Posted by: exiwp | February 14, 1994

Newman in Africa (1994)

William Pleasant, 1994

New York City, February 14–Over 1,000 Zairian civilians and renegade soldiers have been killed in the last month. The slaughter is the by-product of a political confrontation between the Central African Republic’s dictator/president, Mobutu Sese Seko, and his erstwhile oppositional Prime Minister Etienne “Fast Eddy” Tshisekedi (pronounced Te-say-key-dee) wa-Mulumba, who came to power a year ago, following riots which forced Mobutu to hold elections. Zaire (a.k.a. Congo), Africa’s second largest nation, has been ruled for 27 years by Mobutu. Appointed by the C.I.A. following the assassination of the country’s first and only democratically elected president, Patrice Lumumba, Mobutu has ruled through terror, torture and murder.

Successive U.S. administrations have either ignored the carnage or actively supported it in the name of propping up a friendly anti-Soviet dictator. Likewise, the anti-imperialist movement has, for the most part, turned its back on the Zairian people, eager to support the trendier anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. Meanwhile, Mobutu and his gang of cutthroats have robbed the country blind, stealing billions in gold and diamonds, while selling mining concessions to U.S., European and South African corporations for hefty kickbacks. Mobutu is the richest Black man in the world. Zaire, however, remains one of the poorest countries on earth with an accumulated debt which equals the dictator’s personal fortune ($5 billion). Disease, illiteracy and terror, meanwhile, are the lot for most of its 34 million inhabitants.

The recent bloodshed in Zaire erupted on January 28 when Mobutu paid the salaries of his soldiers with new 5-million Zaire banknotes. Seizing an opportunity to up the political ante, Tshisekedi decreed that the money was worthless. In other words, the crisis was manufactured for political profit. Hungry and broke–the average pay for Zairian soldiers is 15 million Zaires or roughly $6 per month-the troops went on a rampage, firing their guns and looting shops. During the melee, the French Ambassador was killed. French and Belgian paratroopers were then sent in to protect and evacuate their own people.

Throughout its coverage of the Zairian crisis, the mainstream media has depicted Tshisekedi as the democratically-elected opposition to the tyrant Mobutu, i.e., THE GOOD GUY. But, is Tshisekedi really the hero of the Zairian people, an African version of Martin Luther King, Jr., or just a political hustler out to snatch Mobutu’s crown and his Swiss bank accounts? And, who are the erstwhile “democracy activists” in the U.S. attempting to ride his coattails to the cashbox?

Mobutu’s Main Man?

Etienne Tshisekedi is generally viewed as the moderate voice of the Zairian opposition. He is a typical Europeanized African millionaire, no radical by anybody’s measure. His program amounts to little more than a cosmetic change in the dictatorship. Tshisekedi has no interest in wresting the country’s enormous natural resources away from the American, South African and European corporations. In short, he is just what the C.I.A. and the State Department would order to replace Mobutu. We are led to believe that any self-respecting African Joe would love to have him as a head of state. In his current manifestation, Tshisekedi looks like the model democrat when compared to the barbarous Mobutu. The only hitch in this scenario is that the people of Zaire tend to have much longer memories than some American PR jockeys would like to admit.

“Tshisekedi is no more than a dissident Mobutuist,” explained Serge Mukendi, U.S. Representative of the Workers and Peasants Movement of the Congo (MOP). Mukendi, currently stationed at Local 1199’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Manhattan, has been a leader of the anti-Mobutu resistance throughout his adult life. He is also a veteran guerrilla fighter. The armed wing of Mukendi’s organization currently controls roughly 15’% of Zaire’s territory and is committed to toppling both Mobutu and Tshisekedi. “Tshisekedi was a member of the Council of General Commissars, which included Mobutu. They were the group that carried out the assassination of Patrice Lumumba under the direction of the CIA,” Mukendi added.

It seems that Tshisekedi has a rather unappetizing history. Tshisekedi literally participated in installing the Mobutu dictatorship. “He was the author of the doctrine of Mobutuism,” said Mukendi. “If Mobutu is a dictator today, so is Tshisekedi, the one who conceived of the dictatorship. I am not surprised to see them together today competing over who will get the job of betraying the Congolese people.”

Tshisekedi was in fact Mobutu’s Minister of Interior, the equivalent to the FBI chief during the 1960’s and 70’s. He was also the Minister of Justice, i.e., the Attorney General of Zaire. “He is responsible for the murders of hundreds if not thousands of revolutionaries,” said Mukendi. “Among his victims were Pierre Mulele, Mukendi and Tshimanga, all leaders of the Simbas (Young Lions), the anti-imperialist fighters. Thousands died.”

Tshisekedi is fond of answering these charges with the excuse that he was only following Mobutu’s orders. But that doesn’t wash with the Zairian opposition. Mukendi explained, “Nazis war criminals are still being hunted down today. And they use the same excuse: they were only following orders. Tshisekedi was not blind. He supported Mobutu in every way. The Congolese people cannot make a democracy with homegrown Hitlers and Moussolinis.”

But with a reputation like that, then how can Tshisekedi’s massive following be explained? One way to answer the question would be to take a look at the recent riots. Tshisekedi used the upheaval over the currency to make a move on Mobutu’s control of the government press, radio and television centers, as well as the central bank. He called for a mass public mobilization to drive out Mobutu’s gunmen. When the day of reckoning came, nobody showed up. “The people were afraid. They hid in their homes. The mutinous soldiers owned the streets,” Mukendi said. He recently returned from his country, where he was severely wounded in a tangle with Mobutu’s triggermen.

Mukendi continued, “Then Tshisekedi asked the people to stockpile food in preparation for a general strike against Mobutu. Our people hardly have enough money to buy a single meal, much less hoard food. But Tshisekedi has money, so do his cronies in the so-called oppositional National Conference. Members of the National Conference literally get their lunch money from Mobutu, $60 paid in U.S. currency. The people couldn’t follow him. He was a failure. Moreover, Tshisekedi, the hero of democracy, his government and the National Conference fled the capital anyway. They ran like rabbits.”

It appears that the anger of the mutinous soldiers was directed against Tshisekedi, not Mobutu. The 5-million Zaire banknotes were only refused by Kinshasa merchants who backed Tshisekedi, not universally as was portrayed in the mainstream U.S. press. Moreover, the new bills were readily accepted outside of the capital city. Tshisekedi’s political ploy cost thousands of lives. Mobutu’s praetorian guard, the Israeli-trained Special Presidential Division slaughtered the mutineers and then set about assassinating grassroots opposition leaders, university students and anybody else who tickled their fancies.

Once the body count was sufficient, on February 5, Mobutu ordered that Tshisekedi be dismissed as prime minister. Tshisekedi’s little game backfired. In the meantime, the Zairian people bury their dead and wait for the next round in the no-win battle between Mobutu and his main man Tshisekedi. Despite Tshisekedi’s naked political opportunism, there are some American hustlers still trying to prop up his image as the savior of the Zairian people.

From Revolt to Retail

Many readers have probably had the experience of someone knocking at their door and asking them to contribute money to a worthy cause. Some of you may have contributed to an outfit known as the Rainbow Lobby, which promised to promote civil rights, gay rights, and any other progressive cause that you might say that you were concerned with.

The Rainbow Lobby is actually a business owned and operated by Dr. Fred Newman, the former Marxist-turned-marketer, psychotherapy hustler, New Alliance Party brain trust and all-around MACDADDY of the Tendency-a/k/a the International Workers Party (IWP). Newman marketed the Rainbow Lobby to literally hundreds of thousands of guilt-ridden white middle class folks across the country.

Founded in 1986, it quickly became his top moneymaker, only to be supplanted by his later Federal Primary Matching Funds scam. Its revenues from canvassing and telemarketing reached into the millions of dollars. That money was supposed to have been used to maintain a Washington, DC lobbying operation and to conduct political work in support of various issues. Judging it in comparison with other lobbying groups, the Rainbow Lobby was an utter failure. Not a single piece of legislation was ever passed on its behalf, though in terms of financial resources and subscribers it was rated among the top 10 lobbying offices in Washington.

As of January 1, 1993, Rainbow Lobby–now Ross & Green, a new business formed under Newman’s privatization campaign–was eliminated. For obvious reasons, a mass political organization no longer fit Newman’s marketing strategy. Its data base was turned over to Newman’s other enterprises. These names and phone numbers will be used to market his new products–via Castillo Cultural Center or the still-born New Alliance Party–or be sold to the highest commercial bidder; that means if you gave money to Rainbow Lobby, then don’t be surprised if you get telemarketed or direct-mailed by everyone from the Ronco Slicer Dicer to the Republican Party National Committee.

Literally, millions of work-hours were spent by hundreds of activists who solicited door-to-door believing that somehow they were contributing to radical change in this country. Most of them had weekly quotas for donations which, if not met, resulted in them not being paid a salary. It was not uncommon to find unsuccessful Rainbow Lobby organizers in tears at the end of a week of canvassing, penniless and facing hunger. Yet, they continued to sacrifice. They had been told that they were building a mass organization among the middle classes that would support a radical agenda. Now they have discovered that they were actually only building Newman’s nest egg and a direct marketing data base. More than 100,000 decent people gave money to Rainbow Lobby to make a difference. They were conned. As for the organizers, Newman has dropped all pretense of an anti-state political strategy. What had been a tactic for revolt has become an outlet for retailing.

Yet, the Rainbow Lobby–Ross & Green–is fond of pointing out that it was the first to come to the support of the Zairian opposition. It even makes the dubious claim that it was, …”the democracy lobby which finally succeeded in getting Congress to cut off all aid to Mobutu two years ago.” (7he National Alliance, February 16, 1993, Newman’s one-page advertising circular.) Both of these declarations are false.

The anti-Mobutu forces enjoyed support among elements of the Black and so-called white anti-imperialist left dating from the 1978 Shaba Uprising, long before the Rainbow Lobby existed. Secondly, Rainbow Lobby was effectively muscled out of the anti-Mobutu debate in Congress by church and other humanitarian groups, eager to have the Zaire turf to them.

The truth is that, dating from 1982, the International Workers Party (IWP) gave financial support to the Congolese National Liberation Front (FLNC). This was an armed anti-Mobutu force, the people behind the Shaba Uprising. They later evolved into the Workers and Peasants Party of the Cargo (POP) and are now Serge Mukendi’s MOP, the Workers and Peasants Movement. They are committed to blasting Mobutu out of power and establishing a socialist alternative, meaning driving out the American and European corporations that are sucking Zaire dry of its natural resources. For a Marxist, this is a goal worth supporting. In solidarity, a delegation of IWP members even visited liberated territory in Zaire. But in 1989, support for Mukendi’s organization suddenly cooled under Newman’s orders. The leaders of the Zairian revolution were no longer the women and men who were routing Mobutu’s army and gendarmes, but Etienne Tshisekedi, Mobutu’s former right-hand man.

Newman made a wise business decision. He concluded that armed revolutionaries made poor basket cases. They are hard to sell to Middle America. But a button-down, silk-suited CIA operative would do the trick. There was money to be made with Tshisekedi. From 1989 on, Newman pumped Tshisekedi as the be-all-and-end-all of the anti-Mobutu movement. The now-prime minister was squired around Washington by Rainbow Lobby manager Nancy Ross, to cry crocodile tears about Mobutu’s nastiness. For Newman, Tshisekedi was the ticket, the Zairian people be damned–revolution and anti-imperialism to the toilet also.

Tshisekedi never paid the Rainbow Lobby a penny for its PR campaign on his behalf. In a sense, he and the U.S. State Department got a free ride off of the poor deluded souls who gave and collected the money to the Rainbow Lobby. In return, these supporters were fed a diet of dated photos featuring Tshisekedi rubbing elbows with Newman, Lenora Fulani–Newman’s prized finger puppet–and Nancy Ross. Recently, the Alliance featured a picture of Ross sitting on the prime minister’s sofa at his mansion. Ross probably went to Kinshasa to demand that Tshisekedi throw some cash her way. After all, she and Newman had made him a prime minister. In their minds, he owes them and he is now in the position to write some checks.

Needless to say, Tshisekedi gave Ross the finger. Swine at the trough are not likely to share their slop with comrades. But Ross was undaunted. She has established Americans United with the Congolese People (AUCP), another paper organization to provide a cover for hustling American public sympathy for African causes. Ross’ companion, the Howard University academic Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja also made the trip to Kinshasa. He grins in the snapshot too.

Newman has consistently promoted Nzongola as a leading Zairian revolutionary. He is in fact a respected African historian, a resident in the U.S. for 20 years or more, but he has absolutely no following in the U.S. or in Zaire-and no particular history as an activist either. Nzongola is actually the only middle class Zairian exile who will collaborate with Newman these days. Put simply, he is used as a prop.

This would all make for a hit sit-com, but people are dying in Zaire. Revolutionaries are forced to count their bullets. The wounded die in need of elementary antibiotics. Thousands of women and children are refugees in surrounding countries. The women are forced into prostitution to feed their families. AIDS spreads like prairie fire in the poverty and devastation. People suffer and die in need of revolutionary change, not a “peaceful transfer of power” from the bloodthirsty Mobutu to the blood-splattered Tshisekedi.

Yet, Newman’s support for the leftist armed insurgency against the dictatorship was cut because Mukendi and others refused to go along with his scheme to “unite” the opposition, meaning to force a popular front between the Marxist anti-Mobutu opposition and the Tshisekedi variety of net-colonialists, the so-called Democracy Movement. In his arrogance and racism, Newman thought that he could broker a deal that would effectively set himself up as the political matchmaker behind the anti-Mobutu forces. The fact that hundreds of thousands of Zairian people had died in the fight against the dictatorship, people slaughtered by Etienne Tshisekedi and his cronies didn’t even cross his mind. He couldn’t for the life of him understand what all the fuss was about. For him, it was only the blood of Africans, after all.

Newman has never been to Africa, and when he was offered the opportunity to meet with the Zairian guerrilla leaders in 1989, the great revolutionary hero chickened out, demanding that they all leave their troops and meet him in Brussels, Belgium where it was safe for him. Sitting in his Upper West Side boudoir, Newman had no appreciation of the hostility between the guerrilla fighters and Tshisekedi. Tshisekedi had put many of their comrades and families to the sword when he was a Mobutu employee. There could be no basis for an alliance. For them, Tshisekedi was at best a CIA stooge and at worse a Mobutu-in-waiting. But in Newman’s mind, they were all just a bunch of desperate Blacks who needed money. He had the money.

Serge Mukendi commented on the Rainbow Lobby, “It seems that the Rainbow Lobby has the same outlook on the world as Tshisekedi. It’s quite lawful that they should come together now. Newman likes to say that he’s now swimming with the big fish-Tshisekedi, the assassin of the working class–not us revolutionaries. If you support criminals like Tshisekedi, then you support the enemies of the people. We started the resistance to Mobutu and we are the only ones who will guarantee the triumph of our people’s aspiration for liberation.”

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