PRP Insurgency in the Congo (Zaire) 1964-1997

[ 1964 - 1997 ]

[Most of the] groups that relied on violence to overthrow Mobutu, ...have depended on foreign support. The People's Revolutionary Party (Parti Révolutionnaire du Peuple--PRP) may be an exception to this rule...

Headed by Laurent Kabila, a leader of the Lumumbist insurrection of 1964-65, the PRP maintained a "liberated zone" in the Fizi area of southeastern Kivu (in present-day Sud-Kivu). This zone had been out of government control since 1964. PRP forces in the area apparently existed in symbiosis with the government forces sent to exterminate them. Assignment to that theater of operations reportedly was popular with Zairian military officers, who profited from smuggling gold, ivory, and other commodities out of the PRP zone.

In contrast to the FLNC, the PRP had a well-defined program for social revolution. According to one publication, it foresaw regrouping peasants in cites agricoles, which would be organized as agricultural cooperatives, and equipped with a dispensary, maternity clinic, nursery school, playing fields, movie theater, market, and branch of the savings bank. It was unclear how this socialist paradise in rural Zaire would be financed.

The PRP was briefly in the headlines in 1975, when its guerrillas kidnapped four foreigners (three American, one Dutch) at a Tanzanian wildlife research station. In 1984 and again in 1985, the PRP captured the town of Moba (eastern Shaba, on Lake Tanganyika) before being expelled each time by the Zairian army. The government claimed that 1,500 PRP fighters surrendered in 1986, but in the early 1990s, the PRP apparently held its small pocket of rural territory...

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...

Political resistance to the one-party regime was also accompanied by sporadic guerrilla activity. Guerrilla resistance centered on the activities of several insurgent groups. For example, on November 12, 1984, some 200 rebels belonging to the People's Revolutionary Party (Parti Révolutionnaire du Peuple-- PRP), a force that had operated for years in the rugged mountains near Lake Tanganyika, temporarily seized and occupied Moba, a town on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Elements of the 31st Airborne Brigade recaptured the town two days later. Again in 1985, the PRP briefly occupied Moba on June 17, but its forces were quickly dislodged. Although Moba possessed no strategic importance, its capture had significant psychological importance. It demonstrated that the Zairian government was still unable to exercise effective control over portions of the country. Even more important, the Moba incidents vividly demonstrated the incompetence of the front-line Zairian units stationed in the interior, notwithstanding the 31st Airborne Brigade's recapture of the town. The PRP was officially registered as an opposition party in late 1990.


An eight-month-long campaign under rebel leader Laurent Kabila (1940-) overthrew in 1997 Africa's longest-ruling dictator, President Mobutu Sese Seko (formerly Joseph D. Mobutu) (1930-97), whose plundering of Zaire's abundant natural resources had left the country's economy in ruins after 30 years. Kabila, headquartered around Lake Tanganyika in eastern Zaire, had been sporadically and ineffectively fighting Mobutu since the latter seized power in 1965. Kabila's opportunity to definitively oust Mobutu came in the fall of 1996, when tensions escalated between indigenous Tutsi (Watusi or Tusi),  along with other ethnic groups, and Hutu (Hahutu) militia based in refugee camps bordering Rwanda in eastern Zaire. These sprawling camps resulted from the exodus from Rwanda of Hutu civilians after the 1994 genocide of Tutsi by Hutu troops. International relief agencies maintained the camps, which extremist Hutu used as bases from which to conduct raids into Rwanda, whose government (formerly in Hutu hands) was now led by former Tutsi rebel leader Paul Kagame (1957?-) in a coalition with moderate Hutu leaders. After Hutu extremists convinced Zairian authorities to expel all Tutsi from the country, Kagame, supported by Uganda's President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni (1944-), gave Kabila command of some 2,000 Zairian Tutsi recruits, who had recently been trained in Rwanda and who had already driven the Hutu militia from the camps and seized much of eastern Zaire. Kabila now had enough troops to mount a credible attack against Mobutu; by February 1997 he controlled a corridor of land stretching from Watsa in the north to Kalemie in the south along the eastern border. With more support from Uganda, Burundi, and Angola, Kabila's troops marched across Zaire, arriving near the capital Kinshasa, in May 1997. Six months before, Mobutu had flown to Kinshasa from the French Riviera, where he had one of his many lavish homes; at the time suffering from prostrate cancer, he stayed but a few ineffectual days before flying back to France. Later Mobutu returned to Kinshasa and was persuaded by his generals and South Africa's President Nelson Mandela (1918-) to relinquish power; he then flew to his hometown, Gbadolite, about 700 miles to the north. A day later the rebel forces entered the capital without any fighting. Kabila's peaceful entry and transition to power were engineered beforehand through negotiations among Mandela, Mobutu, Kabila, and the US representative to the United Nations Bill Richardson (1947-). Mobutu went into exile and later (September 7) died in Rabat, Morocco. Kabila renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo, what it was called before becoming the Republic of Zaire in 1971; Kabila also allowed only one political party -- his Alliance of Democratic Forces for the liberation of the Congo -- despite pleas from other African leaders and the US to include opposition members in his government.

Related Conflicts

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