Kabila's Friends

— B. Skanthakumar

BARELY DISGUISED AND often overtly, the AFDL was supported by neighboring regimes in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Angola as well as by the rebel Sudan Peoples Liberation Army. In previous revolts Mobutu had been supported by his neighbors, but the upheaval of the last decade put in place governments which had their own grudges against him for past sins and for supporting armed groups in their own countries.

In a quid pro quo, the AFDL moved quickly to capture airports and territories that had been used to launch attacks on Rwanda, Uganda and rebel-held areas in Sudan. (The U.S. government has been bitterly opposed to the Muslim fundamentalist government in Sudan, which it accuses of exporting international terrorism and Islamic revolution. It would be pleased for any weakening of the Sudanese regime. As would, for different reasons, many of us.)

The Mobutu regime, the Sani Abacha dictatorship in Nigeria and the Arap Moi government in Kenya howled in protest that the AFDL attacks represented a war of "external aggression," not a civil war. There was, they claimed, a conspiracy to resurrect a "Tutsi empire."

The AFDL troops had clean uniforms and new weapons. Some spoke in Kinyarwanda -- the common Rwandan language -- and English, but not the previous lingua franca, French. Some were veterans of the Rwandan civil war and others of the rebellion led by  Yoweri Museveni, now Ugandan president, who probably supplied them with arms and money. All of which was absolutely the right thing to do.

The Katangan gendarmes who had fled to Angola in the 1960s (or more accurately their children) returned to fight against Mobutu -- speaking flawless Portuguese -- while the Angolan MPLA government could hardly conceal its glee. On the other side were ranged fighters of UNITA whom Mobutu had sheltered, armed and fenced Angolan diamonds for in their U.S.sponsored campaign against the MPLA. Here at last was PanAfrican unity with the persecuted and against the persecutor -- even if it meant breaking the rules of international diplomacy and ignoring United Nations resolutions. Something that imperialist states never do, of course.

ATC 69, July-August 1997

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