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Sese Seko Mobutu

Sese Seko Mobutu

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Sese Seko Mobutu was born in Lisala, Congo, in 1930. Educated at a Catholic mission school he served in the Belgian colonial army. By 1960 he had reached the rank of colonel and was chief of staff to the Congolese Army.

After parliamentary elections in May 1960 Patrice Lumumba became the new prime minister of the Congo and immediately talked about the need for social and economic changes in the country. His decision to adopt a non-aligned foreign policy resulted in the CIA becoming interested in the developments in the Congo.

The country was governed from Leopoldville (Kinshasa). In Kantanga, a rich mining province, was very much under the control of Moise Tshombe. In July 1960, Tshombe, supported by white mercenaries and the Belgian mining company Union Minière, declared Katanga independent. Lumumba appealed to the United Nations for help and Dag Hammarskjold agreed to send in a peace-keeping force to restore order.

The following month Colonel Mobutu, with the support of the United States and Belgium, led a military coup and ousted Patrice Lumumba from power. Lumumba was arrested by Mobutu's soldiers and transferred to Elizabethville, Katanga, where he was murdered on 17th January, 1961.

In September 1961 fighting erupted between Katanga troops and the noncombatant forces of the UN. In an effort to secure a cease-fire he arranged to meet President Moise Tshombe. On 17th September 1961 Dag Hammarskjold was killed when his plane crashed close to Ndola airport.

The UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding an inquiry into the circumstances of his death. This was rejected by Moise Tshombe but evidence emerged later that the Belgian government was behind the events in Katanga.

The fighting continued and independent regimes were established at different times in Katanga, Stanleyville and Kasai. For a while Tshombe lived in Europe but returned to become prime minister of the Congo Republic in July 1964. After holding corrupt elections he was forced to flee and went to live in Spain.

General Mobutu staged another military coup in November 1965. He placed Moise Tshombe on trial for treason in his absence and was condemned to death. In July 1967 Tshombe was kidnapped and taken to Algeria. Moise Tshombe died in prison of a heart-attack on 29th June 1969.

Mobutu decided on a policy of Africanization and in October 1971 he changed the name of the country back to Zaire (the name of the country in the 14th century). Three months later a Nationality Law decreed the abolition of all European names for persons and places.

Despite this action Mobutu continued to arrange trading agreements with foreign companies engaged in exploiting the country's valuable copper deposits. He also received support from the United States who helped him develop a one party, anti-Communist, dictatorship.

Two further revolts took place in 1977 and 1978 and was only put down with the help of the French Army. Zaire continued to suffer from economic problems and in May 1997 rebel forces led by Laurent Kabila forced him to flee the country.

Sese Seko Mobutu died in Morocco in 1997.

The official ideology of the MPR, as laid down in the Manifesto of N'sele in May 1967, incorporated "nationalism", "revolution", and "authenticity". Revolution was described as a "truly national revolution, essentially pragmatic," which called for "the repudiation of both capitalism and communism." [2] One of the MPR's slogans was "Neither left nor right," to which would be added "nor even centre" in later years. [2] Despite this, there is evidence of economic liberalization during Mobutu's rule as he appointed Léon Kengo wa Dondo, a prominent advocate of free-market reform, as prime minister.

From its formation in 1967 to 1990, the MPR was de facto the only legal party in the country. The 1967 constitution explicitly allowed the existence of two parties. [3] However, the MPR was the only party allowed to nominate candidates in presidential and parliamentary elections held in November 1970. A month later, on December 23, the constitution was amended to formally declare the MPR to be the only legally permitted party. [4] [5]

The 1974 constitution enshrined the MPR's status as the vanguard of the nation. It stated that "there exists a single institution, the MPR, incarnated by its President," that the "President of the MPR is ex officio President of the Republic, and holds the plenitude of power exercise," and that "Mobutism" was constitutional doctrine. All citizens of Zaire became members of the MPR at birth. [6] In effect, the government was a transmission belt for the MPR.

The MPR elected its president every seven years at its national convention (five years before 1978). At that time, the MPR's president was automatically nominated as the sole candidate for a seven-year term as president of the republic he was confirmed in office by a national referendum. Mobutu was elected unopposed as president three times under this system, with official figures showing an implausible 98 percent or more of voters approving his candidacy against at most 1.8 percent either voting "no," casting blank ballots or spoiling their ballot papers. Every five years, a single list of MPR candidates was returned to the legislature, with unanimous or near-unanimous support. All of these candidates were effectively handpicked by Mobutu.

In 1975, formal elections were dispensed with altogether. Instead, the MPR list was approved by acclamation candidates were simply brought out at stadiums and other public places and cheered by the audiences.

For all intents and purposes, the MPR and the government were one. This effectively gave Mobutu complete political control over the country.

The single-party system lasted until 24 April 1990, the date of the proclamation of the Third Republic. On that date, Mobutu said that three political parties would be allowed. The "moderate" and "hardline" factions of the MPR would form separate parties, while the third party would be the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS). [7] Under the new multiparty system, Mobutu said that he would be above political parties, and accordingly he resigned as the president of the MPR on the same date, although he again accepted the post of party president a year later, on 21 April 1991. [8]

The party had no real ideology other than support for Mobutu. As such, it disappeared in short order when Mobutu was overthrown by Laurent-Désiré Kabila in 1997, during the First Congo War. Nzanga Mobutu, the son of Mobutu Sese Seko, is the chairman of the Union of Mobutuist Democrats (UDEMO), a Mobutist political party in parliament.


Early life

Joseph-Desire Mobutu was born in Lisala, Belgian Congo on 14 October 1930 to an Ngbandi family. Mobutu's mother was a hotel maid who fled a harem to marry the African cook for a Belgian judge, and Mobutu was educated by the Belgian judge after his father's death. Mobutu learned to speak French fluently, and he always jumped to his feet and corrected Belgian missionaries whenever they made a grammatical mistake (their first language was Dutch) while teaching French at his Catholic school. In 1949, he was ordered to serve seven years in the military for attempting to stow away on a boat to meet a girl, and he found discipline in army life. Mobutu became a part-time journalist after reading the writings of Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill, and Niccolo Machiavelli in the army, and he later became friendly with Patrice Lumumba and joined his Congolese National Movement party before becoming his aide. However, he was believed to have been hired by Belgian intelligence as an informer within Lumumba's nationalist movement.

Congo Crisis

Mobutu as an army officer, 1960

Mobutu was appointed Army Chief-of-Staff when the Congo Crisis began in 1960, leading the army of Congo-Leopoldville against the secessionists. Mobutu successfully encouraged many mutinying soldiers to return to their barracks, and he proved to be an able general. However, Mobutu faced a crisis when Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba - a Soviet-aligned politician - and President Joseph Kasa-Vubu - a US-aligned politician - each ordered Mobutu to arrest the other one. Mobutu came under immense pressure, but his subordinates convinced him to side with Kasa-Vubu, as the USA and other Western nations helped to pay the soldiers' and officers' salaries. In November 1960, Mobutu's soldiers arrested Lumumba after accusing him of being a communist, and the Belgian government persuaded the Congolese government to hand Lumumba over to a Katangese firing squad in January 1961. On 23 January 1961, Kasa-Vubu promoted Mobutu to Major-General, aiming to strengthen the army, the president's sole support, and Mobutu's position within the military. In 1964, when Pierre Mulele led another partisan rebellion, Mobutu responded to it by crushing the rebels in 1965.

Rise to power

Mobutu in a general's uniform

In 1965, the country was once again caught up in a political deadlock as President Kasa-Vubu failed to designate Evariste Kimba as the new Prime Minister and successor to Moise Tshombe. Mobutu, who had finally decided that Kasa-Vubu was an ineffective ruler, seized power in a military coup on 25 November 1965 and declared a state of emergency. Mobutu banned political party activity in the country for five years, and he reduced the Parliament's powers, reduced the number of provinces, and centralized the government. In 1967, Mobutu founded the Popular Movement of the Revolution, which was the only legal party in Mobutu's single-party state until 1990. He advanced revolution, nationalism, and authenticite, repudiating capitalism and communism in favor of political pragmatim. Mobutu created a nationwide labor union to unite all smaller unions, using it to control all labor in the country he outlawed all independent unions. Mobutu brutally suppressed opposition in his country, crushing former Katangese gendarmeries as well as the Kisangani mutiny by white mercenaries in 1967. Mobutu executed political rivals, secessionists, coup plotters, and other opponents of his regime, and he decided to turn Zaire into an "authentic" African country. Mobutu's authenticite movement banned Western clothing, threatened to impose five-year prison sentences on couples who gave their children European names, and forced men to wear abacost tunics (similar to Mao Zedong's suit). By 1970, law and order had been brought to all parts of his country, and he established friendly relations with the Belgian government. In 1972, Mobutu renamed himself to "Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga", and he assumed a classic image: his abacost, thick-framed glasses, walking stick, and leopard-skin toque.

Dictatorial rule

Mobutu nationalized foreign-owned firms and forced European investors out of the country, but he formed alliances with France, Belgium, the United States, and China, in addition to fomenting good relations with African nations such as Morocco, Egypt, and Sudan. In 1977, he managed to defeat the Shaba I uprising by the Soviet-backed Front for the National Liberation of the Congo (FNLC), using Belgian and French troops and US logistical support. Mobutu enjoyed an opulent lifestyle, flying on Concorde turbojets for shopping trips in Paris. Mobutu allowed for corruption and nepotism to flourish under his reign, and he embezzled up to $15,000,000,000 during his reign. Mobutu retained the support of the West throughout the Cold War due to his vehement anti-communism, but the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War in 1990 led to the West ending its support of Zaire. That same year, Mobutu was forced to end the ban on other political parties, and he was forced to form a coalition government with opposition parties due to popular discontent with his rule. The economic situation was dreadful, so he appointed the pro-free market Leon Kengo as Prime Minister of Zaire in 1994. Mobutu became physically frail, and he sought medical treatment in Europe. While he was gone, Tutsis from Rwanda seized control of much of eastern Zaire, pursuing Interahamwe forces fleeing the Rwandan Civil War. The spillover of the conflict would lead to his downfall.

Fall from power

A soldier standing in front of a mural of Mobutu

In November 1996, Mobutu ordered for the Tutsis to leave Zaire on penalty of death. The Tutsi rebels instead allied with Uganda and Rwanda, and the First Congo War broke out. The Allied forces marched on Kinshasa, and the sickly Mobutu was unable to coordinate resistance against the invading armies. On 16 May 1997, following failed peace talks, Mobutu fled to Togo, allowing for Laurent-Desire Kabila and his forces to take over the country. Mobutu then fled to Morocco, and he died of cancer in Rabat on 7 September 1997 at the age of 66.

Joseph-Désiré/ Mobutu, Sese Seko Kuku Waza Banga Mobutu (1930-1997)

Joseph Mobutu, named Joseph-Désiré Mobutu at birth, was the second president of Zaire (now called the Democratic Republic of Congo) from 1965 to 1997. Mobutu was born in 1930 in the Belgian Congo and studied journalism.

In 1958, Mobutu became the country’s state secretary and then was named chief of staff of the Congolese Army by Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and President Joseph Kasavubu when the country gained independence from Belgium in 1960. A year later, Mobutu helped President Kasavubu oust Lumumba. Mobutu became the new prime minister. In 1965, Mobutu exiled Kasavubu in a military coup and announced himself president, forming a one-party state around his Mouvement Populaire de la Revolution (MPR).

With support from the United States and other western powers because of his staunch anti-Communist stance, Mobutu became the unchallenged leader of the Congo, ruling the country for the next 32 years. In 1971, Mobutu changed the country’s name to Zaire and forced all citizens to adopt more African-sounding names. He himself changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbedu Waza Banga. Mobutu argued that the name change of all of Zaire’s citizens allowed the people to feel a sense of sovereignty and identification with African culture, especially after years of colonial rule. The act also helped legitimize Mobutu as an authoritarian dictator.

As President, Mobutu lived luxuriously with numerous palaces and foreign cars while the vast majority of Zaire’s population lived in poverty. As Mobutu amassed a personal fortune under his kleptocracy, the country’s economy virtually collapsed. In 1990 under growing internal and international pressure, Mobutu ended his formal dictatorship. He allowed national political parties to re-emerge while still manipulating local and national elections to keep himself and his supporters in power.

By 1994, Mobutu’s presidency was under threat when Rwandan rebels infiltrated and terrorized Rwandan genocide refugees that had fled into the eastern provinces of Zaire. Rebel activity encouraged indigenous insurgents to challenge Mobutu’s power. Two years later, Mobutu was diagnosed with prostate cancer and neglected many of his political duties, spending most of his time overseas as he underwent treatment. In 1997, rebel insurgent Laurent-Désiré Kabila overthrew the Mobutu regime. Kabila renamed the country as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The banished Joseph-Désiré Mobutu died from prostate cancer on September 7, 1997, in Morocco.

(1965 &ndash 1997)

Mobutu Sese Seko was a leader that was able to bleed his country dry while still enjoying the support of countries like the United States because of his anti-communist stance. Mobutu Sese Seko led a coup d&rsquoétat with the help of Belgium against the democratically elected president Patrice Lumumba. Patrice Lumumba was killed and Mobutu Sese Seko took over the role of army chief of staff in 1960. In 1965 he took power directly and declared himself leader of the Congo. He would later rename the country Zaire but it would become the Democratic Republic of the Congo when Mobutu was ousted from power.

He created a one party state that concentrated all power in his hands. He created a culture that was based around his worship and he often flaunted his personal extravagance to build up on his cult of personality. His highly centralized government allowed him to loot the state coffers with impunity, leading many to call his government a &ldquokleptocracy&rdquo due to the massive amount of funds he stole. He forced all foreign investors from the country and nationalized all foreign owned firms. The management of said firms was passed to relatives or allies which would just steal the assets of the company. He lived an opulent lifestyle with state funds and amassed a personal fortune of more than $5 billion.

His reign was also filled with human rights abuses. He would imprison, torture and kill his political opponents often publicly. He would lure opponents who went into exile by promising them amnesty only to torture them once they emerged. His reign of terror and theft came to an end with the First Congo War when Laurent-Desire Kabila took control of the government with the support of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda.

(1971) Sese Seko Mobutu, “Address to the Conseil Nationale Extraordinaire, Dakar, 14 February 1971”

Sese Seko Ngbendu Waza Banga Mobutu, originally known as Joseph Desire Mobutu, served as Patrice Lumumba’s private secretary before being appointed Chief of Staff and second in command of the army when the Congo received its independence in 1960. In November 1965 Mobuto led a coup which made him President of the Congo. In the address below, given at Dakar, Senegal on February 14, 1971, Mobutu described his rule in the Congo.


He combats a plague which has spread to all African countries: the absence of national consciousness—

The Secretary General of the U.P.S., my dear brother Members of the Bureau Politique, my comrades in the Conseil national,

Dear Friends,
Some of you may be surprised that the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo leaves his country so frequently to visit his brothers elsewhere in Africa. One could even ask if we really like our own country… The answer, as you suspected, is positive. We like our beautiful country a lot but, if we have set our hearts on visiting all our brothers in independent Africa, if we consider it to be a sacred duty to commit ourselves, body and soul, to this genuine crusade of friendship, it is not only because we must maintain the links which unite our states and peoples, but also because we are inspired by the will to restore to our country the place that it had in the heart of the African community which it lost through the policies of the leaders who were in power before us from 1960 to 1965.

Since 24 November 1965, I have had to carry both within the interior of my country and abroad innumerable messages of peace and fraternity to the Congolese people and our African brothers. I have also had to dispel the distrust which for a long time has surrounded a country which some people like to refer to as ‘the sick man’ of Africa. Today we can legitimately be proud of the esteem and friendship which we are happy to find everywhere: on the banks of the Nile, Lakes Tanganyika and Victoria, around the Ubangui, the Niger, the Chari and the Sénégal, or on the shores of the Atlantic sea, which bathes your coast as it does our own.

But this sacred duty of visiting our beloved African brothers enables us, throughout the five years of our mandate, to discover from the wise men of our continent knowledge that we could never have learnt from the industrially developed countries—And I have always set my heart on taking note of the experiences that each of my brothers have promoted through the spirit of their people, by endeavouring to apply them to enhance our development through our own methods.

Our experience was at first based on the search for a method, which I believe we have now found. We certainly do not intend to make this method into a recipe that we expect to see everyone adopting, we would not presume to make this claim. But we feel we have the right to explain to our African brothers the way in which we have organised the life and development of our country. And it is this that I would like to talk about today with the militants of our brother party: the Union Progressiste Sénégalaise.

In the Congo, we have always been convinced that to have any real experience of work in a developing country, one should look first of all within the developing country, and not import such methods which work in countries benefiting from a long period of technical development.

The complete significance behind our quest, our effort and our pilgrimage on this African continent is that we are in search of our authenticity, which we shall find because we wish, through every fibre of our inner being, to discover more about it each day. In a word, we other Congolese wish to become authentic Congolese people.

Who can understand better than you, Mr. Secretary General, the importance that we attach to the search for our authenticity this discovery of the true African spirit, such as it was fashioned day after day by the ancestors to whom we owe the noble heritage of our great African fatherland?

If we wish to hope that international organisations, created to defend the interests of the Third World, whether they are purely African, or Afro-Asiatic, may be inspired by true, cohesive forces, each of the countries of which it is constituted must victoriously accomplish the return to their authenticity.

This seems to me to be a fundamental condition to which we should pay a lot of attention in the struggle for development.

For it is useless to compare what happens in our country, for example, with situations in South Africa, under the single pretext that South Africa and Black Africa are both parts of what has been called the Third World: the Third World being, if I may draw attention to this piece of terminology, an expression invented not by the inhabitants of the Third World, but by more or less well meaning experts of a certain industrialised world which they hope we shall one day resemble.

Thus the theorists of the old and new world are accustomed to passing definitive judgments on the standard of living of the Third World countries through references to the criterion of per capita income. It comes, however, to mind—is this not indeed proof?—that this criterion is far from being absolute, that no one obliges us to accept it as the only yardstick enabling one to say that a certain country is developed or underdeveloped.

No, it seems that we should consider the experiences of people who have had the same difficulties as us. And there it is easy for us to recognise that these difficulties are very little more than the same from one end of our dear continent to the other, in so far as we Africans have usually experienced the same basic situations. We were born into a family which is the core of our society. We have grown up in a village under the direction of a village chief, we have been colonised at about the same time by Europeans with roughly the same good and bad qualities. We experienced decolonisation at practically the same time. And we have simultaneously seen the dawn of neo-colonialism breaking, so as to speak. The consequences of all this are that in each of the new states, with few variations, we have been able to discern the same difficulties after independence, difficulties that each of us has tried to overcome in his own way, in most cases more or less successfully (though sometimes not at all).

For us, the Congolese people, it is enough to believe that if we have lessons to draw from somewhere, we should look towards our African counterparts. In one place they have a good understanding of agricultural problems, but in another why haven’t they? In one place they have succeeded in establishing a framework for the masses through a national party, and in another this has been a failure. Everywhere each of us has something to learn from each other, and this, in my opinion, is essential.

First of all the Congolese experience since 24 November 1965 bears deep reflection.
Perhaps some African countries exist which have reached independence in trains which ran quite well, but which were at least in working order. They were shown how they worked, and, after a certain time, they were left with directions, along with best wishes for the journey.

But if trains of this kind have existed, we, for our part, did not find them when we became independent, and I can admit today that my companions and I did not embark on this kind of train in the early morning of 24 November 1965.

We unfortunately have not found our poor Congolese train in the ravine. But for us it was even more serious than that. It was not the rails which were in bad condition, nor the mechanic who was drunk, nor the carriages badly maintained, but in our trains of 1965 everything was in pieces, scattered here and there on the line and we had to put these pieces together in order to get this train into working order again.

And so we have dared to take this in hand, and, let me tell you, this called for a lot of courage! We found ourselves faced with a different situation from many others and so our method consisted in dividing up the problem into sectors. This led to an initial commitment to resolve our problem of internal policies, then of foreign policies, the economic sector, and finally the social sector, of course.

In the field of internal policies we have done the opposite, I admit, to that which others had done previously and which I believe to be rather fashionable. Indeed, decentralisation and regionalisation are talked about a lot nowadays. A policy of decentralisation or regionalisation is good in so far as each of the entities that have been created are viable, or can be made viable. But in so far as we were concerned, we found ourselves faced with a Congo which had been divided into twenty- two little provinces which were not viable, even if, from a geographical point of view, each of these entities (that are referred to locally as ‘provincettes’) represented a geographical area comparable to that of certain states which we know, but which are themselves perfectly capable of existing on their own.

It therefore very quickly dawned on us that we should rebuild national unity, through cutting down our provinces from twenty- two to eight, a figure which corresponds to our economic as much as our sociological realities.

Following our analysis of the problem with which we were confronted, we saw that one of the plagues of our community life, and the principal cause of anarchy, was the freedom which had been left to any of the twenty-one million Congolese citizens to form a political party.

This policy of allowing parties to be formed, from which each of us has suffered, was promoted by people from developed countries on the basis of what they call individual rights.

It is in the name of these rights that forty-seven political parties were created in our country of which a certain number being born in the night did not see the end of the following day, because they did not reach beyond the confines of their ethnic group or family.

But having examined the question meticulously, we have been able to comment that the harbingers of the developed countries, who like to speak about the plurality of parties and individual rights, are much less generous when they have to face up to the flowering of parties in their own national sphere.

And it is thus that the Anglo-Saxons, most of the time—and who can claim that Anglo-Saxon democracy is not true democracy?—the Anglo-Saxons, therefore, frequently show us the spectacle in their own country of only two parties. Hasn’t it ever struck you, for example, that the United States of America, who pass in the eyes of the whole world as the model of democracy, has only two political parties?

And then, doesn’t it come to mind that in our African tradition, there are never two chiefs? There is sometimes a natural heir to the chief, but can anyone tell me if he has ever known an African village where there were two chiefs?

This is the reason why, we Congolese, in our concern to conform to the traditions of our continent, have resolved to group together the energies of the citizens of our country under the banner of a single national party.

It is the same concern for authenticity which has prevented us from forming our policies according to orders from any foreign interest. In the Congo, a chief must, and this is a necessity, seek council from the wise men. He must be informed, but after taking advice and getting information, he must make up his own mind and settle the question alone, in full knowledge of the facts. For it is up to the chief to make his own decisions, to evaluate the situation and to suffer the consequences. He will only be able to do this because he himself will have given the problem due consideration It is on this condition alone—because he will have weighed up the consequences in advance and accepted full responsibility for all the risks of his choice—that the decision he takes will be honest, hence in the interests of his people and authentically democratic, according to his interpretation.

But if the chief lets a solution be imposed by someone else, this solution will always be suspect because this adviser will not have to live through nor give due consideration to the chief’s decision, and he will not, in any event, have to pay for the damage. Above all, you can always, on looking closely at this solution (which suggests a prompter), expose a personal interest, that is consequently not your own, and even less that of the people whom you have set your heart on guiding towards happiness. In other words, you will have been a marionette controlled by the strings which prompt you.

In the Congo whatever one thinks, and even if it annoys some people, we have always refused to lend ourselves to the system of marionettes, because we are, in all circumstances, guided by a single concern for the search for authenticity
In our choice of internal policies adapted to the needs of our people, we have always realised that our masses needed to have certain information relevant to their situation and a genuine social infrastructure, and that it was impossible to govern a state without the existence of one party.

We have therefore formed a national party. We have called this a ‘movement’ rather than a party because it was designed to sustain the movement of ideas drawn from our commitment to permanent action.

We have used the word ‘popular’ to qualify this movement to show our concern that it should involve the entire population. And finally, we wanted this popular movement to be the ‘popular movement of the revolution’, M.P.R.* so as to immediately publicise the new significance that we want to give to our actions, which imply a break and a change, a total break and a radical change in relation to preconceived ideas and methods, which had failed before we came to lead the Congo.

It is significant to note that even the method adopted for the creation of this movement is revolutionary.

Indeed the M.P.R. is not an amalgamation of two or more political parties, but an original movement created from the Congolese experience, this experience drawn from the anarchy caused by the plurality of political parties and by the ascendancy of imported ideologies, spread through empty slogans. We have had to wipe the slate clean of all previously existing parties.

The M.P.R. is a movement for action.

However, we have stated that unity for this action must be guaranteed, that we should make principles and hard and fast rules.

We have elaborated our doctrine from our experience, a doctrine which should respond to our concern for authenticity: we have adopted the doctrine of authentic Congolese nationalism.

Our nationalism, which is centered on the Congolese man, is an aggressive humanism, a communal humanism, an effort, even a sacrifice, in order that the national community may flourish.

This doctrine should provide for us an effective arm for fighting this plague which has spread to all African countries: the absence of national consciousness.

This difficulty for our people to feel part of a single nation is indeed understandable: national boundaries, delineated in the nineteenth century by our colonisers only respond to their own interests and did not correspond to the logic and feelings of our populations. And it is in this way that a population was often cut in two, and it was not unusual to find families divided into two different linguistic zones on both sides of the frontier. Nor was it unusual to find a mixture of ethnic groups, who did not necessarily get on well together, limited by the same frontiers. In consequence, it sometimes needed a trivial incident for problems to appear, problems which in certain situations took on the dimension of actual bloody secessions, only to the advantage of neo-colonialists.

We have, we Congolese, suffered too much from this to run such risks again: this is why we have, without the slightest delay, consecrated all our strength in forging national consciousness. And we can state that this national consciousness is today spread throughout the expanse of our vast territory.

Having resolved our problem of internal politics in this way, we undertook to define and apply a foreign policy which was and is marked with the stamp of the same realism. For these reasons, our foreign policy will have been above all a crusade of friendship. And because we are realists, our crusade of friendship has lead us first of all towards our African neighbours and brothers.

We have considered that we could not like the Chinese before liking the Central Africans, the Brazzavillians, the Sudanese, the Ugandans, the Rwandans, the Burundians, the Tanzanians, the Zambians and the Angolans. We have thus searched for a good understanding with the countries bordering our own. And these countries have, without exception, become the Congo’s friends. This is the true significance which we have always wanted to give to the idea of African brotherhood. And this significance has, happily enough, found its justification in the reciprocal attitude that our initial step has aroused among others.

We have also taken care that our foreign policy does not involve the slightest interference in the policies of others and it should be said that we were the first to understand this concern for noninterference. Indeed, we have suffered more than any other nation from outside interference in our own affairs.

Proceeding in this way, we have discovered that our policy of good neighbourliness and good relations inevitably leads to an active policy of cooperation. For how could we admit, for example, that the eighteen African and Malagasy countries associated with the European Common Market do not meet among themselves and only have provision for co-operation in the framework of this single community, unless there exists relations and markets between them?

We have therefore equally made this priority of inter-African relations the ‘leitmotiv’ of our economic contact. Obeying this principle, it seemed to us that we could only aim to have a genuine feeling of ‘African-ness’ in our contact with brother countries if we first of all became masters of our own destinies in the economic field. We therefore had to have absolute responsibility for our economy, which unfortunately had not been the case up to 1965.

We have always considered that political independence has no true content without economic independence. And I repeat, this economic independence doesn’t wish to imply living in a vacuum or retiring within oneself or even shutting the door on others, but only to live as master of the orientation of one’s economic policy. In this sense, we can say with complete modesty that we have succeeded: this economic independence exists in the Congo. The scepticism, or even pessimism engendered by our struggle for economic independence has been dispelled by the expansion that we are experiencing at the moment in all sectors of our economy, something which appeared to be unthinkable until now.

We believe then that we can say, from now on justifying ourselves through the experience acquired in the five years’ struggle for our independence of mind and economic expansion, that it would be very wrong for us Africans to consider ourselves as unfortunate men because we do not see the appendages of the notion of the so-called developed countries around us. And this is a question that I should like before ending to consider for a moment with you.

We have given ourselves the task of harmoniously achieving our development. But this concern for harmony forces us, as I interpret it, not always to follow those for whom development and happiness consist in having a television today, a colour television tomorrow, and in believing themselves obliged the day after tomorrow to curse and swear because they do not possess the latest television model, whether it be in black and white or colour, with an electronic operating system.

If these fruits of the technological age are nice to taste, they are not sufficient in themselves for our happiness. Is it not striking that precisely the most aware of the thinkers in those countries which are currently the best equipped concentrate their interest on denouncing the dangers and crimes of a technological civilisation which no longer allows man, the human, or humanism, the role which is his in a harmonious society?

One of these thinkers, the American writer Alvin Toffler,—and it’s not just by chance that he belongs to the most technologically advanced country of the modern world—has just dedicated a complete book warning his contemporaries to be on guard against what he calls the ‘shock of the future’. And he gives us Africans, through this, the opportunity to rejoice at living until now sheltered from such excesses, from these hypertrophies of material progress without any parallel spiritual development.

This shock of the future can take on the appearance of riches which leads the nouveaux riches to suicide because their lack of preparation does not allow them to see any meaning in their money. In a general manner we could say that we feel threatened each time that a change in our way of living finds us without any preliminary defence.

We do not need extensive developments to realise that I have put my finger on the danger which threatens us and our developing country, if we are not concerned to prepare our populations to assimilate the fruits of material progress, through the preservation of the spiritual heritage which we have inherited from our ancestors.

It is this concern that we are nurturing in our national Congolese party, the Mouvement Populaire de la Revolution, through action orientated precisely towards helping our citizens to assimilate innovations quickly and t& welcome the achievements of material progress painlessly.

This sensible and objective information system, systematically renouncing illusions, depends at first on the wisdom which consists in satisfying oneself with what one has, without however abandoning the desire to increase one’s belongings. While it may be true that we have not always the means to travel at supersonic speeds, it is no less true that we have not got to suffer from the harmful effects of eternal pollution!

I wish to show through this illustration that our situation in a so-called underdeveloped or developing country often carries worthwhile advantages.

We therefore have to take these things into consideration and to prepare ourselves for the twenty-first century. In choosing from among the benefits of progress, our actions call for those things which will not destroy our art of living, this way of being African that the whole world envies.

Thus we have no hesitation in Kinshasa in soon inaugurating a station for communication by satellite, because we know that it will enable us to instantly communicate with the world, without generating at the same time this atmospheric pollution which for years has been in the headlines of the newspapers of the industrialised world.

Sese Seko Mobutu - History

The Belgians left a country that was ill-equipped to govern itself - and within days of independence the Congo was threatening to split apart.

The new state was intended to have a unitary structure and be governed centrally from Leopoldville by President Joseph Kasavubu and Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.

Five days after independence, the army mutinied against the Belgian officers who still controlled it.

Less than a week later, the mineral-rich province of Katanga announced it was seceding, a move backed by Belgium and the United States.

Prime Minister Lumumba called for the help of UN troops to crush the rebellion, but the Security Council blocked the action of UN forces.

In January 1961, troops loyal to Colonel Joseph Mobutu seized, tortured and murdered Mr Lumumba.

There have been reports of Belgian and US complicity in the killing of a leader who made it clear that he was not prepared to become a puppet of Western or Soviet interests.

After several years of repeated rebellion in the north and east of the country, Mobutu seized power in a coup d'etat in 1965.

Mobutu renamed the country Zaire, and began to use the name of Mobutu Sese Seko.

He eventually became president of Zaire in 1970. It was the Mobutu regime that gave rise to the term "kleptocracy" - rule by thieves.

As Mobutu stashed much of the country's economic output in European banks, Zaire became the most notorious example of a country where state institutions came to be little more than a way of delivering money to the ruling elite.

But the politics of the Cold War ensured Western backing, with the US using Zaire as a springboard for operations into neighbouring Angola, where the US supported Unita rebels against the Soviet-backed government.

When Mobutu's soldiers threatened to rebel over unpaid wages, he would either order the printing of more banknotes to pay off the troops in a downward-spiralling currency - or simply give the soldiers to pillage to their own satisfaction.

It took the end of the Cold War - followed by the 1994 Rwandan genocide - to prompt a successful rebellion against Mobutu.

The Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front government, which took over after the genocide, was concerned that perpetrators and supporters of the mass killing were still living with impunity in the east of Zaire.

Tiny Rwanda invaded its vast neighbour to try to flush out the Hutu extremists who had committed the genocide. The corrupt and disorganised Zaire army fled before the Rwandan soldiers - who together with anti-Mobutu rebels then pushed all the way to Kinshasa.

Prominent among the rebels was Laurent Kabila, who had been active as a revolutionary in the east since the 1960s.

He was installed as president in 1997, and the country reverted to its former name of Congo.

The "Democratic Republic" tag was added to distinguish the country from its northern neighbour, though it has yet to hold an election.

A rift between President Kabila and his former Tutsi allies sparked a new rebellion in the east - backed by Rwanda and Uganda, who remain fearful of the continuing presence of Hutu militants on Congolese soil.

The country enters its fifth decade divided more or less in half, between President Kabila's forces and the rebels.

The economy is barely functional. Mobutu's siphoning of the country's wealth gave way to large-scale looting as the ageing dictator lost his grip on power in the early 1990s - and the mining industry has scarcely functioned since then.

Where Concorde once flew: the story of President Mobutu's ➯rican Versailles'

For posturing dictators, only putting a new city on the map will do. Fifty years on from Mobutu Sese Seko’s ascent to the presidency of Congo, David Smith explores what’s left of his personal Xanadu, Gbadolite

Last modified on Thu 15 Oct 2020 14.34 BST

“O ne hundred thousand trees, 20,000 tons of marble are the ingredients of Xanadu’s mountain. Contents of Xanadu’s palace: paintings, pictures, statues, the very stones of many another palace — a collection of everything so big it can never be catalogued or appraised enough for 10 museums the loot of the world . Since the pyramids, Xanadu is the costliest monument a man has built to himself.”

So trumpets a voiceover in the opening scenes of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, the story of a plutocratic newspaper baron and empire-builder: “America’s Kubla Khan”. But we have already seen that Kane is dead and his Florida folly slowly turning into a dilapidated ruin. The same fate has befallen the grandiloquent mansions of other men before and since. But never, perhaps, quite so violently and definitively as that of another journalist turned billionaire with passions for art and politics: Mobutu Sese Seko.

President Mobutu’s personal Xanadu was his birthplace, deep in the jungle of what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa and one of the world’s poorest and longest-suffering. In the early 1970s, Gbadolite was a remote village of 1,500 people living in mudbrick huts and not even marked on maps. But thanks to unlimited hubris and riches, a new town was hacked out of the tropical rainforest, with houses, schools, hospitals, municipal buildings, a five-star hotel, a 3,200m runway for the supersonic Concorde and – the pièce de résistance – three palaces of kleptocratic kitsch.

Gbadolite remains the vision of a totalitarian master builder, like Astana in Kazakhstan, Naypyidaw in Myanmar, Oyala in Equatorial Guinea and one that never got off the drawing board: Adolf Hitler’s Germania. For posturing dictators it seems the transience of power and wealth is not enough. Only putting a new city on the map, shaped in their own image, will do. Each seems determined to take the inscription on Christopher Wren’s tomb at St Paul’s Cathedral to a new level: “Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.” (If you are seeking his monument, look around you.)

This year’s 50th anniversary of Mobutu’s ascent to the presidency of Congo will be no cause for celebration. Congo had just emerged from the catastrophe of Belgian rule: King Leopold II, arguably the most egregious of all colonialists, turned it into a personal fiefdom, killing and enslaving the population to enrich himself with ivory and rubber. But when the CIA helped Belgium assassinate independence prime minister Patrice Lumumba, opportunity knocked for Joseph Desire Mobutu, who had worked as a reporter and editor before returning to the army and climbing the ranks.

In 1963 he was invited by president John F Kennedy to the White House and effectively recruited to the capitalist side in the cold war’s African battleground. Two years later he declared himself head of state, renamed his country Zaire, renamed himself Mobutu Sese Seko Koko Ngbendu wa za Banga (meaning “the all-powerful warrior who, because of endurance and an inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake”) and adopted his infamous leopard-skin hat.

The ‘African Versailles’ emerged from the remote jungle village where President Mobutu was born. Photograph: Sean Smith

America, his patron, appeared willing to bankroll or turn a blind eye to any excess. Mobutu rapidly set the tone for his rule by ordering the public hanging of four former ministers at a sports stadium for an alleged coup plot. He continued with a Machiavellian combination of murder, detention and torture on the one hand and bribery, corruption and patronage on the other. The mineral-rich nation’s coffers were looted on a mind-bending scale as Mobutu amassed an estimated fortune of $5bn and lavish properties around the world. “When he left power he was universally excoriated as Africa’s greatest kleptocrat,” noted Mobutu’s obituary in the Guardian in 1997.

Government soldiers inside Mobutu’s Gbadolite palace in 2001. Photograph: Saurabh Das/AP

There was no greater symbol of excess than Gbadolite and its palaces, for which he hired the Tunisian-born French architect Olivier Clement Cacoub and Senegal’s Pierre Goudiaby Atépa. His private palace, seven miles outside town in Kawele, brimmed with paintings, sculptures, stained glass, ersatz Louis XIV furniture, marble from Carrara in Italy and two swimming pools surrounded by loudspeakers playing his beloved Gregorian chants or classical music. It hosted countless gaudy nights with Taittinger champagne, salmon and other food served on moving conveyer belts by Congolese and European chefs.

Visiting in 1988, a New York Times journalist recorded: “At a marble-tiled terrace, voices rose from banquet tables set against a backdrop of illuminated fountains. Liveried waiters served roast quail on Limoges china and poured Loire Valley wines, properly chilled against the equatorial heat. ‘Bon appetit,’ said the 58-year-old president.”

Guests over the years reputedly included Pope John Paul II, the king of Belgium, French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros Ghali, self-declared emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central African Republic, American televangelist Pat Robertson, oil scion David Rockefeller, businessman Maurice Tempelsman and William Casey, director of the CIA.

“It was an African Versailles,” says politician Albert Moleka, who reckons $400m was spent and recalls how in 1985 France’s Gaston Lenôtre, the leading pastry chef in the world, flew in on Concorde with a birthday cake for Mobutu. “It was a big decorated cake with white cream. Another time he invited Paul Bocuse and other top chefs from Europe for a special occasion. Normally Mobutu liked traditional local food, like antelope, and fish and eels. He also had one of the best wine cellars in the world.”

Mobutu once presented Moleka, now a senior member of the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress, with a bottle of Cheval Blanc of 1928 vintage. He lost it when the president was toppled by rebel Laurent Kabila and Moleka’s home was ransacked.

The end of the cold war had left Mobutu living on borrowed time and, suffering from prostate cancer, he fled the country when Kabila’s troops marched a thousand miles to Kinshasa, the capital, in 1997. He died in Morocco shortly after, aged 66. The home of the looter-in-chief was now itself stripped bare by soldiers who smashed furniture, tore down silk wallpaper and stole everything down to the last bauble in an orgy of pillaging.

A decaying brown-and-gold gateway still marks the edge of Mobutu’s former estate. Photograph: Sean Smith

Just 18 years later, this Xanadu is a pathetic and pitiful shell, a mockery of Mobutu’s insane opulence. A decaying brown and gold gateway still stands on the edge of the grand estate opposite a cluster of small homes made from mud, wood and dried grass. Mami Yonou, 26, who lives among them, comments: “We are not happy how much Mobutu spent while local people were suffering, although he brought us gifts and clothes and money.”

Children heave rusting pieces of scrap metal to allow vehicles access, past vegetation and anthills and the control box where security staff would once have vetted visitors, up a winding drive of nearly 3km – doubtless once intended to intimidate or awe those in each Mercedes back seat. Finally, through a tunnel clad with rough red bricks, there it is: a tiered fountain in the style of Versailles that used to play instrumental music. Now the giant circular bay that once held water is dry, cracked and sprouting weeds.

Beyond it is the imposing entrance arch and, up four steps, what was once the atrium with a dozen marble-clad pillars and what was presumably another fountain with statues of lions on each corner. Only two of the forlorn big cats are still in position. Slightly off centre is a long corridor that leads to Mobutu’s old bedroom. Here the showman could proudly flick a switch and, through a hidden mechanism, panels would slide apart to reveal his bed, rising from the floor as if by magic, flanked by bronze sculptures of females named “The Sleep” and “The Wake”. Now that same alcove contains a pond of green slime.

A bed would rise up through the floor of Mobutu’s palace bedroom. Photograph: Sean Smith

The entire roof of the palace has gone, leaving only a skeleton of red steel girders punctuated by tall trees. Mattress foam, smashed marble and slivers of glass crunch underfoot. Slowly but surely, the palace is being reclaimed by the jungle. Bushes, flowers, vines, weeds, even trees shoot up through every available crevice in a living testimony to the fragility of civilisation. Hives and nests cling to the walls. From a winding marble staircase springs a single pink flower. In what is said to have been the bedroom of one of Mobutu’s sons, who was nicknamed “Saddam”, a spiky tree trunk rises higher than what used to be the ceiling.

At the back of the palace is a veranda where, in a screenwipe of imagination, one can picture dapper-suited diplomats sitting on sultry evenings, making smalltalk over a gin and tonic and watching the setting sun amid a chorus of crickets. One thing remains unchanged – the vista is stupendous: the green, tree-dotted, hilly landscape of an Africa seen in so many nature documentaries and tourist fantasies.

The old kitchens lie empty save for graffiti and ominously hanging insects. In other rooms are the twisted remnants of chandeliers, four cables dangling at crazy angles, and two shards of an Asian vase portraying a red fish. The surrounding terrain includes a toilet bowl discarded in thick grass and the rusting skeleton of a burned-out car succumbing to the embrace of a tree.

Down an overgrown staircase at one side are two swimming pools, their crumbling blue tiles again yielding to multiple flora and long grass, with algae dominating the little vestige of water. Bees buzz and make honey above the bigger one. The former garage has been gutted and coated with sharp-edged rubbish, but above, sections of a faux-classical ornamental wall are still intact.

Francois Kosia Ngama in the dried-up swimming pool at the president’s palace. His grandmother taught Mobutu’s mother. Photograph: Sean Smith

Yet the shattered palace is not quite deserted. It is still haunted by a handful of Mobutu loyalists whose parents or grandparents used to work here. They charge visitors $20 for a tour, carry out routine maintenance to prevent it turning to dust, and hope that one day the old autocrat’s children, who continue to dabble in politics, will restore it for the nation. Among them is Francois Kosia Ngama, 30, whose grandmother was a teacher to Mobutu’s mother. In its heyday, he recalls, the palace employed 700 to 800 chauffeurs, chefs, servants and other staff, plus more than 300 soldiers. There are many more rooms underground that can now longer be accessed, he says. “When I used to come here, I would feel I was in paradise. It was wonderful. Everyone would eat according to his wish.”

Remembering the days when Concorde came to town, he beams and stretches his arms wide. “It was this big. Its nose pointed up. Before it arrived, Mobutu informed everyone and sent lorries to take them to the airport.

“People were poor but at the time we couldn’t see it. We thought everyone was OK. The army was organised and well paid. There were clothes from the Netherlands and women had money to buy them. In education, teachers were on good salaries and couldn’t complain too much. Some needed big bags to carry all the money each time they were paid. Most teachers had their own means of transport but now it is not the case. Coca-Cola employed 7,000 people but now they are unemployed.”

The decline of Mobutu’s palace fills the jobless Ngama, who has been caring for it for 10 years, with sadness. “A white man from France came here and when he saw it, he wept. I take care of this place because it’s from one of our own. Although Mobutu died, he left it for us.”

This palace and two others in Gbadolite – one designed as a cluster of Chinese pagodas, the other for state business and now occupied by the military – are in terminal decline, but the town itself survives with a population of 159,000, a bustling marketplace and a sprinkling of bars and restaurants. It has more night-time brightness than many remote parts of Africa thanks to a hydro-electric dam that Mobutu built on the Ubangui river in 1989.

Gbadolite’s water ministry building was halted mid-construction and now serves as a school. Photograph: Sean Smith

Without presidential patronage, however, Gbadolite too has seen better days. The Coca-Cola bottling plant shut down and was turned into a UN logistics base. Concrete multi-storey municipal buildings were halted mid-construction and became improvised schools, breaking every health-and-safety rule in the book as they throng with children in blue and white uniforms. The once pristine Boulevard Mobutu has lost its lustre.

The compound that oversaw industry during the boom years now has a fading, almost unreadable sign and a deathly hush. Jean-Nestor Abia, 50, who has worked here since 1984, says: “We are weeping because Mobutu is no longer alive. He was like my father. I loved and worshipped him. He was not a dictator – he was a good man who wanted to unify people.

“At the palace I was at ease, I was happy. He would hold my hand and say, ‘You are a good friend of mine.’ I thought, how could I be with the president of the republic? It was exciting. He would joke with me: when I was eating, he would take my spoon and eat with it. At that time we thought Mobutu would never die. We thought he was eternal.”

Gustave Nbangu, coordinator of the once five-star Motel Nzekele. Photograph: Sean Smith

The five-star Motel Nzekele, opened in 1979 with decor to match, still has an image of Mobutu at the front gate but can only offer ghosts in its shabby reception, arid fountains and pools, red-walled bar and nightclub with exotic paintings of bare-breasted women. The empty cinema has ripped seats and holes where the projector used to be. To stay in one of the hundred rooms costs $50 a night.

The pope, the Belgian king and French president François Mitterrand all stayed here, says coordinator Gustave Nbangu, 49, explaining: “It was a beautiful hotel, five stars. It was a great centre of development. Remember this was once a jungle, a forest, with nothing here. But Mobutu was born here and when he became president he decided to build this and settle his people. He was like the father of the family.”

No one could accuse Mobutu, who brought Muhammad Ali and the eyes of the world to Kinshasa for “the rumble in the jungle”, of failing to think big. Gbadolite airport enabled him to charter Concorde, the fastest passenger plane in the world, for extravagant trips to Europe. In 2015 the vast runway, bordered by wild growing grass, welcomes only two or three tiny aircraft a week from the UN and one commercial operator. Most of the portable staircases lie idle and broken near the remnant of a helicopter engine and a row of flagless poles while, at the top of the defunct control tower, two windows lie shattered on the floor.

The mural of President Mobutu outside the mayor’s office in Gbadolite. Photograph: Sean Smith

At the check-in desk a luggage conveyor belt appears long dead, while wall paintings of topless women and muscle-bound men are peeling away. Up a stairway that lacks bannister or handrail, 25-year-old mosaics of African villages are surrounded by graffiti. At the nearby VIP arrivals lounge, uniformed soldiers camp out with music pounding from a stereo. The airport office has no record of Concorde’s flights here. The paperwork was lost for ever when the town fell and, like so much else in Gbadolite, that moment in the sun is fading into mythology.

But Mobutu survives in another image outside the mayor’s office. The painting depicts him in crisp white military tunic with cap, spectacles and green sash, his hands gripping a rail as if surveying an adoring public. Egide Nyikpingo, who has been mayor for seven years, says industry died out with Mobutu. “When I arrived in 2008 I was sad at the way the airport looked. When I drove from the airport to downtown, I felt very sick. We destroyed our most beautiful town. I still feel sad about it.”

Nyikpingo, 42, is aware of the ambiguities around Mobutu’s legacy. “He was a dictator. Everybody knows that. But the local people don’t mind the way he was behaving. They still like him. He did well when he decided to build this town, but the social conditions were not equal for everyone.”

Sculptor Alfred Liyolo sold several bronzes to the president. Photograph: Sean Smith

Seven hundred miles to the south, in Kinshasa, there are still some who remember Xanadu’s landlord fondly. Alfred Liyolo, 71, one of Congo’s leading sculptors, sold several bronzes to the palace in Gbadolite and designed a church and tomb for Mobutu’s first wife all were lost or destroyed in the looting. “He was a dictator, that’s right, but he was also a builder,” Liyolo insists. “He was a man of culture who wanted his home furnished by local artists. He was generous and allowed local artists to be known throughout the world and immortalised.

“But after his death, people destroy and don’t preserve. Today the town is just a shadow and nature has taken back its right. If I went back there today, I would feel desolation.”

Elias Mulungula, who was Mobutu’s interpreter for four years, echoes the sentiment: “If I go to Gbadolite today, I can’t avoid crying just as Jesus cried when he beheld Jerusalem.”

‘Mr Interpreter’: Mobutu’s translator Elias Mulungula, who went on to become a government minister.

Mulungula, 52, went on to become a government minister but admits: “I always feel more proud when people greet me as ‘Mr Interpreter’ than when they say ‘former minister’. Being interpreter for Mobutu was a privilege. He was a very kind leader, a gentleman. He couldn’t eat without making sure other people had eaten already. He was open and liked making jokes.”

Unswervingly devoted, Mulungula adds: “President Mobutu was a positive dictator, not a negative one. He knew what methods to use to preserve unity, security and peace for his people. You could feel at home anywhere in the Congo under Mobutu’s regime. There is no freedom without security. He understood what the people needed at the time.”

Even Mobutu’s long-time foes suggest that he was preferable to the current president, Kabila’s son Joseph, whom they accuse of corruption, human rights abuses and attempting to cling to power beyond his term limit. Joseph Olenghankoy, arrested 45 times by Mobutu’s regime and subjected to electric shocks in prison, argues: “With Mobutu we had a state, but he was a dictator. Today we don’t have a state – it’s a jungle. Kabila is killing more than Mobutu. Kabila is three times richer than Mobutu. Mobutu was respected in the international community Kabila is doing things in a wild and brutal manner.”

Olenghankoy, president of the opposition Forces for Union and Solidarity party, also expresses sorrow at the decline of Gbadolite. “Mobutu is a man, he is gone, but all these things should remain state property. The mistake of this country is they have destroyed and looted everything. They were doing that to rub out Mobutu’s memory, but the history should be preserved. The history might be positive or negative but it remains our history and we should pass it from one generation to another.”

The palace at Gbadolite is testament to the death of memory. In the final scenes of Citizen Kane, the protagonist’s childhood sledge, “Rosebud”, is thrown on a fire and lost. For Mobutu, the final surrender is to flowers, leaves and the African wilderness.

The Luxury Abacost Suit Perfected By Mobutu Sese Seko For Africans

Africa has always been a force in experimenting with clothing from the Western world. Many of us have not heard about abacost. Abacost came to Africa with a cost.

One of African’s unpopular leaders, Mobutu Sese Seko wanted something unique that have a touch of the French people. He came up with a suit that has a touch of “à bas le costume” from French. Abacost became a distinctive outfit that men started wearing in Zaire.

He promoted this suit that was light and doesn’t need a tie. However, you can wear it with a cravat. If you are a lover of the Mao suit, you may love the abacost. The Mao suit is a beautiful stylish suit that can be in short sleeved or long sleeved versions.

For our fashionistas, who want to try hands on a suit that is unique and attracts attention, abacost can be that pick. The history of abacost revolved around Seko who wanted something African and little of their colonial past.

He had banned the Western suits that come with shirt and tie. The reign of this suit was around 1972 to 1990. The suit became popular among the supporters of the leader.

Though, Seko allowed the Western suits including ties to be used in his country in the 90s but abacost was the favourite of some of the men. The suit was considered as the country’s national outfit.

Arzoni, who lived in Zellik, Belgium was the master designer who produced some of the finest abacost suits on earth. It was Arzoni’s employee, Alfons Mertens that made Seko’s suits including that of his entourage.

Now that the suit has become unpopular, you can resurrect it by making it a signature. With the thousands of designers scattered in Africa, one of them can help you recreate this Seko’s suit.
We don’t need to be celebrities before we can give our bodies an awesome fashion treat. These days, many of us are experimenting with fabrics to produce suits that are simply out of this world. If you are yet to make your mark on that red carpet, why don’t you start with a suit that no one will wear?

We love attention when it comes to outfits. Abacosts have made their mark on some of the world’s fashion stages over the years.
For those of us who have not had the opportunity of rocking this suit, the time to do that now has come. It does not matter the colour you want to use for the stylish outfit, what matters is what you do with the design.
You are the mastermind when it comes to making this suit stand out in the crowd. You can never tell how good this suit will turn out to look on you.

Mobutu Sese Seko

Mobutu Sese Seko was the dictator of the Congo from 1965 to 1997.  He was installed into power via a revolution supported by the CIA.  Why? Because the US government wanted him to fight off communists in Angola. So, Mobutu received bags and bags of US government money which went to himself while his people suffered.

Joseph-Desiré Mobutu was born in the Congo while the Belgians controlled it. As a kid, he was rebellious and was sent to a Catholic school. He was later kicked out for being too obnoxious and stealing from the library. He was forced to join the army for moving away to Leopoldville. Mobutu was somewhat disciplined during his service in the army and refused to be married in a church because of his hatred of the Catholic priests at his old school.

After Belgium granted the Congo independence, the Congo Crisis occurred and the nation was divided.  The prime minister was Patrice Lumumba, a friend of Mobutu.  Anarchy spread throughout the Congo and Lumumba asked the Soviet Union for help. Because of this, the US government declared that the real reason the USSR was aiding the Congo was to spread Communism to Africa. The president of the Congo was upset about Soviet aid too and Lumumba declared the president, Joseph Kasa-Vubu, deposed. Each one ordered Mobutu to fire the other and Mobutu was put in the spotlight of the world. The Western World wanted the Soviets expelled so Mobutu sided with them and a CIA-sponsored coup took place. Kasa-Vubu got to keep his office and all of the Soviets expelled. Lumumba was accused of being a pro-communist and fled to Stanleyville where he set up his own government. Lumumba was captured in 1960 and publicly beaten. He was murdered shortly after.

In 1961, Mobutu was promoted to major-general.

In 1965, the Congolese Parliament refused to recognize the loser of the elections as president and the country fell into disorder. Once again, Mobutu led a coup and took full control of the Congo. Parliament was destroyed and one sole political party led by Mobutu was formed. All citizens automatically become members of the party when born (No joke, look it up). The party was against communism and capitalism, but supported nationalism and militarism.

"Mobutu bucks" 1 US $ = 2,529,000 (March 1993)

Mobutu was a corrupt leader and executed all of enemies early on. During the 1970 elections, there were two choices: green for hope or red for chaos.  Mobutu won with 10,131,699 votes to 157 (Again, no joke, look it up). Mobutu supported a return to Africanism and changed the Congo's name to Zaire, the currency to the zaire (Z) and his own name to "Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga" which means "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 also disapproved of cars, but he and his friends constantly drove them and used a Concorde, compliments of Air France. Mobutu had an odd political strategy. For example, he fired his foreign minister in 1977 and sentenced him to death and to be tortured. Then, Mobutu changed his sentence to life in prison, released him a year later, and appointed him as his prime minister (Seriously, look it up).

Mobutu received a lot of money in aid, but most of it went to his pocket.  He had roughly US $5,000,000,000 in 1984. His government was known as a kleptocracy. While he had a vast fortune, the people of Zaire were famished and starving. The only reason most of the world didn't care was because Mobutu was anti-communist.

As the Cold War closed, the people of Zaire demanded elections and more political freedoms. Mobutu still kept most of his power but a coalition government was formed.

Mobutu was overthrown during the First Congo War. Soon, the rebels captured the capital of Kinshasa and Mobutu fled to Morocco. Zaire was renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He died in 1997.


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