Terror in African Leadership: Dark days of Joseph (-Desire) Mobutu — Nigerian Pilot News
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Terror in African Leadership: Dark days of Joseph (-Desire) Mobutu

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Leadership has been a major problem across the African continent and has continued to plunge the continent into precarious situations, as well as ravaged the economies of the countries they lead.
When discussing the unfortunate plight of most African countries under bad leadership, names such as those of Idi-Amin of Uganda, Charles Taylor of Liberia, Macias Nguema, former president of Guinea and a host of others come to mind.
In view of the same discourse, the reign of former president of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko, becomes reminiscent recluse to the agony and torture that was experienced by the citizens of the country under his oppressive reign.
Born on October 14, 1930 and originally called Joseph (-Désiré) Mobutu, who fully overthrew the democratically elected government of Patrice Lumumba in 1965, enjoyed the full support of the people of Zaire who soon later got disillusioned by the economic and socio-political turned down within the country.
Now called the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Mobutu, named Joseph-Désiré Mobutu at birth, was the second president of Zaire. Mobutu in 1958, 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.
Mobutu developed a totalitarian regime, amassed vast personal wealth, and attempted to purge the country of all colonial cultural influence. At the same time, he was given considerable support by the West and China, owing to his strong anti-Soviet stance. He was the object of a pervasive cult of personality, using the media to spread propaganda. During his reign, Mobutu amassed a large personal fortune through economic exploitation and corruption, leading to some calling his rule “kleptocracy”. The nation suffered from uncontrolled inflation, a large debt, and massive currency devaluations.
Early in his rule, Mobutu consolidated power by publicly executing political rivals, secessionists, coup plotters, and other threats to his rule. To set an example, many were hanged before large audiences. Such victims included former Prime Minister Evariste Kimba, who, with three cabinet members—Jérôme Anany (Defense Minister), Emmanuel Bamba (Finance Minister), and Alexandre Mahamba (Minister of Mines and Energy) was tried in May 1966, and sent to the gallows on 30 May, before an audience of 50,000 spectators. The men were executed on charges of being in contact with Colonel Alphonse Bangala and Major Pierre Efomi, for the purpose of planning a coup. Mobutu explained the executions as follows: “One had to strike through a spectacular example, and create the conditions of regime discipline. When a chief takes a decision, he decides – period.”
In 1968, Pierre Mulele, Lumumba’s Minister of Education and a rebel leader during the 1964 Simba Rebellion, was lured out of exile in Brazzaville on the belief that he would receive amnesty. Instead, he was tortured and killed by Mobutu’s forces. While Mulele was still alive, his eyes were gouged out, his genitals were ripped off, and his limbs were amputated one by one.
Mobutu later gave up torture and murder, and switched to a new tactic, buying off political rivals. He used the slogan “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer still” to describe his tactic of co-opting political opponents through bribery. A favourite Mobutu tactic was to play “musical chairs”, rotating members of his government, switching the cabinet roster constantly to ensure that no one would pose a threat to his rule. Another tactic was to arrest and sometimes torture dissident members of the government, only to later pardon them and reward them with high office.
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.
In 1972, Mobutu tried unsuccessfully to have himself named president for life. In May 1983 he raised himself to the rank of Marshal; the order was signed by General Likulia Bolongo. Victor Nendaka Bika, in his capacity as Vice-President of the Bureau of the Central Committee, second authority in the land, addressed a speech filled with praise for President Mobutu.
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 and banished Joseph-Désiré Mobutu who died from prostate cancer on September 7, 1997, in Morocco.
Coined from Dr. Joshua Agbo’s ‘How Africans Underdeveloped Africa

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