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New leader raises ire in Kinshasa

SHARE New leader raises ire in Kinshasa

In the week since he seized power and declared himself president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Laurent Kabila has stirred resentment in the country's capital against his nascent government.

To begin with, the former rebel leader has yet to address his nation seven days after ousting President Mobutu Sese Seko, the longtime dictator of the former Zaire. Nor has Kabila made any firm plans to do so. He has remained virtually invisible, making only one fleeting appearance at a city hospital."Maybe President Kabila has not talked to us because he has nothing to tell us," said Serge Miaka, 27, a money-changer in the city center, echoing the views of many. "We want to hear what he has in mind. The first dictator has left and we now need a democracy. But we need a real democracy."

Kabila has also taken some unpopular measures, creating enemies when he might have picked up supporters. He has evicted hundreds of former military officers from their homes along with their families. He has also cracked down on public demonstrations, arresting about 70 supporters of the main opposition leader who dared to march against the new government Saturday and placing restrictions on future marches.

Kabila's troops have not helped his image. Though they are far more disciplined than the former government's troops, the rebel soldiers have looted luxurious houses in neighborhoods where Mobutu's associates lived and have beaten some of the former dictator's friends.

While soldiers have been seen stealing in some places, in others Kabila's troops have executed civilians on charges of looting, leading to accusations of a double standard. Two teenagers were killed by soldiers in the Funa neighborhood Saturday morning after being accused of looting the night before, witnesses said.

In another unpopular move, soldiers have enforced a ban on miniskirts and tight pants. Some Kin-shasa women have been attacked and humiliated simply for wearing clothing deemed immodest.

These problems have damaged Kabila's popularity, even though most people still say they are grateful to him for ridding them of Mobutu, who amassed a fortune and left the country in ruins. His aides say the new president has been buried in meetings on assembling a new government and will make a major speech soon.

"The city of Kinshasa is a city that has known a lot of political turbulence," said Luis Amuli, a spokesman for Kabila. "We knew there would be trouble here."

Some of Kabila's political problems have arisen from a clash of cultures. The majority of the soldiers patrolling the streets are ethnic Tutsi from eastern Zaire. They are more reserved and stern than the outgoing and cosmopolitan Kinshasa residents.

In addition, the troops also speak a different language - Swahili rather than Lingala - leading to constant misunderstandings with the local residents.

"We are afraid because these soldiers speak another language," said one man, insisting on anonymity. "They kill people easily. They are not compassionate."

The large number of Tutsi among the troops has fueled speculation that there are many foreign troops in the capital, primarily Rwandans but also Ugandans and Angolans. All three countries provided vital support for Kabila's rebellion, including military advisers. There were also thousands of Rwandan Tutsi volunteers in the rebel army that crossed the border to help its kinsmen.

Kabila's political enemies have exploited this, portraying him as a captive of foreign interests supported by soldiers who are not true Congolese. On the streets, this view has become widespread, whether it is true or not.

"We are not against Mr. Kabila - he has come to liberate us," said Didier Martin Mwolo, a 27-year-old student. "But we are against Rwandans running the country. We are happy for what they have done, but we want them to return home as soon as possible."

Kabila's failure to bring Etienne Tshisekedi, a longtime opponent of Mobutu and the most popular figure here, into the government has also rubbed many Kinshasans the wrong way. A recent independent poll showed Tshisekedi would soundly defeat Kabila in the city if a presidential race were held.

The failure is not entirely Kabila's fault. Tshisekedi has acted like a man who is not facing reality, insisting he is the legal prime minister under the Constitution and should be allowed to appoint a government. He has main-tained this position even though Kabila has won a civil war, ousted Mobutu and declared the Constitution void.

Still, without Tshisekedi in his political fold, Kabila runs the risk of being seen as someone not only beholden to foreigners but also not willing to work with a popular local figure.

"He must meet Tshisekedi, and if he doesn't do it, it will be very difficult for him to succeed here politically," said Hortense Mpeti-Kani, a Kinshasa lawyer.

But in the end it has been Kabila's aloofness from the people he says he has liberated that has caused many Kinshasa residents to revise their initial opinion of him. Because he has not addressed the residents here, many say they are beginning to feel they are under foreign occupation rather than liberated.

It was a measure of this dissatisfaction that the only public demonstration in favor of Kabila drew no more than 70 people Saturday, a day when Kabila's soldiers dispersed about 200 marchers for Tshisekedi.

Kabila has angered a large constituency he might have co-opted by turning officers of the former government army out of their homes and housing his own soldiers there. Most of the 600,000 government soldiers living in Kinshasa gave up the city without a fight and turned in their weapons to the rebels. Many say they would like to work in the new government or join Kabila's army. Instead they are losing their houses.

Capt. Sylvain Zema, an engineer and father of five, is typical of the 100 officers who were evicted with their families from the Badia Dingi military camp Saturday evening. Zema said he supported the rebellion and had hoped to put his skills to use helping Kabila rebuild the country.

But when soldiers summarily ejected him from his home, leaving him on the street with his children and a pile of furniture, he became angry. Now he is thinking of emigrating.

"I'm a son of this country, whether you call it Zaire or Congo," he said. "I do not accept that people from another country can come push around the sons of this country, saying we are your liberators and yet they are Rwandans or whatever. If they don't integrate us into the army, we will go to the bush to prepare a new war."

Other officers maintained that the rebellion had only succeeded because Mobutu's army - demoralized after years of poor pay - had decided not to oppose Kabila. They said they expected Kabila to cooperate with Tshisekedi. If not, they warned, there will be another civil war.

"If President Kabila does not take our leader Tshisekedi, we will fight until the last drop of energy leaves us," said a captain of a commando unit, who spoke on condition of anonymity.