Mobutu Sese Seko

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Mobutu Sese Seko on August 5, 1983 during his visit to the Pentagon.

Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa Zabanga (* 14. October 1930 in Lisala , Province Mongala , Belgian Congo as Joseph-Désiré Mobutu , † 7. September 1997 in Rabat , Morocco ) was 1965-1997 dictatorial reigning president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (from 1971 to 1997: Zaire ). His name means "the warrior who walks from conquest to conquest without being afraid".

In September 1960 he came to power through a coup in which he overthrew Patrice Lumumba and Joseph Kasavubu . After Kasavubu was reinstated, he retained command of the army. On November 24, 1965, he staged a second coup; it was very well prepared and carried out so well that Mobutu achieved his goal without spilling a single drop of blood. Mobutu overthrew Kasavubu, assumed the office of president and banned all political activities. This coup, in the context of the turmoil in the Congo and the Cold War , only succeeded with substantial help from Western intelligence services and deceived the public about the bloodthirstiness and brutality of his rule.

The fact that the coup took place without bloodshed was even acclaimed in the West as Mobutu's merit. The hymns of praise indicate that the “savior of the Congo from the threatening communism” had acted with western tolerance, if not even on western advice. This was also indicated by the duration of his dictatorship, which for more than thirty years did not meet with criticism or disruptive maneuvers from the West. During the Mobutu dictatorship, a kleptocratic clique was allowed to plunder the country. As a reciprocal right, he guaranteed uncompromising loyalty to the western world, its defense system and its anti-communism . In addition, the West could assume that Mobutu also guaranteed its second main interest: continuous access to the Congolese raw materials, especially copper .

During his reign, which was shaped by a cult around his person , he initiated the renaming of Congo to Zaire in 1971, which kept this name until the end of the Mobutu government in 1997.



Mobutu was born in Lisala in what was then the Belgian Congo . At 19 he joined the Force Publique , the Belgian-Congolese army. During his tenure he reached the rank of Sergeant Major , what about the German sergeant equivalent. After leaving the army in 1956, he first worked as a journalist and newspaper editor.

Political rise

In 1958 he joined the nationalist Mouvement National Congolais party . After the Congo gained independence on June 30, 1960, he was appointed State Secretary to the Prime Minister in the first government, and shortly thereafter as Colonel and Chief of Staff of the Congolese army. The new government was an alliance of convenience between Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and President Joseph Kasavubu, among others . On September 14, 1960, Lumumba was overthrown in a coup. Colonel Mobutu was involved in this endeavor in an exposed position with the support of the CIA and the Belgian secret service. Lumumba had planned to combat the economic dependence of the Congo, while western states were interested in the exploitation of raw materials such as uranium, copper, gold, tin, cobalt, diamonds, manganese and zinc. Lumumba was shot dead without a trial after being subjected to severe torture.

Coup and presidency

Mobutu Sese Seko on an old Zairian banknote
Meeting Mobutus with Richard Nixon in the Oval Office , 1973

In February 1961, President Kasavubu dismissed the college of commissioners set up by Mobutu during the coup and installed a new government under Prime Minister Joseph Iléo , Mobutu retired to his military function. Internal power struggles of the government between Kasavubu and his new prime minister Moïse Tschombé , from which Kasavubu emerged victorious, took Mobutu, meanwhile Lieutenant General , on November 24, 1965 as an opportunity to carry out a successful military coup against Kasavubu and took power himself. At first, broad sections of the population welcomed his takeover of power. Among other reasons, the power struggle between the head of state Kasavubu and the head of government Lumumba, who emerged from an election victory, contributed to the civil war in 1960. Large parts of the population now feared a similar development. On March 22, 1966, he made the military Léonard Mulamba prime minister, elevated himself to president and assumed all legislative power. By November 1967 Mobutu and his troops were able to completely defeat a revolt of the mercenary army of Chombés .

To consolidate his still young rule, he used a combination of violence, corruption and the early elimination of possible alternative centers of power, a combination that remained formative for all of his subsequent rule. For this purpose, Mobutu also hired foreign mercenary troops. Unlike the previous politicians in the young country, he did not find his power base in a party or an ethnic group (ie in any way the "people"), but in the military he controlled and in his ally, the USA.

Mobutu had Évariste Kimba and several ministers of the legal government executed as a "spectacular example" (Mobutu). He temporarily shut down Tschombé and Kasavubu in order to "behead" a possible future opposition. Tschombé was in exile in Spain and was convicted of treason in his absence. Kasavubu was deposed and retired to his home village. Léonard Mulamba took his office. Tschombé and Kasavubu both died in 1969, whether Mobutu was involved in their death is still unclear.

In 1968 Mobutu settled accounts with the opposition member Pierre Mulele . He persuaded him to return from exile and promised him amnesty. Upon his return, he and all the people who had visited him since returning were arrested and then killed. Mulele was tortured in public, eyes and genitals ripped out, and limbs amputated one by one while he was alive. Its trunk was thrown into the Congo River .

As a propagandistic-ideological underpinning, Mobutu carried out alleged independence efforts, which he called authenticity . In October 1971 he had the country renamed the Republic of Zaire . In February 1972, all Christian first names were Africanized and the abacost , a special suit, was made mandatory as a garment for men. In 1972 Mobutu renamed itself to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa za Banga . This name, literally meaning “The rooster that strides from conquest to conquest without being afraid” can be used both as “the almighty warrior, who goes from victory to victory because of his perseverance and the unwavering will to win, with fire behind him leaves behind ”as well as with“ Mobutu for all time, the mighty rooster who does not allow a hen to climb ”, whereby“ rooster ”is to be read figuratively as“ warrior ”.

Another step in the Authenticité campaign was the “nationalization” of Belgian companies (in fact, they practically passed into Mobutu's personal property), while some of the natural resources of Zaires were reserved for foreign countries under the terms of the United States. Displaced politically by the USA and economically by Mobutu since the Zaïfahrt, the Belgians, who had ruled the Congo for a long time, were now irrelevant. In 1977 Mobutu again admitted Belgian investors. However, this may also have to do with the fact that at the same time he needed the help of Belgium to put down a Katanga uprising, which, coming from Angola , endangered his rule.

From the middle of the 70s the authenticity flagged , among other things because the cult of personality around Mobutu did not show the desired success with the people. In 1977 Mobutu was "re-elected" again.

Corruption and Consequences

Mobutu's government, or the circle of power around the government, was a kleptocracy , similar to the Marcos regime in the Philippines . Their ambition was less to increase the prosperity of the inhabitants than to increase their own. The government had the foreign exchange profits from the extraction of resources deposited in private accounts. In 1984, Mobutu's personal fortune was valued at $ 4 billion. This amount roughly corresponded to Zaire's foreign debts at the time. According to an estimate by Transparency International , Mobutu has appropriated around 5 billion US dollars through corruption during his tenure. The foreign powers ignored the actions out of economic and political interests, since Mobutu was an anti-communist ally.

The state and its administration became inoperable within a very short time. Since no investments were made and development aid money usually disappeared directly into Mobutu's accounts, the productivity of the Zairian economy continued to decline.

Internal unrest and disempowerment

From 1989 the relationship between Mobutu's rule and the previous protective powers, the USA and France, cooled drastically. Due to civil unrest and ongoing economic problems, Mobutu first admitted opposition parties in May 1990. He promised democratic elections and set up a transitional government, but he arranged it in such a way that he would continue to have the most important strands of power in hand. After further unrest and revolts by unpaid soldiers, Mobutu brought all opposition parties together in an alliance of convenience, but retained control over the relevant security organs. After the emergence of a counter-government under Laurent Monsengwo and Etienne Tshisekedi , economic conditions deteriorated even further, so that both governments were merged in the High Council of the Republic (transitional parliament). Mobutu appointed Kengo Wa Dondo , who stood for austerity and market reform, to head it. 1992–1994 Mobutu's regime was on the verge of collapse and the opposition was about to finally take power.

In 1994, however, the genocide occurred in Rwanda , which would bring the Mobutu regime three more years, but which was also to lead to its ultimate collapse. The regime was now again supported by the US under Bill Clinton and France, as both countries came to the opinion that, due to the massive crisis in the region, “experiments” in Zaire were not beneficial. Meanwhile, Mobutu's health continued to deteriorate, and during one of his hospital stays in Switzerland, Tutsi conquered much of eastern Zaire. The Tutsi have long been hostile to Mobutu, as it was more on the side of the Hutu , who were responsible for the genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda . At the same time, the Tutsi government feared that the Hutus in eastern Zaire could reorganize themselves and start a reconquest of Rwanda. On the other hand, due to the unspeakable atrocities, simple motives for revenge prevailed, which moved the Tutsi to invade eastern Zaire. When Mobutu's government passed a law expelling all Tutsis on pain of death, they entered open rebellion. They launched an offensive westward, allied with other opposition groups. After failed peace talks in May 1997, the insurgents captured Kinshasa . Laurent-Désiré Kabila became the new president .

Mobutu went into exile in Morocco , where he died in September 1997 of prostate cancer, from which he had suffered since 1963.


Mobutu usually wore a leopard cap and a stick and was celebrated as the "Leopard Man". He also preferred to drive the state and representative vehicle of the Mercedes-Benz brand , the so-called Type 600 .

See also

Web links

Commons : Mobutu Sese Seko  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Lumumba murder: Son announces lawsuit against twelve Belgians. In: June 22, 2010, accessed December 3, 2017 .
  2. Michela Wrong , In The Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo, pp. 86-90.
  3. Peter Scholl-Latour: Murder on the great river: A quarter of a century of African independence. dtv, 1991, pp. 13-14, ISBN 3-423-11058-9 .
  4. ^ Suharto, Marcos and Mobutu head corruption table with $ 50bn scams , The Guardian, March 26, 2004.