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Ethnic Groups

According to Mobutu's diagnosis, "tribalism," or ethnic politics, was one of the First Republic's major ills. The Manifesto of N'Sele and other major statements of "authentic Zairian nationalism" declared overt promotion of ethnic identity to be illegal. Steps taken against tribalism included suppression of institutional arenas in which ethnicity could be mobilized, apparent exclusion of overt ethnic patronage within the state, and prohibition of the articulation of ethnic ideologies. The first step included dismantling electoral assemblies and political assemblies, which was accomplished during the Second Republic regime's first year. The bewildering assortment of political parties--more than 200 of them had taken part in the 1965 balloting--was swept away by the stroke of a pen. They were replaced by a single party, the MPR, "the nation politically organized." The twenty-one provincettes were recombined, ultimately becoming eight regions (plus Kinshasa), which became mere administrative subdivisions of the recentralized state.

First Republic politicians had sustained their clientele through the open use of the resources of the state for patronage. Particular ministries had become ethnic fiefdoms, both at the central and provincial levels. Local administrators were named at the provincial level, with ethnic criteria frequently paramount. Most of these practices were swept away by the new regime's total centralization of power. The state remained a vast patrimonial domain, but the distribution of benefits was above all a presidential prerogative. Functionaries in the command hierarchy of the territorial administration were posted outside of their ethnic zones as a matter of principle. Ministers were frequently rotated, inhibiting the entrenchment of particular ethnic groups in given departments.

Ethnic associations were banned early in the Second Republic. But it is clear that they continued to exist, as was made evident on each national holiday when they were among the groups sending messages of congratulations to President Mobutu. Moreover, Mobutu was widely regarded as favoring his own ethnic group and region.

Political liberalization, following Mobutu's speech of April 1990, did not extend to recognition of ethnic political parties. Those groups denied recognition included a revived version of the Kongo ethnic party, Alliance of the Kongo People (Alliance des Bakongo--Abako) and a new party, Anamongo, which would have represented the Mongo of Équateur, Tetela-Kusu of Kasai-Oriental and Maniema, and related groups.

Nevertheless, ethnic rivalries and tensions continued to fester. Interethnic fighting in Shaba between adherents of Nguza and UFERI--primarily Lunda, the dominant ethnic group in Shaba--and Tshisekedi and UDPS supporters--primarily Luba-Kasai--erupted in August 1992 and continued sporadically thereafter. The specter of secession also arose anew, as Shaba expressed its opposition to the Tshisekedi government. The region's governor, Gabriel Kyungu wa Kumwanza, a disciple of Nguza, went so far as to recommend the expulsion of Luba-Kasai living in Shaba, and Nguza bitterly denounced the CNS (whose investigative commission had recommended that he be indicted for his role in the Shaba ethnic violence) and refused to rule out the eventual secession of the region.

Throughout 1993 violence continued in Shaba, and indigenous ethnic groups in Nord-Kivu also initiated attacks on ethnic Rwandans and Burundians, collectively known in Zaire as the Banyarwanda (see The Significance of Ethnic Identification , ch. 2). In both instances of ethnic tension, there is a history of enmity and resentment. But most observers believe that the recent violence is less historical than the result of deliberate government manipulation designed to divert popular resentment of the Mobutu regime.

In Nord-Kivu, government and security officials condoned and even instigated the attacks. In Shaba local government officials also played a major role in inciting ethnic violence. In fact, Kyungu launched a campaign known as "Katanga for the Katangese." Under its auspices, vigilante youth brigades, calling the LubaKasai "insects" and "foreigners" who were to blame for the misery of the true Katangan people, began attacking the homes and businesses of Luba-Kasai, in effect systematically expelling them from Shaba.

In several public appearances in late 1993, Kyungu, with the apparent approval of Nguza, reiterated calls for Shaban autonomy, threatening to pursue it immediately if Tshisekedi were to be "forced on" the nation as prime minister in a political settlement. He also repeated demands for Luba-Kasai to leave Shaba.

Observers note that Kyungu and Nguza have used both the autonomy drive and the ethnic cleansing campaign to promote their own political agenda and the interests of UFERI, to the detriment of Tshisekedi and the UDPS. Some observers also see their actions as an indication that Nguza and Kyungu, both formerly Mobutu opponents but now both part of the Birindwa government, Nguza as first deputy prime minister in charge of defense and Kyungu as governor of Shaba, have been bribed or co-opted by Mobutu. Mobutu can thus be seen as using them to reinforce his position as the only one who can hold Zaire together. Indeed, few would argue that mineral-rich Shaba is vital to Zaire's future.

Data as of December 1993

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