Zaire Table of Contents
Through the mid-1980s, Mobutu had characterized Zaire as surrounded by a "red belt" of radical states supported by the Soviet Union and Libya. Except for Angola, however, these countries lack either the motivation or the militarily means to threaten Zaire seriously. In the early 1990s, Zaire's relations with even its most hostile neighbors had improved. As a consequence, Zaire does not face any serious external threats, although border flareups , cross-border smuggling, refugees, and mutual support of insurgent groups have caused strains between Zaire and many of its neighbors (see fig. 1; Regional Relations, ch. 4). Militarily, the most serious strains occurred in Zaire's relations with Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, and Angola.
Relations with Uganda at times have approached open conflict. Uganda's instability since the 1971 rise to power of Idi Amin Dada concerns Zaire, particularly because the border region between the two countries is remote and mountainous, and neither side exercises effective control over the area. A considerable amount of smuggling also occurs along the border, often resulting in violence. In response to this violence, Zaire announced in June 1988 that it would set up a naval unit on the Zairian side of Lake Edward to reinforce security and to stop smuggling and piracy. Despite the intent to keep this force on the Zairian side of the border, observers feared that Uganda might regard the measure as provocative.
Another contentious issue between the two countries is their perceived mutual support of insurgent groups. Zaire's alleged ties to Amin concerned successive Ugandan administrations. In January 1989, the Zairian government rejected an attempt by the former Ugandan president to establish residence in Zaire. Amin was expelled from Zaire, bound for Saudi Arabia, although Uganda had earlier requested his extradition to Kampala. Zaire's conflict with Uganda also concerned the activity of the Zairian insurgent group, the Congolese Liberation Party (Parti de Libération Congolaise-- PLC), which operated primarily out of bases in the Ruwenzori Mountains along the Zaire-Uganda border. The organization began insurgent attacks in 1985, and during the next three years attacked several small towns along the Zairian side of the border. Although the PLC was unable to take and hold any terrain, it demonstrated Zaire's inability to control the area effectively, and the PLC's rout of small FAZ detachments highlighted the military's deficiencies.
Zaire's relations with Tanzania have been similarly strained because of Kinshasa's belief that Tanzania supported and harbored Zairian insurgents, specifically the PRP. This organization caused extreme embarrassment to the Zairian government in 1984 and again in 1985 when it captured the Zairian town of Moba along the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Although in both instances Zairian government forces were able to recapture the town a few days later, their demonstrated lack of control in integral parts of Zairian territory and the poor performance of the Zairian troops who fled before the PRP were sore points for Kinshasa. Nevertheless, although the Zairian government accused Tanzania of active complicity in these attacks, observers believed it unlikely that Dar es Salaam did more than provide safe haven for the PRP.
Much of the distrust centered on the poor relations between Mobutu and Tanzania's former president, Julius Nyerere. Mobutu opposed Nyerere's socialist orientation, and Nyerere considered Mobutu a puppet of the United States. Nevertheless, Mobutu's relations with Nyerere's successor, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, seemed much better, particularly when the latter stated that he would not permit insurgents to use his country as a springboard for attacks against a neighboring country. Observers believe that this remark, along with Tanzanian support for President Mobutu's efforts to mediate national reconciliation in Angola, might presage greater cooperation between the two countries.
Relations with Zambia have also been tense because of the extensive smuggling activity along the border. Also, the FLNC's use of Zambian territory during its 1978 invasion of Zaire's Shaba Region proved an irritant to bilateral relations, as did a centuryold border dispute over the area between Lake Tanganyika and Lake Mweru.
In the late 1980s, however, relations between the two countries improved. Although smuggling continued to be an irritant, Zaire and Zambia settled their border dispute on September 18, 1989. In addition, Zambian support for Mobutu's efforts to mediate an end to the Angolan civil war contributed to improved relations.
Angola has presented the gravest potential threat to Zaire's national security. This threat has its roots in the support each country gave to the other's insurgent groups. Zaire supported the Angolan insurgent group, the FNLA, against the communist-backed MPLA, and after the FNLA's demise, Kinshasa transferred its support to the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola--UNITA). Angola, on the other hand, supported the FLNC and its invasions of Zaire's Shaba Region in 1977 and 1978. Although relations improved periodically during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Zairian support for UNITA, particularly the alleged use of Kamina's military base in Shaba Region as a transit point for supplies from the United States, kept relations somewhat tense.
Zaire's concern was based on the size and strength of Angola's armed forces. Angola had the largest military (more than 100,000 personnel) of all of Zaire's neighbors. Its services were also the best equipped, possessing large quantities of sophisticated Soviet weapons. Moreover, because of the experience gained in its longrunning civil war against UNITA, the Angolan military's capability easily surpassed that of the FAZ. This imbalance, along with the long land border between the two countries, made Luanda loom large in Kinshasa's national security concerns.
Several factors, however, limited the Angolan government's ability to threaten Zaire. The ongoing UNITA insurgency forced Luanda to orient its military toward this internal threat. Furthermore, past Western support for Kinshasa, especially during the Shaba crises, had not gone unnoticed in Luanda. There were also close military ties between Zaire and the United States. Reportedly, the United States had supplied weapons through Zaire to UNITA in the late 1980s.
Relations between Angola and Zaire started to improve somewhat in late 1988 when negotiations began over repatriation of refugees to their respective countries. Although the repatriations stalled because of mutual suspicions, negotiations resumed, and on September 27, 1989, the first refugees returned home. Approximately 310,000 displaced Angolans remained in Zaire in early 1992.
Also during this period, President Mobutu arranged for a summit of African leaders to discuss Angolan national reconciliation. The summit, which took place in Gbadolite, Zaire, on June 22, 1989, led to a temporary cease-fire in the Angolan civil war and also called for subsequent negotiations on national reconciliation. Known as the Gbadolite Declaration, this agreement both necessitated and resulted in improved negotiations between Kinshasa and Luanda. Although the Gbadolite Declaration agreement was short-lived, the 1991 cease-fire agreement between Luanda and UNITA and resultant attempts to form a new broad-based Angolan government were expected to reduce potential conflict between Angola and Zaire.
As for relations with other African states, Zaire's support for Western initiatives and conservative regimes in Africa has had mixed consequences. Actions such as training Chadian soldiers at the Zairian Commando Training Center and sending troops to Chad to support United States and French policy in that country helped Zaire secure Western economic and military assistance, but they also earned Mobutu the enmity of many African leaders. Particularly important in this regard was Zaire's support for the UNITA insurgency in Angola.
Data as of December 1993
Zaire Table of Contents