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Zaire Table of Contents


Relations with Angola since the War

Relations between Mobutu's Zaire and the MPLA government in Angola have ranged from formally correct to openly hostile. An initial move toward normalization, in 1976-77, was set back by the two invasions of Shaba Region by the FLNC from bases in Angola. After the collapse of the FNLA, Zaire had been supporting Jonas Savimbi's UNITA, also supported by South Africa, against the MPLA government. Starting in 1985, the air base at Kamina in southeastern Zaire served as a transit point for American aid to UNITA fighters. In May 1986, Zambia charged that the United States was covertly supplying weapons to UNITA via Zaire, but Mobutu denied these allegations, and in July 1986, he visited Angola and declared his support for the MPLA government.

In April 1987, Zaire, Angola, and Zambia signed a declaration of intent to restore cross-border traffic on the Benguela Railway, providing an outlet to the Atlantic that is crucial to the copper industries of both Zambia and Zaire. The railroad's international functions had been effectively shut down since 1975 by UNITA operations. UNITA reportedly agreed to the resumption of traffic on condition that the railroad not be used to move arms or troops. However, continuing insecurity made it difficult to rehabilitate the rail line.

By 1988 international efforts to end the impasse over Namibian independence had led to linkage of South African withdrawal from Namibia to a phased Cuban withdrawal from Angola. But no agreement had been reached to end the fighting within Angola itself. When Mobutu went to Zambia in August to attend a conference, he found himself in an informal summit of southern African leaders, including those of Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Uganda. Apparently it was put to Mobutu that his continued logistical support for UNITA was retarding progress toward Namibian independence. That same month, the chairman of the OAU called together the heads of state of Angola, Congo, Gabon, and Zaire to find a solution to the Angolan problem.

Over the next nine months, a series of meetings, bilateral as well as regional, took place, often at the level of heads of state. In the course of these meetings, Mobutu improved his relations with Angola's president, Josť Eduardo dos Santos, and distanced himself somewhat from UNITA. Early in May 1989, the heads of Angola, Congo, Gabon, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, Zaire, Zambia, and Zimbabwe met in Luanda and announced their commitment "to end the interference in Angola's internal affairs" and "guarantee security and stability" on Angola's frontiers. They were to meet again in August.

Suddenly, however, came the Gbadolite Summit of June 22, at the time a triumph for Mobutu. The Angolan peace process seemed to have slowed, with the Luanda government still refusing to negotiate with Savimbi in person. Some days before June 22, Mobutu began inviting African heads of state to Gbadolite; eventually, seventeen of them took part. Dos Santos and UNITA's Jonas Savimbi shook hands at Gbadolite, and a declaration was signed endorsing a cease-fire and integration of UNITA leaders into the Luanda government. With the successful Gbadolite meeting behind him--and with his difficulties with Belgium and the IMF resolved at least temporarily--Mobutu flew to Washington, where he was the first African head of state to be received at the White House by President George Bush. Soon thereafter, the agreement collapsed, when it became apparent that Mobutu had misrepresented the positions of the Angolan rivals. It took another year of negotiations, this time mediated by Portugal, before UNITA and the MPLA government were able to reach an agreement on ending their struggle of nearly two decades.

Data as of December 1993