Mobutu Sese Seko
Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga[a] (/məˈbuːtuː ˈsɛseɪ
ˈsɛkoʊ/; born Joseph-Désiré Mobutu; 14 October 1930 – 7
September 1997) was the military dictator and President of the
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Democratic Republic of the Congo (which Mobutu renamed
Zaire in 1971)
from 1965 to 1997. He also served as Chairman of the Organisation of
African Unity in 1967–1968. Mobutu formed a totalitarian regime,
amassed vast personal wealth, and attempted to purge the country of
all colonial cultural influence, while enjoying considerable support
from the West and
China due to his strong anti-Soviet stance.
Congo Crisis, Mobutu, serving as chief of staff of the army
and supported by Belgium and the United States, deposed the
nationalist government of
Patrice Lumumba in 1960. Mobutu then
installed a government which later arranged for Lumumba's execution in
1961. Mobutu continued to lead the country's armed forces until he
took power directly in a second coup in 1965. As part of his program
of "national authenticity", Mobutu changed the Congo's name to Zaire
in 1971 and his own name to
Mobutu Sese Seko
Mobutu Sese Seko in 1972.
Mobutu established a one-party state in which all power was
concentrated in his hands. He also became the object of a pervasive
cult of personality. During his reign, Mobutu built a highly
centralised state and amassed a large personal fortune through
economic exploitation and corruption, leading some to call his rule a
"kleptocracy". The nation suffered from uncontrolled inflation,
a large debt, and massive currency devaluations. By 1991, economic
deterioration and unrest led him to agree to share power with
opposition leaders, but he used the army to thwart change until May
1997, when rebel forces led by
Laurent-Désiré Kabila expelled him
from the country. Already suffering from advanced prostate cancer, he
died three months later in Morocco.
Mobutu became notorious for corruption, nepotism, and the embezzlement
of between US$4 billion and $15 billion during his reign, as
well as extravagances such as Concorde-flown shopping trips to
Paris. Mobutu presided over the country for over three decades, a
period of widespread human rights violations. In 2011, TIME described
him as the "archetypal African dictator".
1.1 Early years
1.2 Army service
1.4 Second coup and consolidation of power
1.5 Authenticity campaign
1.6 One-man rule
2 Coalition government
2.1.1 Burial of Juvénal Habyarimana
2.1.2 Exile and death
3 Foreign policy
3.1 Relations with Belgium
3.2 Relations with France
3.3 Relations with the People's Republic of China
3.4 Relations with the Soviet Union
3.5 Relations with the United States
5 In art and literature
8 External links
Mobutu, a member of the Ngbandi ethnic group, was born in Lisala,
Belgian Congo. Mobutu's mother, Marie Madeleine Yemo, was a hotel
maid who fled to
Lisala to escape the harem of a local village chief.
There she met and married Albéric Gbemani, a cook for a Belgian
judge. Shortly afterwards she gave birth to Mobutu. The name
"Mobutu" was selected by an uncle.
Gbemani died when Mobutu was eight. Thereafter he was raised by an
uncle and a grandfather.
The wife of the Belgian judge took a liking to Mobutu and taught him
to speak, read, and write the French language fluently. Yemo relied on
the help of relatives to support her four children, and the family
moved often. Mobutu's earliest education took place in Léopoldville,
but his mother eventually sent him to an uncle in Coquilhatville,
where he attended the Christian Brothers School, a Catholic-mission
boarding school. A physically imposing figure, he dominated school
sports. He also excelled in academic subjects and ran the class
newspaper. He was also known for his pranks and impish sense of humor.
A classmate recalled that when the Belgian priests, whose first
language was Dutch, made an error in French, Mobutu would leap to his
feet in class and point out the mistake. In 1949 Mobutu stowed away
aboard a boat to Léopoldville and met a girl. The priests found him
several weeks later. At the end of the school year, in lieu of being
sent to prison, he was ordered to serve seven years in the colonial
Force Publique (FP) — the usual punishment for rebellious
Mobutu found discipline in army life, as well as a father figure in
Sergeant Louis Bobozo. Mobutu kept up his studies by borrowing
European newspapers from the Belgian officers and books from wherever
he could find them, reading them on sentry duty and whenever he had a
spare moment. His favorites were the writings of French president
Charles de Gaulle, British prime minister
Winston Churchill and
Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli. After passing a course in
accounting, he began to dabble professionally in journalism. Still
angry after his clashes with the school priests, he did not marry in a
church. His contribution to the wedding festivities was a crate of
beer, all his army salary could afford.
As a soldier, Mobutu wrote pseudonymously on contemporary politics for
a magazine set up by a Belgian colonial, Actualités Africaines
(African News). In 1956, he quit the army and became a full-time
journalist, writing for the Léopoldville daily L'Avenir. Two
years later, he went to Belgium to cover the 1958 World Exposition and
stayed to receive training in journalism. By this time, Mobutu had met
many of the young Congolese intellectuals who were challenging
colonial rule. He became friendly with
Patrice Lumumba and joined
Mouvement National Congolais
Mouvement National Congolais (MNC). Mobutu eventually became
Lumumba's personal aide, though several contemporaries indicate that
Belgian intelligence had recruited Mobutu to be an informer.
During the 1960 talks in Brussels on Congolese independence, the US
embassy held a reception for the Congolese delegation. Embassy staff
were each assigned a list of delegation members to meet, and then
discussed their impressions. The ambassador noted, "One name kept
coming up. But it wasn't on anyone's list because he wasn't an
official delegation member, he was Lumumba's secretary. But everyone
agreed that this was an extremely intelligent man, very young, perhaps
immature, but a man with great potential."
Colonel Mobutu in 1960
Following Congo's independence on 30 June 1960, a coalition government
was formed, led by Prime Minister Lumumba and President Joseph
Kasa-Vubu. The new nation quickly lurched into the
Congo Crisis as the
army mutinied against the remaining Belgian officers. Lumumba
appointed Mobutu as Chief of Staff of the Armée Nationale Congolaise,
the Congolese National Army, under army chief Victor Lundula. In that
capacity, Mobutu toured the country convincing soldiers to return to
Encouraged by a Belgian government intent on maintaining its access to
rich Congolese mines, secessionist violence erupted in the south.
Concerned that the United Nations force sent to help restore order was
not helping to crush the secessionists, Lumumba turned to the Soviet
Union for assistance, receiving massive military aid and about a
thousand Soviet technical advisers in six weeks. The US government saw
the Soviet activity as a maneuver to spread communist influence in
Central Africa. Kasa-Vubu was encouraged by the US and Belgium to
dismiss Lumumba, which he proceeded to do on 5 September. An outraged
Lumumba declared Kasa-Vubu deposed. Parliament refused to recognise
the dismissals and urged reconciliation, but no agreement was reached.
Both Lumumba and Kasa-Vubu each ordered Mobutu to arrest the other. As
Army Chief of Staff, Mobutu came under great pressure from multiple
sources. The embassies of Western nations, which helped pay the
soldiers' salaries, as well as Kasa-Vubu and Mobutu's subordinates,
all favored getting rid of the Soviet presence. On 14 September Mobutu
launched a bloodless coup, declaring both Kasa-Vubu and Lumumba to be
"neutralised" and establishing a new government of university
graduates. Lumumba rejected this action but was forced to retire to
his residence where UN peacekeepers prevented Mobutu's soldiers from
Losing confidence that the international community would support his
reinstatement, Lumumba fled in late November to join his supporters in
Stanleyville to establish a new government. In early December he was
captured by Mobutu's troops and incarcerated at his headquarters in
Thysville. However, Mobutu still considered him a threat and on 17
January 1961 transferred him to the rebelling State of Katanga.
Lumumba then disappeared from the public view. It was later discovered
that he was murdered the same day by the secessionist forces of Moise
Tshombe after Mobutu's government turned him over.
Colonel Joseph-Desiré Mobutu with President Joseph Kasa-Vubu
On 23 January 1961, Kasa-Vubu promoted Mobutu to major-general; De
Witte argues that this was a political move, "aimed to strengthen the
army, the president's sole support, and Mobutu's position within the
Pierre Mulele led partisans in another rebellion. They
quickly occupied two-thirds of The Congo, but the Congolese army, led
by Mobutu, was able to reconquer the entire territory in 1965.
Second coup and consolidation of power
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Prime Minister Moise Tshombe's
Congolese National Convention had won a
large majority in the March 1965 elections, but Kasa-Vubu appointed an
anti-Tshombe leader, Évariste Kimba, as prime minister-designate.
However, Parliament twice refused to confirm him. With the government
in near-paralysis, Mobutu seized power in a bloodless coup on 25
November. He had turned 35 a month earlier.
Under the auspices of a regime d'exception (the equivalent of a state
of emergency), Mobutu assumed sweeping—almost absolute—powers for
five years. In his first speech upon taking power, Mobutu told a
large crowd at Léopoldville's main stadium that since politicians had
brought the country to ruin in five years, "for five years, there will
be no more political party activity in the country." Parliament
was reduced to a rubber-stamp before being abolished altogether,
though it was later revived. The number of provinces was reduced, and
their autonomy curtailed, resulting in a highly centralized state.
A Congolese cotton shirt embellished with a portrait of Mobutu from
the collection of the
Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam
Initially, Mobutu's government was decidedly apolitical, even
anti-political. The word "politician" carried negative connotations,
and became almost synonymous with someone who was wicked or corrupt.
Even so, 1966 saw the debut of the Corps of Volunteers of the
Republic, a vanguard movement designed to mobilize popular support
behind Mobutu, who was proclaimed the nation's "Second National Hero"
after Lumumba. Ironically, given the role he played in Lumumba's
ouster, Mobutu strove to present himself as a successor to Lumumba's
legacy, and one of the key tenets early in his rule was "authentic
1967 marked the debut of the
Popular Movement of the Revolution
Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR)
which until 1990 was the nation's only legal political party. It was
officially defined as "the nation politically organized"—in essence,
the state was a transmission belt for the party. All citizens
automatically became members of the MPR from birth. Among the themes
advanced by the MPR in its doctrine, the Manifesto of N'Sele, was
nationalism, revolution, and authenticity. Revolution was described as
a "truly national revolution, essentially pragmatic," which called for
"the repudiation of both capitalism and communism." One of the MPR's
slogans was "Neither left nor right," to which would be added "nor
even center" in later years. The MPR elected its president every seven
years. At the same time, he was automatically nominated as the sole
candidate for a seven-year term as president of the republic; he was
confirmed in office by a referendum. A single list of MPR candidates
was returned to the legislature every five years. In practice, this
gave the party president—Mobutu—all governing power in the nation.
That same year, all trade unions were consolidated into a single
union, the National Union of Zairian Workers, and brought under
government control. By Mobutu's own admission, the union would serve
as an instrument of support for government policy, rather than as a
force for confrontation. Independent trade unions were illegal until
Mobutu swearing in again as President of the Democratic Republic of
Congo following the 1970 election
Facing many challenges early in his rule, Mobutu was able to turn most
opposition into submission through patronage; those he could not
co-opt, he dealt with forcefully. In 1966 four cabinet members were
arrested on charges of complicity in an attempted coup, tried by a
military tribunal, and publicly executed in an open-air spectacle
witnessed by over 50,000 people. Uprisings by former Katangan
gendarmeries were crushed, as was an aborted revolt led by white
mercenaries in 1967. By 1970, nearly all potential threats to his
authority had been smashed, and for the most part, law and order was
brought to nearly all parts of the country. That year marked the
pinnacle of Mobutu's legitimacy and power.
King Baudouin of Belgium,
made a highly successful state visit to Kinshasa. That same year
legislative and presidential elections were held. The MPR was the only
party allowed to run, even though the constitution stated that two
parties should have been allowed. According to official figures, an
implausible 98.33% of voters voted in favor of the MPR list. For the
presidential election, Mobutu was the only candidate, and voters were
offered two ballot choices: green for hope, and red for chaos: Mobutu
won with a vote of 10,131,699 to 157.
As he consolidated power Mobutu set up several military forces whose
sole purpose was to protect him. These included the Special
Presidential Division, Civil Guard and Service for Action and Military
Main article: Authenticité (Zaire)
Flag of Zaire
Embarking on a campaign of pro-Africa cultural awareness, or
authenticité, Mobutu began renaming the cities of the
on 1 June 1966; Leopoldville became Kinshasa, Elisabethville became
Lubumbashi, and Stanleyville became Kisangani. In October 1971, he
renamed the country the Republic of Zaire. He ordered the people to
drop their European names for African ones, and priests were warned
that they would face five years' imprisonment if they were caught
baptizing a Zairean child with a European name. Western attire and
ties were banned, and men were forced to wear a Mao-style tunic known
as an abacost (shorthand for à bas le costume--"down with the
In 1972, Mobutu renamed himself
Mobutu Sese Seko
Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za
Banga ("The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and
inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire
in his wake."),
Mobutu Sese Seko
Mobutu Sese Seko for short. It was also around
this time that he assumed his classic image—abacost, thick-framed
glasses, walking stick and leopard-skin toque.
Mobutu Sese Seko
Mobutu Sese Seko with the Dutch Prince Bernhard in 1973
Early in his rule, Mobutu consolidated power by publicly executing
political rivals, secessionists, coup plotters, and other threats to
his rule. To set an example, many were hanged before large audiences,
including former Prime Minister Evariste Kimba, who, with three
cabinet members – Jérôme Anany (Defense Minister), Emmanuel Bamba
(Finance Minister), and Alexandre Mahamba (Minister of Mines and
Energy) – was tried in May 1966, and sent to the gallows on 30 May,
before an audience of 50,000 spectators. The men were executed on
charges of being in contact with
Colonel Alphonse Bangala and Major
Pierre Efomi, for the purpose of planning a coup. Mobutu explained the
executions as follows: "One had to strike through a spectacular
example, and create the conditions of regime discipline. When a chief
takes a decision, he decides – period."
In 1968 Pierre Mulele, Lumumba's Minister of Education and a rebel
leader during the 1964 Simba Rebellion, was lured out of exile in
Brazzaville on the assumption that he would be amnestied, but was
tortured and killed by Mobutu's forces. While Mulele was still alive,
his eyes were gouged out, his genitals were ripped off, and his limbs
were amputated one by one. Mobutu later moved away from torture
and murder, and switched to a new tactic, buying off political rivals.
He used the slogan "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer
still" to describe his tactic of co-opting political opponents
through bribery. A favorite Mobutu tactic was to play "musical
chairs," rotating members of his government, switching the cabinet
roster constantly to ensure that no one would pose a threat to his
rule. Another tactic was to arrest and sometimes torture dissident
members of the government, only to later pardon them and reward them
with high office.
In 1972 Mobutu tried unsuccessfully to have himself named president
for life. In an order signed by General Likulia Bolongo raising
President Mobutu to the rank of Marshal, Victor Nendaka Bika, in his
capacity as Vice-President of the Bureau of the Central Committee,
second authority in the land, addressed a speech filled with praise
for President Mobutu.
He initially nationalized foreign-owned firms and forced European
investors out of the country. In many cases he handed the management
of these firms to relatives and close associates who stole the
companies' assets. This precipitated such an economic slump that
Mobutu was forced by 1977 to try to woo foreign investors back.
Katangan rebels based in
Zaire in 1977 in retaliation
for Mobutu's support for anti-
MPLA rebels. France airlifted 1,500
Moroccan paratroopers into the country and repulsed the rebels, ending
Shaba I. The rebels attacked
Zaire again, in greater numbers, in the
Shaba II invasion of 1978. The governments of Belgium and France
deployed troops with logistical support from the
United States and
defeated the rebels again.
He was re-elected in single-candidate elections in 1977 and 1984. He
spent most of his time increasing his personal fortune, which in 1984
was estimated to amount to US$5 billion, most of it in
Swiss banks (however, a comparatively small $3.4 million has been
found after his ousting). This was almost equivalent to the
country's foreign debt at the time, and, by 1989, the government was
forced to default on international loans from Belgium. He owned a
Mercedes-Benz vehicles that he used to travel between his
numerous palaces, while the nation's roads rotted and many of his
people starved. Infrastructure virtually collapsed, and many public
service workers went months without being paid. Most of the money was
siphoned off to Mobutu, his family, and top political and military
leaders. Only the
Special Presidential Division – on whom his
physical safety depended – was paid adequately or regularly. A
popular saying that the civil servants pretended to work while the
state pretended to pay them expressed this grim reality.[citation
Another feature of Mobutu's economic mismanagement, directly linked to
the way he and his friends siphoned off so much of the country's
wealth, was rampant inflation. The rapid decline in the real value of
salaries strongly encouraged a culture of corruption and dishonesty
among public servants of all kinds.
Mobutu was known for his opulent lifestyle. He cruised on the
his yacht Kamanyola. In
Gbadolite he erected a palace, the "Versailles
of the jungle". For shopping trips to Paris he would charter a
Air France and had the
Gbadolite Airport constructed
with a runway long enough to accommodate the Concorde's extended take
off and landing requirements. In 1989, Mobutu chartered Concorde
aircraft F-BTSD for a 26 June – 5 July trip to give a speech at the
United Nations in New York City, 16 July for French bicentennial
celebrations in Paris (where he was a guest of President François
Mitterrand), on 19 September for a flight from Paris to Gbadolite, and
another nonstop flight from
Gbadolite to Marseille with the youth
choir of Zaire.
Mobutu's rule earned a reputation as one of the world's foremost
examples of kleptocracy and nepotism. Close relatives and fellow
members of the Ngbandi tribe were awarded with high positions in the
military and government, and he groomed his eldest son, Nyiwa, to
succeed him as President; however, this was thwarted by Nyiwa's
death from AIDS in 1994. He led one of the most enduring
dictatorial regimes in Africa and amassed a personal fortune estimated
to be over US$5 billion by selling his nation's rich natural
resources while his nation's people lived in poverty. While in
office, he formed an authoritarian regime responsible for numerous
human rights violations, attempted to purge the country of all Belgian
cultural influences and maintained an anti-communist stance to gain
positive international diplomacy.
10 Makuta coin depicting Mobutu Sese Seko
He was also the subject of one of the most pervasive personality cults
of the 20th century. The evening news on television was preceded by an
image of him descending through clouds like a god descending from the
heavens. Portraits of him adorned many public places, and government
officials wore lapels bearing his portrait. He held such titles as
"Father of the Nation", "Messiah", "Guide of the Revolution",
"Helmsman", "Founder", "Savior of the People", and "Supreme
Combatant". In the 1996 documentary of the 1974 Foreman-Ali fight in
Zaire, dancers receiving the fighters can be heard chanting "Sese
Seko, Sese Seko." At one point, in early 1975, the media was even
forbidden from mentioning by name anyone but Mobutu; others were
referred to only by the positions they held.
Mobutu was able to successfully capitalize on
Cold War tensions and
gain significant support from Western countries like the United States
and international organizations such as the International Monetary
In May 1990, due to the ending of the
Cold War and a change in the
international political climate, as well as economic problems and
domestic unrest, Mobutu agreed to end the ban on other political
parties. He appointed a transitional government that would lead to
promised elections but he retained substantial powers. Following riots
Kinshasa by unpaid soldiers, Mobutu brought opposition figures into
a coalition government but he still connived to retain control of the
security services and important ministries. Factional divisions led to
the creation of two governments in 1993, one pro and one anti-Mobutu.
The anti-Mobutu government was headed by Laurent Monsengwo and
Étienne Tshisekedi of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress.
The economic situation was still dreadful, and, in 1994, the two
groups joined as the High Council of Republic – Parliament of
Transition (HCR-PT). Mobutu appointed Kengo Wa Dondo, an advocate of
austerity and free-market reforms, as prime minister. Mobutu was
becoming increasingly physically frail and during one of his absences
for medical treatment in Europe, Tutsis captured much of eastern
Mobutu was overthrown in the
First Congo War
First Congo War by Laurent-Désiré
Kabila, who was supported by the governments of Rwanda, Burundi and
When Mobutu's government issued an order in November 1996 forcing
Tutsis to leave
Zaire on penalty of death, the ethnic Tutsis in
Zaire, known as Banyamulenge, were the focal point of a rebellion.
From eastern Zaire, the rebels and foreign government forces under the
leadership of President
Yoweri Museveni of
Uganda and Rwandan Minister
Paul Kagame launched an offensive to overthrow Mobutu,
joining forces with locals opposed to him as they marched west toward
Ailing with cancer, Mobutu was in
Switzerland for treatment, and
he was unable to coordinate the resistance which crumbled in front of
By mid-1997, Kabila's forces had almost completely overrun the
country. On 16 May 1997, following a failed peace talks held in
Pointe-Noire on board the
South African Navy
South African Navy ship
SAS Outeniqua with
Laurent Kabila and President of South Africa
Nelson Mandela who
chaired the talks, Mobutu fled into exile. Kabila's forces, known as
the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire
(ADFL), proclaimed victory the next day. However, Mobutu was lucky to
have held out even for that long. What was left of his army offered
almost no resistance, and the only thing slowing the AFDL advance was
the country's decrepit infrastructure. In several areas, no paved
roads existed; the only means of transport were irregularly used dirt
Zaire was renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Burial of Juvénal Habyarimana
Mobutu had the remains of assassinated Rwandan president Juvénal
Habyarimana stored in a mausoleum in Gbadolite. On 12 May 1997, as
Kabila's rebels were advancing on Gbadolite, Mobutu had the remains
flown by cargo plane from his mausoleum to
Kinshasa where they waited
on the tarmac of
N'djili Airport for three days. On 16 May, the day
before Mobutu fled Zaire, Habyarimana's remains were burned under the
supervision of an Indian
Exile and death
Mobutu went into temporary exile in
Togo but lived mostly in Morocco.
He died on 7 September 1997, in Rabat, Morocco, from prostate cancer.
He is buried in Rabat, in the Christian cemetery known as "Pax".
In December 2007, the National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of
Congo recommended returning his remains to see the Work of the
Congo and interring them in a mausoleum.
On the same day Mobutu fled into exile,
Laurent-Désiré Kabila became
the new president of Congo. Kabila was assassinated in 2001 and
succeeded by his son, Joseph Kabila.
Mobutu's palace in his hometown of Gbadolite, ransacked after his
deposition, photographed in c.2010
Mobutu was infamous for embezzling the equivalent of billions of US
dollars from his country. According to the most conservative
estimates, he stole US$4–5 billion from his country, and some
sources put the figure as high as US$15 billion. According to
Mobutu's ex-son-in-law, Pierre Janssen—the ex-husband of Mobutu's
daughter Yaki—Mobutu had no concern for the cost of the expensive
gifts he gave away to his cronies. Janssen married Yaki in a lavish
ceremony that included three orchestras, a US$65,000 wedding cake and
a giant fireworks display. Yaki wore a US$70,000 wedding gown and
US$3 million worth of jewels. Janssen wrote a book describing
Mobutu's daily routine—which included several daily bottles of wine,
retainers flown in from overseas and lavish meals.
According to Transparency International, Mobutu embezzled over
US$5 billion from his country, ranking him as the third-most
corrupt leader since 1984 and the most corrupt African leader during
the same period. Philip Gourevitch, in We Wish to Inform You That
Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families (1998), wrote:
Mobutu had really staged a funeral for a generation of African
leadership of which he—the Dinosaur, as he had long been known—was
the paragon: the client dictator of
Cold War neocolonialism,
monomaniacal, perfectly corrupt, and absolutely ruinous to his nation.
Mobutu also was one of the men who was instrumental in bringing the
Rumble in the Jungle
Rumble in the Jungle boxing match between
Muhammad Ali and George
Zaire on 30 October 1974. According to the documentary When
We Were Kings, promoter Don King promised each fighter
US$5 million for the fight. Mobutu was the only one who was
willing to fund such amounts. Mobutu, wanting to expand his country's
image, put up the nation's money to do so. According to a quote in the
film, Ali supposedly said: "Some countries go to war to get their
names out there, and wars cost a lot more than $10 million."
Main article: Foreign policy of Mobutu Sese Seko
Relations with Belgium
Zaire and Belgium wavered between close intimacy and
open hostility during the Mobutu years. Relations soured early in
Mobutu's rule over disputes involving the substantial Belgian
commercial and industrial holdings in the country, but relations
warmed soon afterwards. Mobutu and his family were received as
personal guests of the Belgian monarch in 1968, and a convention for
scientific and technical cooperation was signed that same year. During
King Baudouin's highly successful visit to
Kinshasa in 1970, a treaty
of friendship and cooperation between the two countries was signed.
However, Mobutu tore up the treaty in 1974 in protest at Belgium's
refusal to ban an anti-Mobutu book written by left-wing lawyer Jules
Chomé. Mobutu's "Zairianization" policy, which expropriated
foreign-held businesses and transferred their ownership to Zairians,
added to the strain. Mobutu maintained several personal contacts
with prominent Belgians. Edmond Leburton, Belgian prime minister
between 1973 and 1974, was someone greatly admired by the
President. Alfred Cahen, career diplomat and chef de cabinet of
minister Henri Simonet, became a personal friend of Mobutu when he was
a student at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Relations with
King Baudouin were mostly cordial, until Mobutu released a bold
statement about the Belgian royal family. Prime Minister Wilfried
Martens recalled in his memoirs that the palace gates closed
completely after Mobutu published a handwritten letter of the
King. Next to friendly ties with Belgians residing in Belgium,
Mobutu had a great deal of Belgian advisors at his disposal. Some of
them, such as Hugues Leclercq and colonel Willy Mallants, were
interviewed in Thierry Michel's documentary Mobutu, King of Zaire.
Relations with France
As what was then the second most populous French-speaking country in
the world (it has subsequently come to have a larger population than
France) and the most populous one in sub-Saharan Africa
of great strategic interest to France. During the First Republic
era, France tended to side with the conservative and federalist
forces, as opposed to unitarists such as Lumumba. Shortly after
the Katangan secession was successfully crushed,
Zaire (then called
the Republic of the Congo), signed a treaty of technical and cultural
cooperation with France. During the presidency of Charles de Gaulle,
relations with the two countries gradually grew stronger and closer.
In 1971, Finance Minister
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing paid a visit to
Zaire; later, after becoming President, he would develop a close
personal relationship with President Mobutu, and became one of the
regime's closest foreign allies. During the Shaba invasions, France
sided firmly with Mobutu: during the first Shaba invasion, France
airlifted 1,500 Moroccan troops to Zaire, and the rebels were
repulsed; a year later, during the second Shaba invasion, France
itself would send
French Foreign Legion
French Foreign Legion paratroopers (2nd Foreign
Parachute Regiment) to aid Mobutu (along with Belgium).
Relations with the People's Republic of China
Initially, Zaire's relationship with the People's Republic of China
was no better than its relationship with the Soviet Union. Memories of
Chinese aid to Mulele and other Maoist rebels in Kwilu province during
Simba Rebellion remained fresh in Mobutu's mind. He also
opposed seating the PRC at the United Nations. However, by 1972, he
began to see the Chinese in a different light, as a counterbalance to
Soviet Union as well as his intimate ties with the United
States, Israel, and South Africa. In November 1972, Mobutu
extended diplomatic recognition to the Chinese (as well as East
Germany and North Korea). The following year, Mobutu paid a visit to
Beijing, where he met personally with chairman
Mao Zedong and received
promises of $100 million in technical aid. In 1974, Mobutu made a
surprise visit to both
China and North Korea, during the time he was
originally scheduled to visit the Soviet Union. Upon returning home,
both his politics and rhetoric became markedly more radical; it was
around this time that Mobutu began criticizing Belgium and the United
States (the latter for not doing enough, in Mobutu's opinion, to
combat white minority rule in southern Africa), introduced the
"obligatory civic work" program called salongo, and initiated
"radicalization" (an extension of 1973's "Zairianization" policy).
Mobutu even borrowed a title – the Helmsman – from Mao.
Incidentally, late 1974-early 1975 was when his personality cult
reached its peak.
Zaire shared a common goal in Central Africa, namely doing
everything in their power to halt Soviet gains in the area.
China covertly funneled aid to the FNLA
(and later, UNITA) in order to prevent the MPLA, who were supported
and augmented by Cuban forces, from coming to power. The Cubans, who
exercised considerable influence in Africa in support of leftist and
anti-imperialist forces, were heavily sponsored by the Soviet Union
during the period. In addition to inviting Holden Roberto and his
guerrillas to Beijing for training,
China provided weapons and money
to the rebels.
Zaire itself launched an ill-fated, pre-emptive
Angola in a bid to install a pro-
Kinshasa government, but
was repulsed by Cuban troops. The expedition was a fiasco with
far-reaching repercussions, most notably the
Shaba I and Shaba II
invasions, both of which
China sent military aid to
Zaire during both invasions, and accused the
Soviet Union and Cuba
(who were alleged to have supported the Shaban rebels, although this
was and remains speculation) of working to de-stabilize Central
Relations with the Soviet Union
Mobutu's relationship with the
Soviet Union was frosty and tense.
Mobutu, a staunch anti-communist, was not anxious to recognize the
Soviets; the USSR had supported, though mostly in words, Patrice
Lumumba, Mobutu's democratically elected predecessor, and the Simba
rebels. However, to project a non-aligned image, he did renew ties in
1967; the first Soviet ambassador arrived and presented his
credentials in 1968. Mobutu did, however, join the United States
in condemning the
Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia
Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia that year.
Mobutu viewed the Soviet presence as advantageous for two reasons: it
allowed him to maintain an image of non-alignment, and it provided a
convenient scapegoat for problems at home. For example, in 1970, he
expelled four Soviet diplomats for carrying out "subversive
activities," and in 1971, twenty Soviet officials were declared
persona non grata for allegedly instigating student demonstrations at
Moscow was the only major world capital Mobutu never visited, although
he did accept an invitation to do so in 1974. For reasons unknown, he
cancelled the visit at the last minute, and toured the People's
North Korea instead.
Relations cooled further in 1975, when the two countries found
themselves on opposing sides in the Angolan Civil War. This had a
dramatic effect on Zairian foreign policy for the next decade; bereft
of his claim to African leadership (Mobutu was one of the few leaders
who refused to recognize the Marxist government of Angola), Mobutu
turned increasingly to the US and its allies, adopting pro-American
stances on such issues as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and
Israel's position in international organizations.
Relations with the United States
Mobutu Sese Seko
Mobutu Sese Seko and
Richard Nixon in Washington, D.C., October 1973.
For the most part,
Zaire enjoyed warm relations with the United
United States was the third largest donor of aid to Zaire
(after Belgium and France), and Mobutu befriended several US
presidents, including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W.
Bush. Relations did cool significantly in 1974–1975 over Mobutu's
increasingly radical rhetoric (which included his scathing
denunciations of American foreign policy), and plummeted to an
all-time low in the summer of 1975, when Mobutu accused the Central
Intelligence Agency of plotting his overthrow and arrested eleven
senior Zairian generals and several civilians, and condemned (in
absentia) a former head of the Central Bank (Albert N'dele).
However, many people viewed these charges with skepticism; in fact,
one of Mobutu's staunchest critics, Nzongola-Ntalaja, speculated that
Mobutu invented the plot as an excuse to purge the military of
talented officers who might otherwise pose a threat to his rule.
In spite of these hindrances, the chilly relationship quickly thawed
when both countries found each other supporting the same side during
the Angolan Civil War.
Because of Mobutu's poor human rights record, the Carter
Administration put some distance between itself and the Kinshasa
government; even so,
Zaire received nearly half the foreign aid
Carter allocated to sub-Saharan Africa. During the first Shaba
United States played a relatively inconsequential role;
its belated intervention consisted of little more than the delivery of
non-lethal supplies. But during the second Shaba invasion, the US
played a much more active and decisive role by providing
transportation and logistical support to the French and Belgian
paratroopers that were deployed to aid Mobutu against the rebels.
Carter echoed Mobutu's (unsubstantiated) charges of Soviet and Cuban
aid to the rebels, until it was apparent that no hard evidence existed
to verify his claims. In 1980, the US House of Representatives
voted to terminate military aid to Zaire, but the US Senate reinstated
the funds, in response to pressure from Carter and American business
interests in Zaire.
Mobutu enjoyed a very warm relationship with the Reagan
Administration, through financial donations. During Reagan's
presidency, Mobutu visited the
White House three times, and criticism
of Zaire's human rights record by the US was effectively muted. During
a state visit by Mobutu in 1983, Reagan praised the Zairian strongman
as "a voice of good sense and goodwill."
Mobutu also had a cordial relationship with Reagan's successor, George
H. W. Bush; he was the first African head of state to visit Bush at
the White House. Even so, Mobutu's relationship with the US
radically changed shortly afterward with the end of the Cold War. With
Soviet Union gone, there was no longer any reason to support
Mobutu as a bulwark against communism. Accordingly, the US and other
Western powers began pressuring Mobutu to democratize the regime.
Regarding the change in US attitude to his regime, Mobutu bitterly
remarked: "I am the latest victim of the cold war, no longer needed by
the US. The lesson is that my support for American policy counts for
nothing." In 1993, Mobutu was denied a visa by the US State
Department after he sought to visit Washington, DC.
Mobutu also had friends in America outside Washington. Mobutu was
befriended by televangelist Pat Robertson, who promised to try to get
the State Department to lift its ban on the African leader.
Mobutu was married twice. His first wife, Marie-Antoinette Mobutu,
died of heart failure on 22 October 1977 in Genolier,
the age of 36. On 1 May 1980, he married his mistress, Bobi Ladawa, on
the eve of a visit by Pope John Paul II, thus legitimizing his
relationship in the eyes of the Church. Two of his sons from his first
marriage died during his lifetime, Nyiwa (d. 16 September 1994) and
Konga (d. 1992). Two more died in the years following his death:
Kongulu (d. 24 September 1998), and Manda (d. 27 November 2004).
His elder son from his second marriage,
Nzanga Mobutu Ngbangawe, now
the head of the family, was a candidate in the 2006 presidential
elections and later served in the government of the Democratic
Republic of the
Congo as Minister of State for Agriculture. A
daughter, Yakpwa (nicknamed Yaki), was briefly married to a Belgian
man named Pierre Janssen, who later wrote a book which described
Mobutu's lifestyle in vivid detail.
Altogether, Mobutu had at least twenty-one children:
With Marie-Antoinette (first wife): Niwa, Ngombo, Manda, Konga,
Ngawali, Yango, Yakpwa, Kongolu, Ndagbia (9)
With Bobi Ladawa (second wife): Nzanga, Giala, Toku, Ndokula (4)
With Kosia Ladawa (mistress, twin sister of his second wife):
Ya-Litho, Tende, Sengboni (3)
With "Mama 41": Senghor, Dongo, Nzanga (3)
With Mbanguula: A son (1)
With an unknown woman from Brazzaville: Robert (1)
On trips across
Zaire he appropriated the droit de cuissage (right to
deflower) as local chiefs offered him virgins; this practice was
considered an honor for the virgin's family.
In art and literature
Mobutu was the subject of the three-part documentary Mobutu, King of
Zaire by Thierry Michel. Mobutu was also featured in the feature film
Lumumba, directed by Raoul Peck, which detailed the pre-coup and coup
years from the perspective of Lumumba. Mobutu featured in the
documentary When We Were Kings, which centred around the famed Rumble
in the Jungle boxing bout between
George Foreman and
Muhammad Ali for
the 1974 heavyweight championship of the world. The bout took place in
Zaire during Mobutu's rule. Mobutu also might be considered
as the inspiration behind some of the characters in the works of the
poetry of Wole Soyinka, the novel
A Bend in the River
A Bend in the River by V. S.
Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe. William Close,
father of actress Glenn Close, was once a personal physician to Mobutu
and wrote a book focusing on his service in Zaire. Barbara
Kingsolver's 1998 historical novel
The Poisonwood Bible
The Poisonwood Bible depicts the
events of the
Congo Crisis from a fictional standpoint, featuring the
role of Mobutu in the crisis.
^ The name translates as "The warrior who leaves a trail of fire in
his path" or "The warrior who knows no defeat because of his endurance
and inflexible will and is all powerful, leaving fire in his wake as
he goes from conquest to conquest".
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Kleptocracy and Divide-and-Rule: A Model of
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^ Wrong, pp. 72–74
^ Wrong, pp. 74–75
^ Wrong, p. 75
^ Crawford Young and Thomas Turner, The Rise and Decline of the
Zairian State, p. 175
^ Wrong, pp. 76
^ Wrong, p. 67
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^ Shaw 2005, 63.
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^ There are multiple translations of the full name, including "the
all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will
to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake,"
"the earthy, the peppery, all-powerful warrior who, by his endurance
and will to win, goes from contest to contest leaving fire in his
wake" and "the man who flies from victory to victory and leaves
nothing behind him"<http://www.plexoft.com/SBF/N04.html#Sese>
and "the all-powerful warrior who goes from conquest to conquest,
leaving fire in his wake" (Wrong, p. 4)
^ Young and Turner, p. 57
^ Wrong, Michela (2002). In The Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the
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^ 60 Minutes, 4 March 1984
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mobutu Sese Seko.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Mobutu Sese Seko
Speech by Mobutu, vowing to resist the rebel onslaught and remain in
Anatomy of an Autocracy: Mobutu's 32-Year Reign (New York Times
biography by Howard W. French)
Mobutu's legacy: Show over substance
Hope and retribution in Zaire, Allan Little, From Our Own
Correspondent, BBC News, 24 May 1997.
"Zaire's Mobutu Visits America," by Michael Johns, Heritage Foundation
Executive Memorandum #239, June 29, 1989
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Korean Air Lines Flight 902
Yemenite War of 1979
Grand Mosque seizure
New Jewel Movement
1979 Herat uprising
Seven Days to the River Rhine
Struggle against political abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union
1980 and 1984 Summer Olympics boycotts
1980 Turkish coup d'état
Ugandan Bush War
Lord's Resistance Army insurgency
Eritrean Civil Wars
1982 Ethiopian–Somali Border War
United States invasion of Grenada
Able Archer 83
1986 Black Sea incident
1988 Black Sea bumping incident
South Yemen Civil War
Bougainville Civil War
Central American crisis
Korean Air Lines Flight 007
People Power Revolution
Afghan Civil War
United States invasion of Panama
1988 Polish strikes
Tiananmen Square protests of 1989
Revolutions of 1989
Fall of the Berlin Wall
Mongolian Revolution of 1990
Fall of communism in Albania
Breakup of Yugoslavia
Dissolution of the Soviet Union
Dissolution of Czechoslovakia
Sino-Indian border dispute
North Borneo dispute
Sovereignty of Puerto Rico during the Cold War
Crusade for Freedom
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Voice of America
Voice of Russia
Nuclear arms race
Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War
Soviet espionage in the United States
United States relations
Russian espionage in the United States
American espionage in the
Soviet Union and Russian Federation
CIA and the Cultural Cold War
Cold War II
List of conflicts
ISNI: 0000 0001 1480 2395
BNF: cb119163470 (data)