Tiny Republic of Congo eyes its giant neighbor warily
In this story:
May 24, 1997
Web posted at: 11:27 p.m. EDT (0327 GMT)
From Correspondent Catherine Bond
BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo (CNN) -- The Republic of Congo
has watched with great interest the changes across the river
in Kinshasa in the newly renamed Democratic Republic of
Once a socialist country with close ties to France, the
Republic of Congo has only 3 million people. It maintained
good relations with its giant neighbor when it was called
Zaire and run by the dictatorial President Mobutu Sese Seko.
Now that its neighbor has changed its name, its government
and its leader, people in Brazzaville have taken a wary,
pragmatic view of the proceedings.
"We are condemned to have good relations with whatever
government is established in Kinshasa," said Deftin-Arsene
Tsaty-Boungou, minister of foreign affairs. "The problem is
not whether we like it or not, that's not the problem for the
"Most of the population of the two Congos intermarry among
themselves and trade from one river bank to the other without
visas, without procedures, without customs, as a matter of
course," said Clement Massengo, deputy editor of the La Rue
Muert newspaper in Brazzaville.
Commercial ties have been affected, however, at least in the
short term. Brazzaville markets are normally jammed with
traders from Kinshasa, but the crowds have been light and the
pace desultory since Kabila ordered his country's borders
In a sense, the change of a country's name is nothing new in
these parts. During the colonial era, the two countries were
called the French Congo and the Belgian Congo. It wasn't
until 1971 that Mobutu changed the Belgian Congo to Zaire.
The people on the Republic of Congo side of the river would
like to see a shift toward freedom, too, but so far it has
proved elusive. In 1993, an uprising seeking democracy was
ruthlessly repressed by the military.
So it is not surprising that people on the Brazzaville side
of the river like what they see going on in Kinshasa.
"In general whether they like Kabila or not, many people go
for change," said Gaston Loumingou, a teacher. "They like
change, and I think Mr. Mobutu was there for too long, so
change is good."
One thing the Republic of Congo government does not like are
the 10,000 Rwandan refugees who have fled to their country to
escape Kabila's troops.
Officials in Brazzaville say the refugees must leave, fearing
they may try to establish a base and destabilize Kabila's
government. The last thing anyone in the Republic of Congo
wants is to antagonize their neighbors, especially one with
more resources and an able army.
"It's for that reason the government decision was taken in a
Cabinet meeting, so as no refugees are going to stay on
Congolese soil," Tsaty-Boungou said.
Jammed against its large neighbor, the Republic of Congo
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union backed it against U.S.
influence in Zaire. Now, unrepentantly Francophile, the
Republic finds itself seemingly in one camp while Kabila has
received help from the Anglophone world -- the United States,
Britain, Uganda and Rwanda.
All of which is to say that no matter how things may change
in the big country across the river, the more they stay the
same in the tiny Republic of Congo.
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