Representatives of nine western countries including the United States and Japan have been meeting in Brussels, Belgium, to discuss how to restore the battered economy of the vast Central African state of Zaire.
Representatives of nine western countries including the United States and Japan have been meeting in Brussels, Belgium, to discuss how to restore the battered economy of the vast Central African state of Zaire. The two-day meeting, chaired by belgium, aimed to fix the amount of money donor countries might be willing to pay to help reduce Zaire's balance of payments problems. The west's interest in supporting the government of President Mobutu Sese Seko has been stimulated by a desire for a stable, pro-western Zaire, but it has also been moderated by concern about political methods and allegations of human rights abuses.
SYNOPSIS: President Mobutu Sese Seko with President Giscard d'Estaing in 1975. France is a leader among the western countries that believes Zaire has great strategic importance in Africa. Its central position and size helps make it crucial to the stability of Africa. And it has a huge economic potential. Copper mines in Kolwezi once helped make Zaire economically powerful. It is now heavily in debt and calling for aid.
Efforts to attract trade include the construction of an International Trade Centre. The problems cut deep into the economy. productivity is shrinking, industry is operating at about half capacity, external debts total about 4.6 billion dollars...
There is a shortage of foreign exchange, with a decline in the production of the important minerals cobalt and copper. The economic crisis is accompanied by internal dissent, reports of starvation in some provinces, and the danger of another security crisis like the invasion of Shaba province in 1978. One result: luxury goods are within the reach of only a few Zaireans.
In the markets, the price of good is high, with inflation adding to the problems of the ration and its people. The west sees President Mobutu's Zaire as an urgent and deserving case for support, and a bulwark against fears of spreading Communist influences in Southern Africa. Recent efforts to restore sound economic administration, however, have not brought substantial short-term improvements for the poor.
President Mobutu has canvassed several countries for help this year, (1979) including West Germany where Chancellor Helmut Schmidt has been sympathetic. In August, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) granted Zaire a 150 million dollar standby credit on the condition of tough austerity measures, including a devaluation of the national currency, and a wage and credit squeeze, were imposed.
Other western countries have also tried to impose conditions on further substantial aid. The have been insisting on increased democracy in politics, and an effort by Zaire to improve relations with neighbouring Angola. At the third international conference to be held on Zaire's economic problems, the nine countries present in Brussels discussed their contribution to a package of aid.
Belgian Prime Minister Wilfried Martens was influential in organising the Brussels conference, and discussed it with Zaire's Foreign Minister Karl-i-Bond (September 1979). Further meetings are needed to develop the aid package, ending with a World Bank meeting in February (1980). And Zaire appears willing to meet conditions: The Zairean Foreign Minister expressed his government's 'unyielding political will to end the crisis'.