New Internationalist


November 1985

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Map of Zaire

Leader: President Mobuto Sese Seko

Economy: GNP per capita $192

Main exports: copper and cobalt

People: 30.3 million

Health: Infant mortality: 110 per 1,000 live births

Culture: A number of tribal groupings with their own languages, Lingala. the local trading language and French among the educated, are widely spoken.

Religion: Roman Catholic and animist.

Sources: World Bank World Development Report, 1984 and State of the World’s Children, 1985.

When President Mobutu Sese Seko visited Egypt earlier this year his own plane was preceded by another carrying a troupe of cheerleaders to greet him on his arrival. Wherever Zaire’s dictator goes. inside or outside the country, this group of green-clad women dance and sing his praises.

In the I960s Zaire - then the Congo - hit the headlines when Katanga. a mineral-rich province attempted to secede. And although Zaire’s main export (copper) is no longer as highly sought after, this is still a rich country: there is cobalt (used to make steel) and industrial diamonds as well as a range of food and cash crops.

Mobutu has brought stability to Zaire, but at a price. He is one of the world’s richest individuals, while some of his people are among the poorest. Zaire’s death rate among children under a year old stands at one per cent: ten times higher than industrial countries. And this is an average figure which hides the greater rates of infant mortality among the poor in the rural areas and cities.

Sprawling along the banks of the grey Zaire river is the capital, Kinshasa - home to some five million people. Huge skyscrapers, the local headquarters of western multinational corporations, dwarf the shacks and slums skirting the city. The advertisements on Zaire’s colour television feature Pepso-dent toothpaste, Nestlés milk drinks and Alaska corporation ice cream, beamed to rich and poor alike.

But the West’s influence on Zaire is not limited to TV, it is usually true to say that the country has either just completed negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, or is just about to begin talks to re-schedule its debt repayments.

In response to IMF demands, Zaire has managed to reduce inflation from over 100 percent in 1983 to just 17 per cent in 1985. That’s no mean achievement - but petrol prices doubled and food prices trebled. There have been savage cuts in government spending.

Corruption is endemic in Zaire which is hardly surprising when officials are paid so little or quite often not at all. Zaire also has one of the world’s worst human rights records with over 100 opponents of Mobutu and his People’s Movement for the Revolution either imprisoned or banished to rural areas. The only opposition is the Roman Catholic Church whose Cardinal Joseph-Albert Malula was hauled over the coals by Mobutu for refusing to give the President his unqualified support.

Power rests entirely with Mobutu. whose hilltop palace is well away from the hubbub of shantv life in Kinshasa. Shored up by his personal wealth and power and surrounded by the cheerleaders in patriotic green the President is unlikely to want to change anything.

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Great disparities

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Dependent on IMF loans

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[image, unknown] Nationalist one party state, pursuing capitalist policies with an all-powerful President.

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74% male
37% female

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Political prisoners; allegations of torture

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Fairly low at 50 years

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This feature was published in the November 1985 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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