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Relations with North Africa

During the 1980s, Mobutu's most bitter rival was undoubtedly Libya's Colonel Muammar Qadhafi. Speaking in Burundi in May 1985, the Libyan leader called on the Zairian population to "physically eliminate" Mobutu. On June 9, Zairian authorities announced they had dismantled a "pro-Libyan terrorist network" operating in the country and arrested four people carrying passports issued by unidentified neighboring states. Zaire's information minister said two of the four suspects were "closely linked" with bombings in March 1984, at the Voice of Zaire and the central post office in Kinshasa. The other two suspects allegedly were among twelve "Zairian terrorists trained in Libya" who had been identified by local authorities.

Libya urged the OAU, the African states, and all African nationalist forces and organizations "to adopt a serious position regarding the Mobutu regime which, it is now confirmed, is a hireling regime that conspires directly with the two racist regimes in South Africa and occupied Palestine against the security, safety, and stability of our African continent." In fact, Zaire had taken a leading role among Black African states in breaking relations with Israel in 1973, but once Egypt and Israel had signed a peace agreement and Israel had withdrawn from the Sinai and thus from Africa, Mobutu renewed his relations with the Jewish state (in May 1982). Israel, anxious to secure a bridgehead in Africa, became a significant supplier of foreign aid to Zaire, including training and directing the Special Presidential Brigade (later the Special Presidential Division), which guards the president. Mobutu also maintained commercial ties with South Africa at least as early as 1989, although diplomatic relations were not established until September 1993.

In 1975, when Zaire intervened on the side of the FNLA, Libya favored the victorious MPLA. In Chad Mobutu favored Hissein Habré (who also was backed by Egypt and Sudan) against former President Goukouni Oueddei (backed by Libya). Zaire's contingent was small and played an inconsequential role compared to that of France, but had Zaire not intervened the French would have appeared to be the lone bakers of Habré. Nevertheless, the Mobutu regime was acting in its own interest, because a Libyan-dominated Chad would menace both Sudan and the Central African Republic, states contiguous with Zaire. In June 1992, Zaire and Libya discussed normalizing relations between the two countries.

Mobutu was a close ally of the Sudanese regime of Jaafar an Nimeiri, which Libya opposed. The overthrow of Nimeiri, and his replacement by a regime more friendly to Libya, apparently represented a further threat to Mobutu. By 1990, however, he was on good enough terms both with the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum and John Garang's Sudanese People's Liberation Army to be able to undertake mediation between the two.

On a continental level, Mobutu took the lead in articulating the dissatisfaction of moderate Black African states with the OAU. In July 1984, he called on those states to break away from the OAU and form a new regional organization. Although negative reactions led him to soften his position, claiming that the proposed new group would not conflict with the OAU (just as North African states can belong to the OAU and the Arab League), Mobutu continued to promote the idea for several years, even though it was anathema not only to the North Africans but also to "progressives" south of the Sahara. There is no evidence that Mobutu was promoting the split between Arab Africa and Black Africa because of his ties to Israel and/or South Africa, but such a split was in the perceived interest of the latter countries.

In contrast to the apparently anti-Arab initiative of promoting a Black African organization, Mobutu has maintained close relations with Egypt and especially with Morocco. The latter sent troops to Shaba in 1977 to suppress the FLNC invasion, and Mobutu apparently paid back this assistance by supporting Morocco's claim to the Western Sahara. In fact, Zaire boycotted the OAU from 1984 to 1986 in protest over its admission of the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic. Mobutu visited both Egypt and Morocco in April 1992 in an apparent attempt to improve ties with Arab states in the face of deteriorating relations with the West.

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The best sources on politics and government in Zaire continue to be the various works of Thomas M. Callaghy, Michael G. Schatzberg, Thomas E. Turner, and Crawford Young. Of particular note are Callaghy's The State-Society Struggle: Zaire in Comparative Perspective and Culture and Politics in Zaire; Schatzberg's The Dialectics of Oppression in Zaire, Politics and Class in Zaire, and Mobutu or Chaos? The United States and Zaire, 1960-1990; and Young and Turner's The Rise and Decline of the Zairian State.

The Zairian human rights record, as well as its legal system, have been investigated in Makau wa Mutua and Peter Rosenblum's Zaire: Repression As Policy--A Human Rights Report, published by the Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, as well as in specialized reports by Amnesty International and the United States Department of State's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

Up-to-date information about Zaire can be found in the annual editions of Africa South of the Sahara; the Economist Intelligence Unit's quarterly Country Report: Zaire, Rwanda, Burundi and annual Country Profile: Zaire, Rwanda, Burundi; issues of Current History; and print and broadcast articles reproduced in the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), Daily Report: Sub-Saharan Africa. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1993

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