Mobutu Should Go

ANARCHY or war has stalked most postcolonial African states, with the West supporting the regimes that kept a lid on tribal infighting and violence.The US supported Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko when he came to power in 1964. But now it appears Zaire has both war and anarchy, and President Mobutu seems unable to stop either. Democracy is emerging in strange fits and starts across Africa, and Zaire and Mobutu show how difficult the transition will be. Giant Zaire, wedged between Angola and Sudan in central Africa, has been coming apart for a month. Since 100 people were killed in the capital, Kinshasa, during wild looting and riots in September, Belgian and French paratroopers have kept a fragile order there. Last week, when Mobutu fired Prime Minister Etienne Tshisekedi after only two weeks on the job, matters reached a head. Mr. Tshisekedi was the only serious opposition leader Mobutu has allowed, and his firing caused renewed looting by sympathetic soldiers and the continuation of a two-month strike by workers who oppose the president. Most embassies in Kinshasa have closed; the South Africans packed up Tuesday. Zaire has four separate armies, and unpaid soldiers are taking matters into their own hands. Fo reigners are evacuating. The problems go back to years of absolute dictatorship by Mobutu - who is no longer the solution but the problem in Zaire. Mobutu, one of the richest men in the world, has kept his country in rags for too long; he has done nothing in 26 years to improve roads, schools, hospitals, industry. It is time he left. Instead, Mobutu is playing a new "anti-Western" card. He claims the West "wants his head" and this week ordered all Belgian troops out of Zaire. Recent visitors to Zaire say Mobutu is no longer interested in money, but is fascinated now by power and how to use it. The move to bring Tshisekedi into office may have been a typical ploy by Mobutu to co-opt and diminish opponents. It hasn't worked. Nor is much else likely to work in Zaire if civil war is not averted. Even Mobutu may recognize this, as recent reports suggest he is again negotiating with the opposition. His seriousness will be shown by the steps he takes. These should include fair elections and power-sharing - as the US, which cut off aid to Zaire last year, suggests. Benin and Togo are proving a democratic transition is possible. The alternatives are only too familiar - anarchy and war.

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