AFRICAN dictators fighting democratic reform risk verbal condemnation and possible economic sanctions, but not the intervention of American or European troops, even to prevent possible civil wars.
That, say African affairs analysts in the United States, was made clear last week when the US and several European countries limited their response to the killings and civil unrest in Zaire.
The Clinton administration, analysts say, is not likely to do much more than talk about democracy in troubled African nations. The growing unrest in Zaire comes at a time of political instability in countries such as Somalia, Mozambique, South Africa, and Togo, as well as civil wars in Liberia, Angola, and Sudan.
"There is no sign the Clinton administration is prepared to devote time and effort to these African issues," says Carol Lancaster, an assistant professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.
President Clinton is preoccupied with other foreign crises, such as the former Yugoslavia, and with the economy at home, says Ms. Lancaster, a former senior State Department official in the Carter administration. Signs of continuity
Clinton's choice of career diplomat George Moose as assistant secretary of state for African affairs signals "continuity" not "initiative," she says. Mr. Moose, who has served in numerous regions, was ambassador to Senegal and Benin.
"I think the Clinton administration will talk a pretty good game about democracy" in Africa, says Michael Schatzberg, professor of political science and an African affairs specialist at the University of Wisconsin. "But what he can do? What any administration can do is rather limited."
It takes a lot to rouse US public support necessary for military intervention anywhere, Professor Schatzberg says. "Somalia was something of an exception in that it has been on the 6 o'clock news - these horrendous pictures - for the last 12 months. I don't think there will be a comparable response" elsewhere in Africa.
Last week, Zaire's reform leader, Prime Minister Etienne Tshisekedi, called for Western military intervention after, by his count, up to 1,000 people had been killed in civil strife in the capital, Kinshasa.
Army soldiers had mutinied after President Mobutu Sese Seko paid them in new currency bills which Mr. Tshisekedi refused to recognize.
In a strongly worded protest, presented to a senior representative of Mr. Mobutu Feb. 3 by the ambassadors of the US, France, and Belgium, the three countries called on Mobutu to "hand over power immediately" to a civilian transitional government.
The statement also called for the transitional government, headed by Tshisekedi, "to resume the democratic process ... without further obstruction from the presidency."
Mobutu scoffed at the diplomatic pressure, firing the prime minister Saturday night.
In the past, Mobutu has taken the legalistic position that, under the Constitution, "he is responsible for the government of Zaire and has the right to appoint the prime minister," a Western diplomat says. But the new factor Mobutu has to calculate is the apparent loss of support of at least a portion of his own military, Schatzberg says. That "makes his hold on power a lot more precarious than is once was." Test case
Zaire is "a real test for the new administration," says Rep. Donald Payne (D) of New Jersey, a member of the House Subcommitee on Africa.
Mr. Payne plans to introduce legislation soon that would freeze Mobutu's assets in US banks, call for international enforcement of an arms embargo on Zaire, and impose diplomatic sanctions, including expelling Zaire's ambassador to the US.
"We're hoping if this doesn't get Mobutu out that the United Nations Security Council will support intervention by French and Belgium troops," Payne says.
Only a freeze on Mobutu's assets in Europe, where he apparently has much of his wealth, would force him to bend, according to Lancaster and Schatzberg.
Meanwhile, European military intervention in Zaire appears unlikely. France, it was reported over the weekend, began pulling out troops it had sent in to protect French nationals after the French ambassador to Zaire was killed Jan. 28. And Belgian troops, who never got closer than neighboring Congo, also were heading home.