Mobutu Sese Seko Koko Ngbendu wa za Banga

▪ 1998

      Zairean politician (b. Oct. 14, 1930, Lisala, Belgian Congo—d. Sept. 7, 1997, Rabat, Mor.), as president of Zaire for nearly 32 years, ruled with absolute power. During his reign he took full advantage of the backing he received from the West, which viewed him during the Cold War as a guardian against communism. He amassed a personal fortune worth billions of dollars at the expense of the country's treasury and natural resources. The term kleptocracy was coined to define his despotic regime, which left the country in a shambles. Mobutu's education in missionary schools was followed by military service; he rose to the rank of sergeant major while working as a clerk and a journalist. Discharged in 1956, he found work as a journalist, first for the newspaper L'Avenir in Léopoldville (now Kinshasa) and then for the radical weekly Actualités Africaines, where he served as editor. In 1958 Mobutu joined Patrice Lumumba's Congolese National Movement, and when Lumumba became (1960) prime minister of the newly independent Congo in a coalition government with Pres. Joseph Kasavubu, Mobutu was named secretary of state for national defense. During a power struggle between Lumumba and Kasavubu at a time that the copper-rich Katanga (now Shaba) province was attempting to secede, Mobutu took over the government for a few months but then returned control to Kasavubu and was named commander in chief of the armed forces. Lumumba was killed during this time. In 1965 Mobutu staged a coup, installed himself as president, and set about consolidating his power. He nationalized businesses and industries, outlawed all political parties but his Popular Movement of the Revolution, and Africanized place names, including changing the country's name to Zaire. Over the following years, as neglect, mismanagement, and corruption caused the country's infrastructure to collapse, Mobutu was able to survive attempted coups, invasions, and other challenges to his rule with the aid of Western powers. In 1990, however, with the Cold War over and those powers' support waning, he was forced to allow multiparty elections. Though he was able to remain in power, opposition grew, and ethnic violence in Rwanda and a resultant influx of refugees further undermined his government. In 1996 Mobutu underwent cancer treatment in Switzerland, and in his absence the rebel forces of Laurent Kabila were able to seize ever-larger amounts of territory. In May 1997 Mobutu abandoned the country to Kabila and went into exile in Morocco.

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Universalium. 2010.

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