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Rebels Teach Marxism - But How Would They Really Rule in Zaire?

In a large school building near Goma's airport, more than 1,200 adults sat hunched over notebooks and scraps of paper yesterday, pens moving in unison.

From the stage, a man in a blue denim shirt dictated slowly into a microphone. "Lesson 1: The Seven Errors Leading to the Failure of the 1964-65 Rebellion. Lesson 2: The Basic Cell. Lesson 3: Social Classes and the Class Struggle. Lesson 4: The Principal Aims of Revolution."

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As he spoke, his words were being echoed at other centers in rebel-held eastern Zaire. With the war against the government of President Mobutu Sese Seko going all its way, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire has begun a series of "transformation" seminars to "re-ideologize" some of the most brutalized, cynical, and downtrodden people on earth.

After 10 lessons - voluntary, the rebels insist - candidates will be evaluated on their ideological understanding, and the best may be hired as public servants.

For a movement that professes to believe in the free market, the choice of Marxist teaching materials seems strange. The rebels are poised to conquer Zaire, but no one, even themselves, seems to know what their ideology is.

After three decades of what one observer called "kleptocracy" - rule by thieves - many Zaireans say that anything will be better than the devil they know.

With the war still on, the rebels' future agenda remains vague. Originally a revolt by persecuted ethnic Tutsis in the Kivu region, the alliance has broadened its support to include members of ethnic groups from all over Zaire.

Veteran Marxist bush fighters like rebel leader Laurent Desir Kabila (a one-time comrade of Che Guevara) have been joined by committed free marketeers like "finance minister" Mawampanga Mwana Nanga, who spent 10 years in the US and who has a doctorate in agricultural economics from the University of Kentucky.

The alliance is also strongly influenced by neighboring Uganda and Rwanda, whom Zaire's government has accused of fomenting the rebellion and supplying the rebels with troops, weapons, and money.

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With so many agendas, the only thing that unites the alliance is the desire to get rid of Mobutu, generally regarded as a bad neighbor and a worse president.

Until the war is won, concedes rebel spokesman Louis Hamuli, little priority can be given to planning the future. The program so far consists of vague and lofty aspirations: an end to corruption, a new constitution, reconstruction, eventual elections, and respect for human rights.

"The program of government has not been decided," he says. "It is for the people to decide after the war."

Mr. Hamuli laughs off the suggestion that his government is pushing Marxist doctrine, which is considered pass, even in Africa. "We want a society that looks after all the people," he says.

"For more than 30 years we had a dictatorial regime with no political agenda or social programs, and the population's ideology was damaged. We now have to transform them to create a new country."

But with corruption deeply ingrained in society, Mr. Kabila's new "Congo" - he has revived the name of the 1960s leftist post-colonial state - would have to police itself tightly if it is to prove better than Mobutu's Zaire. Since the rebels took over last November, the Rwanda-Zaire border post in Goma - traditionally seen as a barometer of corruption - has become more expensive and more hostile than ever.

Last Saturday, child soldiers manned the barrier, strutting back and forth with peeled sticks and AK-47s, harassing and sometimes beating a group of local women returning from a market in neighboring Rwanda. They were unfazed by the presence of foreign journalists.

Inside the immigration office, the officials exacted a whopping $700 for allowing a laptop computer and a television camera to enter the country. The rebels' "information" and "finance" ministries later admitted that no such "tax" has been authorized. They blame the corruption on officials still in place from the Mobutu regime. But journalists complain that the ministries seem to have taken no action against the border officials and made no attempts to recover the money.

One French reporter fumed, "I lived for two years in Kinshasa [the capital] under Mobutu and was expelled three times, but it was never this bad. You could always make a telephone call and sort things out."

The "ministry of information, communication, press, and propaganda" has taken over Goma's Radio Star radio station and renamed it "The Voice of the People," broadcasting round-the-clock praise of the heroic rebel troops and denunciations of the "sanguinary enemy." Newspapers are censored. In the streets, people lower their voices and look carefully around when asked for their opinion of the rebels.

Most say they know there is a war on and are willing to make sacrifices in the hopes of a brighter future. But others complain of commandeered cars and houses and high "import taxes" on goods purchased across the border in Rwanda.

"They say they have come to reconstruct Zaire," says one Goma native. "We will wait and see if this is the case."

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