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Zaire Table of Contents


Regional Relations

Any African state must be concerned about relations with its neighbors, since national borders usually divide ethnic groups, and neighboring states often shelter opposition parties. Zaire's immediate environment poses a particular challenge in that Zaire borders on nine other states.

Following the coup of 1965, one of Mobutu's early objectives was to transform Zaire's position in regional politics. He dispatched a former Lumumbist to Ghana to explain and justify the coup. Kwame Nkrumah (shortly before he himself was overthrown) indicated that he was prepared to accept and support the Mobutu regime, if it would commit itself to nonalignment and support a pro-African policy.

A series of gestures during 1966-67 reinforced the nationalist image of the regime. Zaire broke relations with Portugal and declared Lumumba a "national hero." The Bakajika Law and the UMHK struggle conveyed a sense of assertion of Zairian economic rights. These moves helped to set the stage for the Mobutu regime's acceptance into the African family of nations, symbolized by the acceptance by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) of Mobutu's invitation to meet at Kinshasa in 1967. This acceptance in turn guaranteed that the fragmented remnants of the rebellious forces would be denied sanctuary.

By 1968 Zairian ambitions began to expand, the abortive creation of the UEAC forming the first major initiative. Mobutu assumed an active role in African diplomacy. He served as a member of the multinational OAU team designed to bring about an end to the Nigerian civil war (1967-70) and then offered his services to reconcile Nigeria with the four African states that had recognized the secessionist state of Biafra. He proposed his services to ease the tense relations between Tanzania and Uganda in 1971. Mobutu also mediated disputes between Burundi and Tanzania, created by border violations by Burundi forces assaulting Hutu refugees in Tanzanian territory. In 1973 he spent no less than 150 days outside Zaire, visiting twenty-six countries, including fourteen in Africa.

Mobutu's active regional diplomacy was based on intimate personal relationships with other heads of state. Regular "tripartite" consultations were held with the leaders of Rwanda and Burundi. The Zaire-Rwanda-Burundi relationship was formalized in 1976 as the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (Communauté Économique des Pays des Grands Lacs--CEPGL). In 1972-75 there were also frequent triangular summits with the leaders of Tanzania and Zambia, largely devoted to southern African problems. Mobutu gave strong backing to Ugandan president Idi Amin Dada in his quest for African recognition and opposed the transfer of the 1971 OAU summit from Kampala.

In the early years of the Second Republic, the only neighboring state with which relations were periodically troubled was Congo. Kinshasa did not easily forgive Brazzaville's role in harboring rebel headquarters and training camps. Amicable relations had barely been resumed when they were poisoned again by the summary execution in Zaire of former rebel leader Pierre Mulele, who left Brazzaville under an amnesty guarantee. A new crisis broke out in 1972 when Zaire provided sanctuary and some arms for a small group of Congolese rebels who were largely eliminated by early 1973. Through the entire period, the fact that Zaire supported the FNLA while Congo supported the MPLA in Angola was a source of tension. Despite all these irritants, Mobutu developed a close personal relationship with Congo's Marien Ngouabi, which was maintained with his successors.

Data as of December 1993