(Joseph Désiré) Mobuto Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga
(1930-1997)

Born in Lisala, Belgian Congo (now The Democratic Republic of Congo.) After an education under the tutelege of Belgian friars Mobuto chose a military career and evebtually rose to become commander in the Belgian army at the age of 30 with the rank of colonel. In 1958 he joined Patrice Lumumba's Congolese National Movement Party, and thus found himself close to the the centre of power when Lumumba was made Prime Minister, following independence two years later. He took advantage of this during the ensuing power struggle with the province of Katanga, stepping into the Prime Minister's shoes following temporarily when Lumumba was killed. The rule was short, however as Mobuto handed power back to the civilian government within six months.

He was not so generous a few years later. He put a stop to the civil war that gripped the country between 1963 and 1965 and once again took control of the state machinery, this time for good. The Congo has the potential to be perhaps Africa's richest nation and it achieved impressive levels (6-7% every year) of growth following independence and during the first few years of Mobuto's rule. This changed however after 1973. Between 1971 and 1973 Mobuto embarked on a program of Zairereanisation. The country's name was changed to Zaire; in came a new national anthem and flag; he demanded his countrymen and women call each other citoyen & citoyenne; abandon European names (the appellation at the top of this page translates as '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') and wear a jacket of his own design called the abacost. But perhaps most significant was the economic impact of Zaireanisation. In a move out of character for someone supposedly a bulwark against communism, Mobuto nationalised not only the entire foreign owned industrial sector of the economy but also grabbed small businesses from the hands of Greek, Portuguese and Pakistani expats and handed them to 'sons of the country.' This of course was code for sharing out the spoils with his cronies and naturally the country's economy went into a decline from which it has yet to recover.

Mobuto remained in power until 1997 but only due to his largesse and his phenomenal cunning - he may have broken the back of the economy and left the entire country unworkable but he knew who to butter up and how to keep his enemies divided. Eventually forced from power by an invading army from Rwanda under the command of future president Laurent Kabila (qv).

Length of Rule - Thirty Two years

Related Links

Auction of Mobuto's Estate

Books

In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz

Michela Wrong

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