What’s Next for the Congo?
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JIM LEHRER: Zaire gained a new government and a new name over the weekend. Our coverage begins with this report from Saira Shah of Independent Television News.
SAIRA SHAH: As defeated government soldiers obeyed an order to turn themselves in, the former rebels and cheering crowds left them in no doubt that they were vanquished. But personal humiliation was only the first step in a ritual of rehabilitation.
Their weapons were taken away by what has proved a most disciplined army. Throughout the day the pile grew, so did the queue of former soldiers waiting patiently to be processed. “We don’t know what they’re going to do with us,” said this man. “They’ve taken our identity cards.”
For most, there was nothing more sinister than a lengthy registration process, but for others, like these men suspected of belonging to the elite Presidential Guard, the future seemed to hold the prospect of an officially sanctioned lynch mob.
“We’ll shoot them, no problem, because they belong to the Mobutu regime,” said one officer. For those who didn’t surrender willingly, mobile units move from house to house, acting on tip-offs from a public drunk with the idea of liberty. As some soldiers face the roughest justice, one former government general, now in hiding, told us why the army didn’t fight.
FORMER GOVERNMENT GENERAL: (speaking through interpreter) We knew a long time ago we couldn’t win. Mobutu didn’t govern, after a while even the generals were doing business on the side. They had forgotten they’re soldiers. But then the government started promising them $200 to fight Kabila; as if $200 could motivate soldiers like that, soldiers who were forced to grow vegetables just to keep alive.
SAIRA SHAH: For the alliance forces the task of securing a city used to profiting from confusion, unlike the former government soldiers, these refused to be bribed. But the looting still continued. This city is far from secured. “The rich have become poor and the poor are trying to become rich,” explained an alliance soldier.
The rich, like the friends of former President Mobutu, who used to live here, have mostly fled, taking much of the country’s portable wealth with them. Hiding behind a wall we came across some looters. When they realized we weren’t soldiers, they set about looting again.
“My name is Oot Malumba, and I’m here looking this house, because we’ve suffered a lot. The people who lived here had lots of money but they never cared about us.” But even as the old regime’s laundry is sifted through, its symbols torn down, there are powerful political figures waiting to do business with the new order.
Holed up in the Intercontinental Hotel is one of Mr. Mobutu’s longest serving cronies. If Katima Binramazani left his room now, he’d be lynched on the streets. But he believes that when President Kabila, himself, arrives in town, he’ll be able to cut a deal.
KATIMA BINRAMAZANI: (speaking through interpreter) If Kabila came here and he wanted to meet me, I can tell him all I think. And I am saying I am old man but I have my experience. If you need, I can advise you and I can tell you all we can do in this country for the population.
SAIRA SHAH: Also clamoring for the new president’s heir are supporters of the democratic opposition leader Etien Tskekedi.
STUDENT: (speaking through interpreter) We will tell Kabila that even if he has a great army behind him, the people are more powerful than an atomic bomb. We’ll urge Kabila to cooperate with Etien Tskekedi because he’s the one who really expresses the aspirations of the Congolese people.
SAIRA SHAH: But for the moment there’s too much appetite for retribution to worry about another dictatorship.
STUDENT: (speaking through interpreter) We want a dictator, but a dictator who will us respect the law. In Libya, they have a dictator, they’re all right. They respect the law.
SAIRA SHAH: Even as jubilant crowds dance on the mock grave of their former president, the opposition politicians are asking will there be elections and exactly what are the alliance’s democratic intentions.