Kabila has chance to create stability

Mobutu Sese Seko fled the capital city of Kinshasa last Friday after 32 years of devastating rule in Zaire. The tenacious dictator clung to power until the last minute, fleeing only after his top generals told him they couldn’t protect the capital or his life. A new era began the next day as the rebel army marched into the city and its leader, Laurent Kabila, declared himself president. The most dramatic gesture came when Kabila announced that Zaire would henceforth be known as the Democratic Republic of Congo — the nation’s name when it gained independence in 1960, before the Mobutu era.
Despite these signs of change, however, the people of Congo and the world are waiting to see what kind of government Kabila will form before declaring an end to tyranny and corruption in this large African nation. Although nearly any stable government will be more beneficial than Mobutu’s ruinous rule, doubts remain about the type of leader Kabila will be. The world must encourage him to open the political process and establish a truly stable democracy.
There are some hopeful signs: The areas that rebels have controlled for the past six months have generally been well-governed. In addition, Kabila’s troops showed remarkable restraint while seizing the capital. Although there was some bloodshed, most of it seems to have been instigated by Kinshasa residents or by Mobutu army units that murdered their own generals. Furthermore, Kabila said his government will be transitional — though he also claimed the transition may take as long as five years — and he has already shown willingness to include political leaders from outside his party in the government.
But Kabila has not announced any timetable for elections. He has made it clear that for now, at least, he and his army are in control and any participation in his government by outsiders will be according to his will. Indeed, when U.S. United Nations ambassador Bill Richardson urged Kabila to reassure the world about his intentions, the rebel leader laughed and replied, “You have a lot of advice.” Finally, there are concerns because of attacks that Kabila’s mainly Tutsi army made on Hutu refugee camps.
Despite these reservations, the United States and the world have the opportunity to help Congo become the wealthy and free nation it should be. After decades of supporting the repressive Mobutu regime because of Cold War political concerns, the United States must do all it can to encourage Kabila to honor his promise of elections. If he does, we should assist Congo in rebuilding its shattered economy and political structure. In addition, Europe, where Mobutu stashed billions of dollars in assets he plundered from Zaire, should follow Switzerland’s lead and freeze Mobutu’s assets.
The Democratic Republic of Congo needs those funds, which rightfully belong to its people, to rebuild and encourage additional investment. But most importantly, other African nations can join South African President Nelson Mandela in finding African solutions to the Congo’s problems. Kabila may not be the answer to all of his nation’s problems, but he represents the first real opportunity for change in 30 years.