KINSHASA, Zaire — The first civilian authorities to reach this conquered capital from Laurent Kabila's victorious rebel force said Monday that an interim government will be announced today but that national elections will not be held until the country's population is "reeducated."
Despite mounting international pressure on the rebels to move swiftly to a democratic transition, Kabila's chief deputy, Deogratias Bugera, refused to give a date for the first free polls in decades.
"Be patient," he said.
"We must awaken the population politically. It is our first duty," added Bugera, secretary-general of Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire, a coalition of ethnic and political groups from Zaire's eastern region, where the rebellion first erupted.
Throughout the seven-month civil war that ended Saturday with the fall of Kinshasa, the alliance has required civil servants in captured cities to attend 10-day political indoctrination seminars that combine 1960s-style anti-colonial and Marxist rhetoric with fervent calls for democracy and a market economy.
Bugera used the same jargon at a news conference here. He said the political seminars will now be aimed at rural villagers, whom he called "the collectivity."
In Washington, the Clinton administration announced that it will recognize Kabila's government and immediately accepted the rebel leader's decision to rename the nation the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"Congo was the name of the country as it achieved independence in 1960. Mobutu changed the name to Zaire in 1971 for his own reasons. He is gone. His era is past," said State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns, referring to ousted dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. "We hope that there's a new era arriving in the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo."
Burns added that the U.S. ambassador to Zaire will stay on as ambassador to the renamed nation.
Most other Western governments have withheld formal recognition of Kabila, who declared himself head of state Saturday, until he creates a government that includes other opposition parties and explains his plans to steer the fractious nation to democracy.
South Africa, which failed in its attempts to broker a cease-fire last week, offered diplomatic recognition Sunday, and Japan hinted that it will do so soon. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in Vienna on a short trip, said the United Nations is prepared to "work with the new government."
Meanwhile, alliance officials, part of a delegation of 30 representatives who arrived here Sunday, attempted to reassure about 500 prominent Kinshasa bankers, traders and other business leaders who packed a hotel ballroom Monday afternoon for their first meeting with the men who overthrew Mobutu's corrupt and corrosive dictatorship.
"We are a government of forgiveness," Babi Mbayi, the alliance's planning minister, said to applause. "It means we won't chase or hound people. But behind the glove is a steel hand."
The business leaders had other concerns. Several complained that the international airport was closed and normal Congo River commerce and ferries were not operating. Nor were trucks of food and other essentials allowed to move up from the country's only Atlantic port, Matadi.
With growing shortages, foreign currency exchange rates rocketed overnight, and $10 bought less than a gallon of gas Monday. "Kinshasa will soon be strangled," warned businessman Luboya Diyoka.
Babi said 10,000 to 20,000 rebel reinforcements will arrive this week to help restore order to the capital. He was less clear on plans to revive the moribund and plundered economy of this mineral-rich nation.
"We want a social market economy," he said. "Businesses must make profits. But they should also think of the people."
He said the alliance will review contracts made by the ousted regime. And he promised that a single, unified currency backed by a revived central bank would be created to replace the nearly worthless money printed in bulk by Mobutu's regime.
Most of the business leaders left satisfied with what they had heard. "They will need cars, they will need telephones," said one man. "We want to help them."
After taking power in other cities, the alliance has cut prices for water, electricity and beer and eased restrictions on foreign trade and investment. But it nationalized a southeastern railway network run by a consortium of South African, Belgian and Zairian interests, and it has given other mixed signals of its economic plans.
Diplomats here gave cautious approval to the first days of occupation.
"They have been very determined and very efficient since the war began," one European ambassador said of the rebels. "That will not change."
Rebel soldiers occupying the city made no apologies for the brutal tactics, including summary executions, that they sometimes use to enforce their rule.