Mobutu Sese Seko

Mobutu Sese Seko
President of Zaire
In office
24 November 1965 – 16 May 1997
Prime Minister Several
Preceded by Joseph Kasa-Vubu
Succeeded by Laurent-Désiré Kabila
Personal details
Born 14 October 1930(1930-10-14)
Lisala, Belgian Congo
Died 7 September 1997(1997-09-07) (aged 66)
Rabat, Morocco
Nationality Congolese
Political party Popular Movement of the Revolution
Spouse(s) Marie-Antoinette Mobutu (Deceased)
Bobi Ladawa
Religion Christianity

Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga (14 October 1930 – 7 September 1997), commonly known as Mobutu or Mobutu Sese Seko (play /məˈbt ˈsɛs ˈsɛk/), born Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, was the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (also known as Zaire for much of his reign) from 1965 to 1997. While in office, he formed an authoritarian regime, amassed vast personal wealth, and attempted to purge the country of all colonial cultural influence, while also maintaining an anti-communist stance.


Early years

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 she gave birth to Mobutu. The name "Mobutu" was selected by an uncle. Gbemani died when Mobutu was eight.[1]

The wife of the Belgian judge took a liking to Mobutu and taught him to speak, read and write fluently. Yemo relied on the help of relatives to support her four children, and the family moved often. Mobutu's earliest studies were 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 academics 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, misspoke 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, and at the end of the school year he was sent to the Force Publique (FP), the Belgian Congolese army. Enlistment, which came with a seven-year commitment, was a punishment for rebellious students.[2]

Mobutu found discipline in army life, as well as a father figure in Sergeant Joseph 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 personal 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 wed in a church. His contribution to the wedding festivities was a crate of beer, all his army salary could afford.[3]

As a soldier, Mobutu wrote pseudonymously on contemporary politics for a new magazine set up by a Belgian colonial, Actunigalités Africaines. In 1956, he quit the army and became a full-time journalist,[4] writing for the Léopoldville daily L'Avenir.[5] 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 friends with Patrice Lumumba and joined Lumumba's 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.[6]

During the 1960 talks in Brussels on Congolese independence, the U.S. Embassy held a reception to gain a better sense of the Congolese delegation. Embassy staff were each assigned a list of delegation members to meet and then discuss 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."[7]

Congo Crisis

History of the DRC

Democratic Republic of the Congo (orthographic projection).svg

v · d · e

Following the granting of 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 Armee Nationale Congolaise (ANC), the Congolese Army, and in that capacity, Mobutu toured the country convincing soldiers to return to their barracks. 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 U.S. government saw the Soviet activity as a maneuver to spread communist influence in Central Africa. Kasa-Vubu, riled by the Soviet arrival, dismissed Lumumba. An outraged Lumumba declared Kasa-Vubu deposed. Both Lumumba and Kasa-Vubu then 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 favored getting rid of the Soviet presence. On 14 September 1960 Mobutu took control[8] in a CIA-sponsored coup. The new regime placed Lumumba under house arrest for the second time and kept Kasa-Vubu as president.[9]

All Soviet advisers were ordered to leave. Next, Mobutu accused Lumumba of pro-communist sympathies, thereby hoping to gain the support of the United States. Lumumba fled to Stanleyville, where he set up his own government. The USSR again supplied him with weapons and he was able to defend his position. Later, in November 1960, he was captured and sent to Katanga. Mobutu still considered him a threat and ordered him to be arrested and beaten publicly on 17 January 1961. He then disappeared from the public view. It was later discovered he was murdered that day as well.

In 1964, 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

On 25 November 1965, General Mobutu seized power for the second time in a bloodless coup, following another power struggle between Kasa-Vubu and Prime Minister Moise Tshombe. According to Mobutu, it had taken "the politicians" five years to "ruin" the country; therefore, said Mobutu, "For five years, there will be no more political party activity in the country". Under the auspices of a regime d'exception (the equivalent of a state of emergency), Mobutu assumed sweeping, almost absolute, powers. 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.

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 ousting, Mobutu strove to present himself as a successor to Lumumba's legacy, and one of the key tenets early in his rule was "authentic Congolese nationalism."

1967 marked the debut of the Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR) which until 1990 was the nation's only legal political party. Membership became obligatory for all citizens. 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.

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 1991.

Facing many challenges early in his rule, Mobutu was able to turn most opposition into submission through patronage; those he could not, 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 electorate was presented a single list of candidates for the legislature, for which 98.33% of voters voted in favor. 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.[10]

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 Intelligence (SNIP).

Authenticity campaign

Flag of Zaire

Embarking on a campaign of pro-Africa cultural awareness, Mobutu renamed the country the Republic of Zaire in October 1971. Africans were ordered 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.[11]

In 1972, Mobutu renamed himself 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."[12]), Mobutu Sese Seko for short.

One-man rule

Mobutu Sese Seko in 1973 sporting his signature leopardskin toque and glasses

Early in his rule[when?], 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."[13]

In 1968 Pierre Mulele, Lumumba's Minister of Education and later 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.[14] 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. The most famous example of this treatment is Jean Nguza Karl-i-Bond, who was fired as foreign minister in 1977, sentenced to death, and tortured. Mobutu then commuted his sentence to life imprisonment, released him after a year, and later appointed him prime minister. Nguza fled the country in 1981 only to return in 1985, first serving as Zaire's ambassador to the U.S. and later as foreign minister.[15]

In 1972 Mobutu tried unsuccessfully to have himself named president for life.[16] In 1983, Mobutu promoted himself to the rank of Field Marshal.[17]

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.[18] Katangan rebels based in Angola invaded 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.

Bank note of Zaire depicting Mobutu Sese Seko

He was re-elected in single-candidate elections in 1977 and 1984. He worked hard on little but to increase his personal fortune, which in 1984 was estimated to amount to US$5 billion,[19][20] most of it in Swiss banks (however, a comparatively small $3.4 million has been found after his ousting [21]). 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 fleet of 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.

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.

Marshal Mobutu was known to charter a Concorde from Air France for personal use, including shopping trips to Paris for himself and his family. He had an airport constructed in his hometown of Gbadolite with a runway long enough to accommodate the Concorde's extended take off and landing requirements.[22] In 1989, Mobutu chartered Concorde aircraft F-BTSD for a June 26-July 5 trip to give a speech at the United Nations in New York City, July 16 for French bicentennial celebrations in Paris (where he was a guest of President François Mitterrand), on September 19 for a flight from Paris to Gbadolite, and another nonstop flight from Gbadolite to Marseille with the youth choir of Zaire.[23]

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 one day succeed him as President;[24] however, this was thwarted by Nyiwa's death from AIDS in 1994.[25]

10 Makuta coin depicting Mobutu Sese Seko

He was also the subject of a massive personality cult. The evening news on television was preceded by an image of him descending through clouds from the heavens, portraits of him adorned many public places, government officials wore lapels bearing his portrait, and he held such titles as "Father of the Nation," "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.[26]

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 Fund.[27]

Foreign policy

Relations with the United States

Mobutu Sese Seko and Richard Nixon in Washington, D.C., 1973.

For the most part, Zaire enjoyed warm relations with the United States. The United States was the third largest donor of aid to Zaire (after Belgium and France), and Mobutu befriended several U.S. 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),[28] 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.[28] 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.[29] 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 worked to put some distance between itself and the Kinshasa government;[30] even so, Zaire was the recipient of nearly half the foreign aid Carter allocated sub-Saharan Africa.[31] During the first Shaba invasion, the 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 U.S. 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.[32] In 1980, the House of Representatives voted to terminate military aid to Zaire, but the Senate reinstated the funds, in response to pressure from Carter and American business interests in Zaire.[33]

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 U.S. was effectively muted. During a state visit by Mobutu in 1983, Reagan praised the Zairian strongman as "a voice of good sense and goodwill."[34]

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.[35] Even so, Mobutu's relationship with the U.S. radically changed shortly afterward with the end of the Cold War. With the Soviet Union gone, there was no longer any reason to support Mobutu as a bulwark against communism. Accordingly, the U.S. and other Western powers began pressuring Mobutu to democratize the regime. Regarding the change in U.S. attitude to his regime, Mobutu bitterly remarked: "I am the latest victim of the cold war, no longer needed by the U.S. The lesson is that my support for American policy counts for nothing."[36] In 1993, Mobutu was denied a visa by the U.S. State Department after he sought to visit Washington, D.C.

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.[37]

Relations with Belgium

Relations between 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 of Belgium's refusal to ban an anti-Mobutu book written by left-wing lawyer Jules Chomé.[38] Mobutu's "Zairianization" policy, which expropriated foreign-held businesses and transferred their ownership to Zairians, added to the strain.

Relations with France

As the second largest French speaking country in the world and the largest one in sub-Saharan Africa[39] Zaire was of great strategic interest to France.[40] During the First Republic era, France tended to side with the conservative and federalist forces, as opposed to unitarists such as Lumumba.[39] 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, then-Finance Minister 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 Morrocan troops to Zaire, and the rebels were repulsed;[41] a year later, during the second Shaba invasion, France itself would send French Foreign Legion paratroopers (2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment) to aid Mobutu (along with Belgium).[42][43][44]

Relations with the Soviet Union

Mobutu's relationship with the Soviet Union was frosty and tense. Mobutu, a staunch anticommunist, was not anxious to recognize the Soviets; the USSR had supported, though mostly in words, 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 U.S. in condemning the 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 Lovanium University.

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 Republic of China and 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 denied the Marxist government of Angola recognition), Mobutu turned increasingly to the U.S. 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 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 the ill-fated Simba rebellion remained fresh in Mobutu's mind. He also opposed seating China at the United Nations. However, by 1972, he began to see the Chinese in a different light, as a counterbalance to both the Soviet Union as well as his intimate ties with the United States, Israel, and South Africa.[45] In November 1972, Mobutu extended the Chinese (as well as East Germany and North Korea) diplomatic recognition. The following year, Mobutu paid a visit to Beijing, where he met personally with Chairman Mao 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.

China and Zaire shared a common goal in Central Africa, namely doing everything in their power to halt Soviet gains in the area. Accordingly, both Zaire and 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 invasion of 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 opposed. 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 Africa.

Coalition government

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 and appointed a transitional government that would lead to promised elections, but he retained substantial powers. Following riots in 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 Zaire.


Mobutu was overthrown in the First Congo War by Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who was supported by the governments of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda.

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 of Defense Paul Kagame launched an offensive to overthrow Mobutu, joining forces with locals opposed to him as they marched west toward Kinshasa.

Ailing with cancer, Mobutu was unable[citation needed] to coordinate the resistance, which crumbled in front of the march, the army being more used to suppressing civilians than defending a large country. On May 16, 1997, following failed peace talks, the Tutsi rebels and other anti-Mobutu groups as the Alliance des Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Congo-Zaire (AFDL) captured Kinshasa. 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 Laurent-Désiré Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo 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 (and the country was renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Habyarimana's remains were burned under the supervision of an Indian Hindu leader.[46]

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 the Congo recommended returning his remains to the Congo and interring them in a mausoleum.[47]

On the very same day he was exiled, Laurent-Désiré Kabila became the new president of Congo. Kabila was killed in 2001 under unclear circumstances and was succeeded by his son, Joseph Kabila, who remains the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo.


According to Transparency International, Mobutu embezzled over $5 billion USD from his country, ranking him as the third-most corrupt leader in the past two decades and the most corrupt African leader during the same period.[48]

He is a constantly recurring theme in Advance fee fraud (419) scams in emails sent to anybody worldwide.[49] A 419er may claim to be Mobutu's wife, son,[50] or daughter and promise a percentage of his wealth to the email recipient if the recipient does a few things first, including pay advance fees. Another cause of his unscrupulous legacy abroad is his record on human rights as well as mismanagement of the economy and the institutionalization of corruption.

Mobutu also was one of the men who was instrumental to bringing the famous the Rumble in the Jungle fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman to Zaire on October 30, 1974. According to the documentary When We Were Kings, promoter Don King promised both fighters $5 million USD for the fight, and no other group would put up that kind of money for the fight. Mobutu, wanting to expand the image of the nation of Zaire, 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."


Mobutu was married twice. His first wife, Marie-Antoinette Mobutu, died of heart failure on October 22, 1977 in Genolier, Switzerland at age 36. On May 1, 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. Four of his sons from his first marriage died: Nyiwa (d. September 16, 1994), Konga (d. 1995), Kongulu (d. September 24, 1998), and Manda (d. November 27, 2004).[51] A son from his second marriage, François Joseph Nzanga Mobutu Ngbangawe, was a candidate in the 2006 presidential elections and currently serves 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[52] which described Mobutu's lifestyle in vivid detail.

Altogether, Mobutu had seventeen children.

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 Kinshasa, 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 by V.S. Naipaul, and 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 time during his service in Zaire under Mobutu.

Barbara Kingsolver's 1998 historical novel The Poisonwood Bible depicts the events of the Congo Crisis from a fictional standpoint, featuring the role of Mobutu in the crisis.


  1. ^ Michela Wrong In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo pp. 70-72
  2. ^ Wrong, pp. 72-74
  3. ^ Wrong, pp. 74-75
  4. ^ Wrong, p. 75
  5. ^ Crawford Young and Thomas Turner, The Rise and Decline of the Zairian State, p. 175
  6. ^ Wrong, pp. 76
  7. ^ Wrong, p. 67
  8. ^ Wrong, p. 68-70. For more on Belgian and American involvement, see Jonathan Kwitny, Endless Enemies, p. 38-103, and Madeleine G. Kalb, The Congo Cables, p. 189-196
  9. ^ Larry Devlin, Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone, p. 87
  10. ^ Callaghy, Thomas M. The State-Society Struggle: Zaire in Comparative Perspective, p. 164
  11. ^ Shaw 2005, 63.
  12. ^ 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"<> and "the all-powerful warrior who goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake" (Wrong, p. 4)
  13. ^ Young and Turner, p. 57
  14. ^ Michela Wrong, In The Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo, p. 90
  15. ^ As detailed in: Nguza Karl-i-Bond, Jean. Mobutu ou l'Incarnation du Mal Zairois. Bellew Publishing Co Ltd. ISBN 0-86036-197-7. See also the Wikipedia article on Nguza for additional information and citations.
  16. ^ Young and Turner, p. 211
  17. ^ Young and Turner, p. 178
  18. ^ BBC: "Timeline: Democratic Republic of Congo"
  19. ^ Fortune, October 12, 1987, p. 189
  20. ^ 60 Minutes, March 4, 1984
  21. ^ CNN: "Swiss banks find only $3.4 million in Mobutu assets"
  22. ^ Shaw 2005, 47., 58.
  23. ^
  24. ^ Zaire: A Country Study, "Establishment of a Personalistic Regime"
  25. ^ RDC : La mort prématurée de Manda Mobutu met un point final à l’histoire du "Zaïre"
  26. ^ Young and Turner, p. 169
  27. ^ Department of State Background Notes: Congo (Kinshasa) Foreign Relations
  28. ^ a b Young and Turner, p. 372
  29. ^ Jeffrey M. Elliot and Mervyn M. Dymally, eds., Voices of Zaire: Rhetoric or Reality, p. 150
  30. ^ Zaire: A Country Study, "Relations with the United States"
  31. ^ David Lamb, The Africans, p. 46
  32. ^ Young and Turner, p. 389
  33. ^ Elliot and Dymally, p. 88
  34. ^ Metroactive: "When He Was King: On the trail of Marshal Mobutu Sese Seko, Zaire's former Kleptocrat-in-Chief"
  35. ^ "Zaire's Mobutu Visits America," by Michael Johns, Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum #239, June 29, 1989.
  36. ^ Time: "Leaving Fire in His Wake"
  37. ^ Mobutu said to have powerful US friends
  38. ^ Young and Turner, p. 172
  39. ^ a b Zaire: A Country Study, "Relations with France"
  40. ^ Martin Meredith, The Fate of Africa, p. 525
  41. ^ Zaire: A Country Study, "Shaba I"
  42. ^ Zaire: A Country Study, "Shaba II"
  43. ^ "Shaba II: The French and Belgian Intervention in Zaire in 1978" by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas P. Odom
  44. ^ Sauvetage de Kolwezi
  45. ^ See Thomas M. Callagy, South Africa in Southern Africa: The Intensifying Vortex of Violence and the chapter "Zaire in the International Arena" in Zaire: Continuity and Political Change in an Oppressive State by Winsome J. Leslie
  46. ^ Ending a Chapter, Mobutu Cremates Rwanda Ally by Howard W. French. New York Times. May 16, 1997
  47. ^ "RD Congo: Pour le rapatriement des restes de Mobutu", Panapress (, December 17, 2007 (French).
  48. ^ But after his death the Swiss Government has claimed that Mobutu's legacy was just evaluated at 5.3 millions dollars.Suharto, Marcos and Mobutu head corruption table | World news | The Guardian
  49. ^ "How to impersonate a central bank via email," Times of India
  50. ^ Ebola Monkey Man: Nigerian 419 Scam
  51. ^ RDC: La mort prématurée de Manda Mobutu met un point final à l’histoire du "Zaïre"
  52. ^ Janssen, Pierre. À la cour de Mobutu. Michel Lafon. ISBN 2-84098-332-X





  • Braeckman, Colette. Le Dinosaure, le Zaïre de Mobutu. Fayard. ISBN 2-213-02863-X
  • Dungia, Emmanuel, Mobutu et l'Argent du Zaïre, les révélations d'un diplomate, ex-agent des Services secrets. L'Harmattan. ISBN 2-7384-1133-9, ISBN 978-2738411334.
  • Chomé, Jules. L'ascension de Mobutu: Du sergent Désiré Joseph au général Sese Seko. F. Maspero. ISBN 2707110752
  • Janssen, Pierre. À la cour de Mobutu. Michel Lafon. ISBN 2-84098-332-X
  • Mobutu Sese Seko. Discours, allocutions et messages, 1965-1975. Éditions J.A. ISBN 2-85258-022-5
  • Monheim, Francis. Mobutu, l’homme seul. Editions Actuelles. (Unknown ISBN)
  • Ngbanda Nzambo-ku-Atumba, Honoré. Ainsi sonne le glas! Les Derniers Jours du Maréchal Mobutu. Gideppe. ISBN 2-9512000-2-1
  • Nguza Karl-i-Bond, Jean. Mobutu ou l'Incarnation du Mal Zairois. Bellew Publishing Co Ltd. ISBN 0-86036-197-7


  • Shaw, Karl (2005) [2004] (in Czech). Power Mad! [Šílenství mocných]. Praha: Metafora. ISBN 80-7359-002-6. 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Joseph Kasa Vubu
President of the Republic of the Congo
President of Zaire (before 1971 President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo)
24 November 1965 – 16 May 1997
Succeeded by
Laurent-Désiré Kabila
President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Mobutu Sese Seko — en 1983. Presidente de Zaire …   Wikipedia Español

  • Mobutu Sese Seko — Kuku Ngbendu wa Zabanga (geboren als Joseph Désiré Mobutu; * 14. Oktober 1930 in Lisala, Provinz Mongala; † 7. September 1997 in Rabat) war von 1965 bis 1997 Präsident der Demokratischen Republik Kongo (von 1971 bis 1997: Zaire). Mobutu herrschte …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Mobutu Sese Seko — Nkuku wa za Banga (n. Lisala, Congo Belga, 14 de octubre de 1930 † Rabat, Marruecos, 7 de septiembre de 1997). Presidente del Zaire (ahora República Democrática del Congo) entre 1965 y 1997. * * * ► (1930 97) Político y militar …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Mobutu Sese-Seko — Mobutu Sese Seko,   eigentlich Joseph Désiré Mobutu, Politiker in Zaire, * Lisala (Provinz Equateur) 14. 10. 1930, ✝ Rabat 7. 9. 1997; stieg in der belgischen Kolonialtruppe zum Unteroffizier auf. Nach der Entlassung Belgisch Kongos in die… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Mobutu Sese Seko — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Mobutu (homonymie). Mobutu Sese Seko Le maréchal Mobutu en 1983 à Washington …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Mobutu Sese Seko — /moh booh tooh ses ay sek oh, meuh / 1. (Joseph Désiré Mobutu), 1930 97, Zairian political leader: president 1965 97. 2. Lake, official name of Lake Albert. * * * orig. Joseph Désiré Mobutu born Oct. 14, 1930, Lisala, Belgian Congo died Sept. 7,… …   Universalium

  • Mobutu Sese Seko — biographical name 1930 1997 originally Joseph Désiré Mobutu president of Zaire (1965 97) …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Mobutu Sese Seko — Mo•bu•tu Se•se Se•ko [[t]moʊˈbu tu ˈsɛs eɪ ˈsɛk oʊ, mə [/t]] n. 1) big (Joseph Désiré Mobutu), 1930–97, president of Zaire 1965–97 2) Lake official name of Lake Albert …   From formal English to slang

  • Mobutu Sese Seko — /moh booh tooh ses ay sek oh, meuh / 1. (Joseph Désiré Mobutu), 1930 97, Zairian political leader: president 1965 97. 2. Lake, official name of Lake Albert …   Useful english dictionary

  • Mobutu Sese Seko —  (1930–1997) President of Zaire (1965–1997); born Joseph Desiré Mobuto …   Bryson’s dictionary for writers and editors

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