Whether the cancer overruns his body first or the insurgents take over the capital, it is clear that Mobutu Sese Seko's iron fist is losing its grip on Zaire.
That's good news. But the task ahead remains daunting. There are several concrete things Zairians must do to ensure their country does not become another Somalia, where ethnic factions are still feuding, or another Liberia, where opposition groups are still fighting for power seven years after the execution of the head of state, Samuel K. Doe.In the spirit of nationalism, all of those who oppose Mr. Mobutu must form a coalition that will focus on setting up a transitional government. This government must be led by a strong person and must endeavor to establish political institutions that are democratic and decentralized.
In addition, the new government must establish health and educational infrastructure to provide basic necessities. Zaire's education system is nonexistent. There is no functional central bank and no roads.
The whole country has been reduced to barter, an informal system of economics. As things stand, no significant development can emerge from that.
The new government must face the daunting task of cleansing Zaire of the Mobutu stigma. In his 30-plus years of tyranny, Mr. Mobutu created a value system built on corruption, lack of trust, injustice and fear.
Generations of people have grown up under this system, and whether they like it or not, they are ''Mobutuists'' because his is the only leadership they have ever known.
Mr. Mobutu's rule has created a generation of young people who are concerned about gaining power for power's sake without any ideology or philosophy guiding them. They are obsessed with gaining access to state apparatus for material gain because this is the example Mr. Mobutu and his cohorts have set for the country.
To purge the country of Mr. Mobutu's legacy, the future leaders must foster nationalist feelings and rid itself of this ethnic divisiveness, something that Mr. Mobutu promoted to keep the country weak. Nationalist feelings will hopefully produce a people who are willing to sacrifice for the country and participate in its development.
There are several reasons why other African countries should be concerned about the events in Zaire. It has a large population of about 44 million people and there is the potential of a huge refugee problem.
Should the transition deteriorate into chaos, there also exists the possibility of many armed, landless Zairians roaming into neighboring countries, robbing, pillaging and terrorizing trade routes. So African states must, if only symbolically, look to support the efforts of the Zairian people in their struggle.
And of course, Western countries are keenly aware that Zaire is one of the richest countries in the world, in terms of natural resources, and that access to these riches will be affected by prolonged armed warfare. Therefore, the West should set up fair-trade policies with Zaire and provide technological and agricultural support.
There are those who will argue the West should not get involved in Zaire's affairs. But it did so 36 years ago for the sake of the Cold War. Perhaps now it should do so for the sake of peace and democracy.