BRUSSELS — If the growing catastrophe in South Africa is not enough illustration of the fragility of U.S. African policy, analysts might take a look at the remarkable career of the ambassador-designate from Zaire to Washington.
Nguza Karl-I-Bond, President-for-Life Mobutu Sese Seko's new envoy to his staunchest ally, will surely be the only member of the diplomatic corps who has been condemned to death by a government he now represents. The mutability of Nguza's fortunes, from pariah to ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary in the space of a year, might serve as a cautionary tale for U.S. planners who have made Zaire a cornerstone of the African policy.
Even Belgians, rarely surprised by the erratic course of Mobutu in the former colony of the Belgian Congo, were taken aback by the naming of Nguza last month. It was only a few years ago that the ambassador-designate was leading the extensive community of Zairian exiles here and publishing books with titles like "Mobutu, the Sickness of Zaire."
In fact Mobutu, who includes Machiavelli among his favorite authors, may have made a crafty choice. With the recent examples of American clients like Jean-Claude Duvalier and Ferdinand E. Marcos before him, it could not hurt to have as a representative in Washington a man who is better known for his anti-Mobutu testimony before congressional committees than for his uncritical support.
Zaire's reputation as one of the world's most corrupt countries owes much to the charges made by Nguza over the years. While the former opposition leader could usually be found in luxurious surroundings himself, his insider's descriptions of the thievery of Mobutu and his inner circle gained wide currency. There are those who think that the word "kleptocracy" was coined to characterize the dictator's 20-year rule in Zaire.
Nguza has long been a prominent figure in his country's politics. A nephew of the late Katangese leader Moise Tshombe, he was educated in Belgium and served in embassies in Brussels, the United Nations and Geneva before becoming foreign minister in 1972. Later he was political director of Mobutu's Popular Revolutionary Movement, the only party permitted in Zaire.
In 1977, after an uprising in his native province of Shaba, Nguza was sentenced to death by Mobutu, but pardoned the next year. After a period of exile in Europe he returned to Zaire as foreign minister and then prime minister. In 1981, he again took up exile and began his extensive anti-Mobutu campaign.
A year ago Nguza returned to Zaire, praising Mobutu, and dropped from sight. In a country where opposition figures often disappear into prisons or worse, some friends feared for Nguza until word went out that he was back in favor.
There was an additional irony in his appointment to Washington. When he was in exile here his presence in a country supposedly friendly to Zaire was cited by Mobutu's government as a cause of strained relations between Belgium and its former colony. Now he is that government's official representative in a country that has filled the vacuum left by Belgium's withdrawal of influence.
Belgium's policy toward Zaire has been one of increasing caution, though close commercial ties and heavy Belgian investment remaining from colonial times keep the two countries close.
However, Belgium has become less forgiving of Zaire's mounting indebtedness--more than $5 billion to international lenders at last count--and seems less inclined to ignore evidence of corruption in the Mobutu regime. Few politicians here missed the fact that while Mobutu's government was saying it could not meet interest payments on loans, the president's personal real-estate holdings in Belgium included 10 chateaux and villas.
There were also pointed questions in Parliament about the usefulness of economic aid to Zaire when the money had to go through the hands of the Mobutu government. One calculation found, for example, that members of the Central Committee of Mobutu's political party got more than 30 times as much in annual salary from the government than doctors in the country's socialized-medicine program--$108,000 versus about $3,000.
While Belgium and other allies such as France have been putting Mobutu at arm's length, the United States has been getting closer. Some claim that Zaire's three greatest friends at the moment are Israel, which has trained Mobutu's presidential guard; South Africa, which sells weapons to the dictator, and the United States, which provides loan guarantees and military and other aid.