ANKE HINTJENS recently returned from a visit to Goma in rebel-held eastern Zaire.
I last visited Goma in 1993. This time I felt the difference immediately. Before, we didn't dare move around. There were roadblocks everywhere, with soldiers demanding payment. All that has stopped: the corruption, the arbitrary arrests, the day-to-day rip-offs. The result is a noticeable improvement in the standard of living for ordinary people.
The local population in the Goma region was not active in the rebellion in the early days. The great success of Laurent Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Zaire-Congo was to unite the Banyamulenge resistance against ethnic cleansing, the Rwandan army determination to break the genocidal regime-in-exile's control over the refugee camps in eastern Zaire and Kabila's own coalition of parties and guerilla groups. The Zairian army didn't want to fight, and the regime was already rotting.
We participated in several training sessions for new members of the alliance. They studied the unsuccessful 1964-65 rebellion, the heritage of Patrice Lumumba and his movement, and the alliance's own program. Alliance branches are being created in many districts. They try to educate people about the "culture of corruption" which developed during the 32-year Mobutu regime.
The political ideas within the alliance are varied, including elements of Maoist, Third-Worldist ideas from the 1960s. They identify seven social classes in Zaire, with two fundamental groups: exploiters and exploited. When we asked how the alliance would finance its programs for health, education and public services, we were confidently told, "Zaire is rich enough. Even paying the foreign debt will not be a problem." And the debt must be paid, since "we have to cooperate with all countries in the world".
I don't know about Laurent Kabila, but certainly many of the alliance representatives at a lower level are unaware of the political and economic problems they will face when they take power.
We also noticed the influx of opportunists: former Mobutu supporters who converted "just in time". Only a handful of cadre from the 1964-65 rebellion are left. After 30 years of isolation, they are trying to transmit their principles of their long struggle against Mobutism to a new generation.
Life in the liberated zones is better than in the old days. The massive corruption has gone. There has also been a shift in public thinking about the day-to-day "petite" corruption. And the "little people" no longer live in fear. Mobutu is no longer invincible, because the people have mobilised themselves.
The process is only starting. It is too early to judge all aspects of the rebel regime. But we need to recognise the positive aspects of this movement, which has opened the path towards the end of Mobutism. The left abroad should have a constructive, critical engagement with them.
"Third-world" oriented people in Europe often think that Africa is a marginal part of the world, without great strategic significance. But when you see what the imperialists have been capable of in Rwanda and Zaire, collaborating in genocide, Africa matters a great deal to them. [ From International Viewpoint. Anke Hintjens works with the Brussels-based Committee to Abolish Third World Debt.]