian leader at that time was Emile Ilunga, originally from north Katanga, who was promised the vice-presidency after victory. But Kabila did not offer him such a position and he thereafter opposed the new regime arguing that it had turned into a dictatorship. Later, Emile Ilunga became the leader of the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie, RCD/ Goma, i.e. the Rwanda backed rebellion against Kabila. In the summer of 1997, it was for the above cited reasons not certain that Kabila could really count on the Katanga Tigers even though they both hailed from Katanga.
- Former members of the Forces Armees Zairoises (FAZ), Mobutus army. Clearly former FAZ members were, from Kabilas point of view, the least trustworthy future members of the new army. Nonetheless, distinctions have to be made. There were ordinary army units and special units like the Presidential Guards, the DSP. There were units which had joined the Alliance during its march to Kinshasa and there were units which remained quasi-loyal to the Mobutu regime until the end. Kabilas response to this problem was to send them off to be re-educated. However, this was done under such humiliating and at times physically abusive conditions that for many, the exercise had the opposite effect to that which was desired. They came away angry and disaffected from the new government.
- The Banyamulenge and other Congolese Tutsi. For Congolese Tutsi the never changing, eternally challenged goal was to have their Congolese citizenship recognized and no longer disputed. In this vein, they had supported Mobutu and joined his army until the regime changed sides and curried favor with the ethnic groups in the Kivus who considered them foreigners and enemies. The alliance between Mobutu and the Hutu regime in Rwanda, and the events which followed the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, changed their situation radically and for the worse. At that time, roughly from 1993 to 1996, they drew close to the Rwandan Tutsi and then participated in the Kabila led march to Kinshasa. After the Alliances victory, resentment against the Tutsi now seen by people all over the Congo as foreigners grew rapidly and the Congolese Tutsi saw that their goal of being recognized as Congolese was further from being reached than ever before because they were now identified with the Rwandans. Again as they sensed rejection by the Congolese public they drew closer to the Rwandans who increasingly seemed the only people willing and able to protect them. But that did not mean that there was complete harmony between them, and events in August 1998 to be discussed later ultimately created a rift between many Bayamulenge and the Rwandan Tutsi.
Kabila, whose personal predilections in this matter can only be speculated about, found himself pulled in two directions. On the one hand the Congolese public quite widely resented the Rwandan/Tutsi presence and wanted Kabila to free himself from their control or influence. On the other hand, the Congolese Tutsi wanted Kabila to reward them for having played a large part in putting him in power, i.e. firm assurances that they would be recognized as Congolese citizens. It is doubtful that during much of the period under discussion Kabila had the power to rid himself of Rwandan/ Tutsi influence; on the other hand, despite some soothing words, Kabila never acted decisively to assure the Congolese Tutsi of their citizenship rights. Thus, Kabila could not be certain of the Tutsi soldiers loyalty, whether they were integrated in the new FAC or in Rwandan units.
- The Kadogos. As indicated earlier, of all the armed units or more correctly simply soldiers, the young men Kabila had recruited on the path to Kinshasa were perhaps the most reliable in terms of loyalty to him. They also constituted a problem since they were untrained and undisciplined and tended to lord it over the civilian population who resented these virtual children having the power of life or death over them. Indeed, the return of some sort of law and order the single most appreciated change brought about by the new regime depended on getting the Kadogos off the streets. Some of them were apparently employed in the re-education camps for former FAZ soldiers, but this too turned out to be costly in terms of resentment by mature soldiers at having to obey these young men. Kabila developed plans to mobilize youth in a National Youth Service and one may presume that many of the young Kadogos were intended to form part of this enterprise. The National Youth Service was supposed to encompass 140,000 young men who were to be trained in the Kamina military base. Were these youth loyal to Kabila? Probably yes. Were they reliable and a real asset? Probably not.
- The non-Congolese armed forces. In addition to these Congolese forces there were Rwandan Tutsi units as well as some Ugandan and Angolan forces and instructors invited to train the new army coming from a variety of African states. The Rwandans, especially, held important positions in the FAC and as Kabila purged some of his ADFL co-founders, their position, even if briefly, became more powerful. In the end, until a few days before the Second Congo War began, a Rwandan officer, James Kabarehe filled the position of interim Chief of Staff of the FAC. Kabilas son in his twenties was second in command.
Violent Conflict in the Kivus
During the period in question, the FAC was quite obviously preoccupied with making itself into a coherent, unified, and capable military force. But it also faced a military challenge. In the Kivus and along the Ugandan border two real threats coming from guerrilla organizations continued to exist. First, on the Kivu-Rwanda border there still were Hutu ex-FAR/ Interahamwe bands and further north various Ugandan insurrectionist forces were again using the DRC as a base from which to attack Uganda. Second, a Congolese challenge to both the Rwandan presence in the Kivu and to the Kabila regime the Mai Mai had gained importance and local support. Mai Mai was a term generically employed to describe different Kivu groups which had armed themselves and were essentially dedicated to expelling non-Kivu forces and people from what they considered to be their territory. They were now essentially dedicated to expelling the Rwandans and the FAC which was at this time closely allied to the Rwandans. Indeed, the FAC and the Rwandan army organized joint operations against the Mai Mai.
This problem had two consequences which were to have a major impact in the period immediately following. First, the primary goal of both Rwanda and Uganda in organizing the 1996 invasion and support for the ADFL had not been met the borders were not secure from incursions coming from the DRC. Second, not only did Rwandan and Ugandan military units operate on both sides of the border, but the best FAC units were sent to the east (this was the later famous 10th Brigade led by a former FAZ officer, Commander Ondekane). Indeed, it would appear that James Kabarehe had overall responsibility for this operation, both as Congolese Chief of Staff and as a Rwandan officer.
Political and Civil Society Forces
As has been indicated earlier, Kabila rejected the notion of sharing power in an institutional or formal fashion with political parties which had developed during the last years of the Mobutu regime. A few of the parties challenged the order forbidding party activities by organizing protests and continuing to hold meetings. However, this was met with stern governmental reactions. Leaders such as FONUSs Olenghankoy and UDPSs Tshisekedi were imprisoned or sent into internal exile. It is interesting to note that Mobutus MPR was humbled by the defeat, exile, and death of its leader and did not manifest itself in any dramatic way during this period.
The regime was also clearly disturbed by the size, diversity, and influence which the large number of civil society NGOs had achieved. With some foreign financial support, they attempted in various ways to assert themselves and organized a conference in June 1997 at which delegates raised a large number of socially, but also politically, pertinent questions. The mood at this conference was not, by and large, supportive of the regime. As a result the participants were told that they had to subscribe to the priorities established by the new government. Subsequently, the regime went to some lengths in order to coopt and control the NGOs. It established an elaborate plan to hold provincial civil society meetings at which, however, government officials would also participate. The resolutions from these meetings would form the basis for a grand national meeting. But the resolutions emanating from the different provincial meetings did not meet the regimes expectations; indeed, they were once again critical of the authoritarian governance methods which had been adopted. As with the experiment in local elections which was not continued, the national meeting was canceled shortly before it was supposed to take place.
Given the background of Kabila and some of his closest collaborators, one would have expected a great effort at making the ADFL into an important instrument not only for control but also for mass mobilization. Indeed, in the early days of the regime the ADFL was defined as being above the state, but soon it became evident that Kabila did not intend to make the party perhaps because even at the leadership level it was really more an alliance than a disciplined movement an important ruling instrument. This became increasingly clear as highly placed ADFL leaders were purged, imprisoned, and side-lined. And, to jump ahead chronologically, it should be noted that several of them became the leadership nucleus of the anti-Kabila rebellion in Goma in August 1998.