Belgian Congo History: Mobutu Era (1965-97)

Figure 1.--Here we see Kinshasa childtn participating in the independence Day parade. The photograph is dated July 2, 1975 but may have been taken June 30. It was just befote Mobutu seized contro of the country. The press caption read, "Congo children march past their President: Hand-in-hand, Congolese children walk past the reviewing stand in Leopoldville [Belgian colonial name for Kinshasa] during a parade to celerate five years of independence. On the dias were President Kasavubu. Mr. Tshombe, the Prime Minister, and other Government leaders. The pick of the Congolese Army marched past."

Independence resulted in 5 years of instabilityd. Amid the contunuing chaos, Army head Gen. Joseph-Desiré Mobutu had been biding his time and strengthening the Army and building his control over it. Finally he strikes and a still unsable government. He executes a well-planned coup, dismisses Kasavubu, and takes control from the weak government as a new president (October 1965). Thus began a 30-year dictatorship. Mobutu nationalized the Union Minière. Mobutu renamed the country 'Zaire'. Mobutu as dictator began using the country’s resources for his own personal agrandizement. Mobutu rapidly puts in place the apparatus of dictatorship, forming in 1966 the MPR (Mouvement Populaire de la Révolution) as the only permitted political party. He also sets about asserting the African identity of his nation. The colonial capital, Léopoldville, becomes in 1966 Kinshasa. Five years later the nation itself acquires an appealing new name, Zaire (relating to the Congo because it derives from an African word for river). He built lavish plasure palaces in every Congo province. Mobutu eliminated opposition using the Army and secret police. He was thus able to win the next election (1970). He cemented his dictarorship (1975). He nationalized much of the economy, banned religious instruction in schools, and decreed the adoption of African names. He changed the country's name to Zaire and his own to Mobuto Sese Seko--which meant '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'. Rebel forces massing in northern Angola calling themselves the Congolese National Liberation Front pushed into Shaba (Katanga), threatened the important mining center of Kolwezi (1977). France and Belgium provided military aid to th Congolese Army, allowing them to defeat the rebels. Mobutu according to a 1984 estimate is said go have amassed $4 billion U.S. dollars in personal Swiss bank accounts. Most of the money cane from Congolese state mining companies. Mobutu ruled until his regime was finally ovrrthrown by Laurent Desire Kabila with the backing of Rwanda and Uganda forces (1997). He died shortly after. He has ammased vast wealth in Swiss bank accounts while the Congo and its people lived in poverty, repression, and chaos. .


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Created: 2:32 AM 7/16/2019
Last updated: 2:32 AM 7/16/2019