From ................ National Catholic Reporter

SEPTEMBER 30, 1994

page 7


By CAROLE COLLINS - NCR Diplomatic Correspondent

Americans focus on only one African story at a time, if that. Hence Rwanda's suffering pushed South Africa's success off our front pages in May, just as South Africa supplanted the news from Somalia in April. Too often the story of the day gets grossly oversimplified. This breeds the ignorance that leaves U.S. policymakers free to ignore vital justice and human survival issues.

Take the recent crisis in Central Africa, where media have focused solely on the Rwandan horror, largely ignoring its place within a broader regional crisis engulfing neighboring Burundi and Zaire.

Rwanda has given American policy makers the latest convenient excuse for not dealing with the Central African horror for which the United States bears the most direct responsibility- the quarter century of corruption and human rights violations inflicted upon the Zairean people by U.S.-installed President Mobutu Sese Seko.

Early on in the Clinton administration, officials promised it would finally ditch the three-decade old policy of propping up this Cold War client against his own people. They hinted that it might even impose sanctions designed to force him to step aside in favor of a democratically elected government.

This raised the hopes of Zaire's opposition, which has derived much of its strength from the lay and clerical leaders of the nation's largest religious group, the Roman Catholic church.

These promises were swiftly abandoned. But now the Rwandan crisis has provided the United States and its European allies, France and Belgium, with a pretext to again openly support Mobutu and his allies.

In June, over a million Rwandans fled in panic to the eastern Zairean cities of Goma and Bukavu, deliberately encouraged by armed Hutu militias who, after massacring over a half million unarmed civilians, used radio broadcasts to incite fears of bloody retribution by the new Tutsi-led Rwandan government.

Mobutu benefited greatly from the bloody chaos. The U.S., French and Belgian governments which had to varying degrees distanced themselves from Mobutu over the past few years began working more closely with his regime in an effort to gain its cooperation in organizing Rwandan refugee camps and disarming or cantoning the Hutu militias. While officials claim there was no other way to accomplish these humanitarian tasks, critics feel the Rwanda crisis has merely provided a pretext for continued pro-Mobutu maneuvering.

On Sept. 7, Rep. Harry Johnston D-Fla., House Subcommittee on African Affairs chair, and Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., asked Clinton to more forcefully oppose Mobutu's continued rule and France's recent decision to resume economic aid to his regime. They denounced rising human rights abuses by Mobutist forces and decried the administration's growing tendency to treat with Mobutu while ignoring and undercutting the democratic opposition.

The likelihood of eastern Zaire becoming 'a new Gaza Strip,' as a U.N. High Commission for Refugees spokesman recently warned could happen if refugees resist repatriation, is providing new excuses for Mobutu to delay reforms. Prime Minister Kengo wa Dondo, a long-time Mobutu ally who now portrays himself as an oppositionist, is already telling the press that the refugee crisis is likely to force delay of long promised democratic elections.

Catholic Archbishop Laurent Pasinye Monsengwo chairs the transitional parliament and has played a key mediating role between opposition and Mobutist forces over the past three years. Last spring he helped broker a controversial political compromise which made Kengo prime minister over objections from the most prominent leader of Zaire's democratic opposition, Etienne Tshisekedi. It's for that reason that Monsengwo 'has lost the confidence of the people' according to the Rev. Don Bobb, a Presbyterian missionary from Texas who worked for 15 years in Zaire's capital, Kinshasa, and its diamond-rich Kasai region. Bobb, who returned to Zaire last month for the first time in 20 years, found himself shocked by 'the thinness of people, the hunger.'

'Everyone used to be very well-fed,' he told NCR. 'Now everybody's hungry, everyone looks gaunt.'

The collapse of transport and communication systems have made it 'a struggle to get anywhere' and local markets, relatively well-controlled in the past, are now 'just a massive disorder and chaos,' he noted.

In June, the International Monetary Fund, which poured billions of dollars into Mobutu's corrupt hands in past decades, suspended Zaire's membership because its state treasury, emptied by corruption, can no longer find the money to make required debt repayments.

Bobb met with U.S. national security staff and state department officials in late August about his recent visit. Although the U.S. administration supports a political compromise involving Mobutu, Bobb feels the Mobutu-backed Kengo regime is doomed to fail.

'Everyone who has tried to negotiate with Mobutu has ended up black-balled or kicked out of government, unless they agree to be controlled by Mobutu,' he said.