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Friday, November 28, 2003

The Leopard is back: Mobutu's sons return to reclaim the nation plundered by their father
By Declan Walsh in Kinshasa
28 November 2003

Nzanga Mobutu stared out over the chocolate-brown sweep of the Congo river, and remembered his father. Mobutu Sese Seko was one of Africa's most reviled dictators. For 32 years he ruled the Democratic Republic of Congo, then called Zaire, with an iron rod and stolen wealth. Then rebels toppled him, sending him to exile and death.

Six years later, the "Leopard" is back. Standing outside the family's recently reclaimed villa in Kinshasa, 33-year-old Nzanga wore a green shirt with his father's beaming portrait. The legend read: "We will never forget you." Mobutu's family and friends are returning home as Congo's war, one of Africa's most terrible conflicts, grinds to a halt. The Mobutists are not fondly remembered. Their leader bankrupted the country, using its legendary wealth to buy political loyalties and build palaces where pink champagne flowed like water. Enemies were ruthlessly suppressed, often with the connivance of Western Cold War sponsors.

When rebels toppled Mobutu in 1997, the ailing autocrat fled to Morocco, where he died four months later. His cronies followed, clutching suitcases stuffed with designer clothes and offshore bank details. Many relieved Congolese thought they were gone for good.

But as five years of war ­ an orgy of rape, murder and plunder that left more than three million dead ­ draws to an end, the Mobutists are coming home. A transitional government uniting rebels and government has been cobbled together in Kinshasa. Since the door of national reconciliation was wedged open, the monied exiles have flooding in.

"It is good to be home," said Nzanga at the riverside villa returned to his family this week. The urbane son, who, until recently, ran a media company in Morocco, apologised for the lack of furniture. The previous tenant, an army general, left reluctantly, he explained, taking everything with him. All that remained was the echoing marble floors.

In the past two weeks, Nzanga has been joined by his older brother, Manda, who flew in from Paris, and Leon Kengo wa Dondo, a former prime minister. Lesser Mobutists, some of whom fought in the rebellion, have also returned, some with ministerial positions.

The mood of change has filtered down to the tattered streets of Kinshasa. Mobutu shirts and leopard-print hats are worn openly, a practically treasonable offence only six months ago. But the return of the Mobutists has also sparked recriminations. Angry residents rained stones on Mr Wa Dondo's motorcade as it entered the city two weeks ago.
Nzanga said: "I'm not saying it was the best of regimes but to say my father was the worst dictator is just wrong. At least then there was peace, and people could eat. Those are the facts." But the Mobutu flame quietly burned on during the Kabila years under Catherine Nzuzi wa Mbombo, one of the few who refused to run.

A former vice-president of Mobutu's Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR) party, Mrs Nzuzi was charged with high treason and jailed for 20 months under Laurent Kabila. "Why should I have left?" she said in explanation.

"I stole nothing. Everything you see here comes from the sweat of my brow." Draped in gold jewellery and sporting thick-framed, Christian Dior glasses, Mrs Nzuzi is, in appearance at least, the heir of Mobutism. Like the Leopard, she walks with a cane, but hers came from injuries sustained during her time in prison.

Now she has been appointed Minister for Solidarity and Humanitarian Affairs, and Congo's poor are her charges. But as there are no offices yet, Mrs Nzuzi works from home, the opulent penthouse of a four-storey apartment building she had built in the 1970s, at the height of Mobutu's powers

In the bad news department....

In theory, Congo should be rich. It has an abundance of natural wealth. But the kleptocracy of Mobutu and his family left them billionaires and Congo a disease-ridden, war ravaged wasteland. Africa has suffered from many of these parasites, but none more devestating than the Mobutus.

posted by Steve @ 12:21:00 PM

12:21:00 PM

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