The son of Congo's former dictator vowed to use military force to crack down on Congolese soldiers and rebels who have kept up a years-long campaign of rape against civilians in the Central African nation, saying he will hold the guilty accountable if he is elected president.
In a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times on Thursday, Nzanga Mobutu blamed his country's ills on weak governance in the current administration, promised constitutional reforms to curb corruption and declared himself independent of his father's checkered legacy.
"Today we are a failed state," Mr. Mobutu, 41, said of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire. "But we need to know that we failed."
The eldest son of the late Mobutu Sese Seko, who was ousted in 1997 after nearly 32 years of authoritarian rule, Nzanga Mobutu is one of 11 candidates seeking the presidency in Congo's Nov. 28 election.
Human rights groups have documented hundreds of rapes and killings in the country, particularly in the eastern North and South Kivu provinces. For many years, the atrocities have been committed by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, Rwandan Hutu rebels, Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and Congolese soldiers, they say.
"Everything you hear about Congo, it's only 10 percent of what is going on there," Mr. Mobutu said.
In August 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited rape victims in Goma and described the rampant sexual violence as "horrific." She presented the government with the names of Congolese army officers suspected of having a role in the attacks and asked for action against the men, Mr. Mobutu said.
"In reality, there is a lack of political will," Mr. Mobutu said.
He laid much of the blame on the administration of President Joseph Kabila, who is seeking re-election. Mr. Kabila is the son of rebel leader Laurent Kabila, who ousted Mr. Mobutu's father.
Mr. Mobutu, who was part of Mr. Kabila's Cabinet until March, said some of his former government colleagues would make excuses for the soldiers accused of rape. "It is a problem of culture. When some young men are not taught that rape is improper behavior there is no way these young men can behave correctly in life," he said.
If elected, he said he will hold officers accountable if they are accused of rape and even use military force against those who disobey his command.
But, he added, "at some point you're going to have to use incentives. If you don't do a thing, they will keep on raping, destroying lives and burning houses."
Violence in the Kivu and Equateur provinces has eroded support for Mr. Kabila among residents who had hoped the government would bring peace. Mr. Mobutu, who placed fourth in a 2006 presidential bid, aims to pick up crucial support in those areas.
He said his plan to bring peace includes talking to Congo's neighbors, especially Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, to find a solution to the violence.
Mr. Mobutu said the violence in his country is a fallout of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
"People started with bad habits and then it became business as usual. At some point we need to stop all that," he said.Corruption is widespread in his country, and Mr. Mobutu proposed establishing a German-style parliamentary system of government via a constitutional referendum as one means of curbing it.
During his father's rule, corruption was rampant under a one-party system that crushed political opposition. Mr. Mobutu said that, despite those problems, the country had security, which many Congolese still clamor for.
"Under President Mobutu, we had problems as well, but we had security. Nobody was messing with the Congolese people," he said.
Describing himself as a reform candidate, Mr. Mobutu insisted that his father's legacy has not hurt him.
"I am not here to defend the government of President Mobutu. I am my own man. ... I believe in accountability," he said.
Earlier this week, the Obama administration issued a memorandum waiving restrictions on aid to Congo because of a 2008 law that restricts U.S. assistance to foreign militaries that enlist child soldiers.
Rights groups and Western officials say the Congolese military and the rebels recruit boys as soldiers. Girls are used as sex slaves.
Mr. Mobutu said the U.S. must hold the Congolese government accountable.
"A banker would ask for a guarantee for lending money, so it is very important whether you are a banker or a country that funds another country," he said, adding that U.S. aid is essential because it is aimed at military training programs in the Congo.
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