Birthday: October 14, 1930
Died At Age: 66
Sun Sign: Libra
Also Known As: Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, Joseph-Desiré Mobutu
Born Country: Congo, Democratic Republic Of The
Born in: Lisala, Belgian
Famous as: Dictator
Spouse/Ex-: Bobi Ladawa Mobutu (m. 1980), Marie-Antoinette Mobutu (m. ?–1977)
father: Albéric Gbemani
mother: Marie Madeleine Yemo
Died on: September 7, 1997
place of death: Rabat
Cause of Death: Cancer
Who was Mobutu Sese Seko?
Mobutu Sese Seko was the military dictator who presided over the Democratic Republic of the Congo for over three decades after seizing power in 1965. His rule is best described as 'kleptocracy' with rampant corruption and nepotism plaguing all sectors. During his reign, Congo also suffered from widespread human rights violations. Mobutu’s military career began when his mischievous behaviour as a student landed him there as a punishment. In his spare time in the army, he started developing his writing skills, which soon paved the way for him to reach politically impactful position by climbing ranks. From a sergeant, he became Patrice Lumumba's secretary, and then the Army Chief of Staff. He executed two coups, which changed the political landscape of Congo with him becoming the head of the state. He changed Congo's name to Zaire, and started calling himself Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga. He accumulated vast personal wealth, estimated between $4 billion and $15 billion, to support his extravagant lifestyle while the country faced a severe economic crisis and extreme poverty. He had considerable support from the west and China. After his rule was uprooted, he fled to Morocco where he succumbed to prostate cancer. According to Transparency International, he is ranked as the most corrupt African leader and the third-most corrupt leader in the world since 1984.
Childhood & Early Life
Mobutu Sese Seko was born as Joseph-Desiré Mobutu on 14 October 1930 in Lisala, Belgian Congo, to Albéric Gbemani and Marie Madeleine Yemo. He had three siblings.
He was taught French by the wife of a Belgian judge for whom his father worked as a cook. Mobutu’s mother was a hotel maid. In 1938, he lost his father and was raised by his grandfather and uncle.
He received his earliest education in Léopoldville, but then was sent to live under the guardianship of an uncle in Coquilhatville. There he studied in a Catholic-mission boarding school, the Christian Brothers School.
As a student, Mobutu excelled at academics as well as sports. He also ran the class newspaper. Among his mates, he was known as a prankster.
After his last year at school, he was sent to provide seven years of service in the Force Publique, an internal security force of Congolese troops, as a punishment for his mischievous behaviour.
The army life made him more disciplined. In his spare time, he pursued his interest in writing and kept himself updated by reading newspapers and books, which he often borrowed from Belgian officers.
Mobutu tried his hand at journalism, and started writing pseudonymously for a Belgian colonial magazine called 'Actualités Africaines' (African News). His articles mainly focussed on contemporary politics.
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Mobutu Sese Seko quit the army in 1956, when he was serving as a sergeant, to become a full-time journalist. He began writing extensively for the Léopoldville daily ‘L'Avenir’. Two years later, he went to Belgium to receive formal training in journalism, before covering the 1958 World Exposition.
During his stay in Belgium, he met many Congolese intellectuals who were challenging the colonial rule. It is here that his political ambitions took flight.
He became Congolese politician Patrice Lumumba's personal aide after joining his party ‘Mouvement National Congolais’ (MNC). Impressed by Mobutu’s intelligence and potential, Lumumba gave him the office of Secretary of State to the Presidency when his government came to power.
Rise to Power
On June 30, 1960, Congo became independent. A coalition government was formed with Lumumba serving as the prime minister and Mobutu Sese Seko as the army chief of staff.
On September 14, 1960, a military coup headed by Mobutu overthrew Lumumba and made Kasavubu the leader. In early 1961, Mobutu was promoted to the position of the major general. The reason behind their appointments was that both the CIA and the Belgian government believed that Kasavubu and Mobutu would be more "pliable".
In 1965, Mobutu led a coup against Kasavubu, seizing power in his hands. He declared dictatorship after banning all political parties. Later, he formed his own party, the Popular Movement of the Revolution, compelling all Congolese to join it.
As a Dictator
In 1971, Mobutu Sese Seko renamed the country the Republic of Zaire. A year later, he renamed himself ‘Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Nbendu Wa Za Banga’, in short, Mobutu Sese Seko.
He released currencies, postal stamps and posters with his pictures, ensuring that he left his mark on everything Congolese. He followed nepotism and handed over all the foreign-owned firms to his relatives.
His army brutally neutralized several uprisings in Congo, and everyone who challenged his regime was publicly executed.
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Mobutu launched a number of massive centralized economic projects like building new schools and colleges, the construction of the Inga dams and the Sidérurgie de Maluku projects. He formed the National Union of Zairian Workers, dissolving all others.
Mobutu Sese Seko's military rule faced two major revolts. The first one took place in 1977 when several thousand followers of the executed secessionist politician Moïse Tshombe started an uprising against him. The second revolt happened in 1978 when well-trained rebels gave a heavy blow to Mobutu’s ill-equipped, poorly trained and disorganized army.
Mobutu was able to supress the coups after receiving timely aid, in form of manpower, logistics and material, from France, Belgium and the US.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Mobutu was rendered helpless with the deteriorating western support as the US saw no benefit in supporting his country. Congo's rising economic problems and internal political disturbances only added to his woes. Under immense pressure, he ended the ban on political parties.
Between 1996 and 1997, Tutsi and other rebels launched separate and combined rebellions. They took Mobutu’s army and Kinshasa, the capital, under their control.
Mobutu fled to Morocco, where he took a permanent residence. Already suffering from prostate cancer, his health began to deteriorate. He died on September 7, 1997, and was buried in the Christian cemetery 'Pax' in Rabat.
Awards & Achievements
Mobutu Sese Seko's son-in law Pierre Janssen wrote a book on him called 'A la cour de Mobutu'. The book that throws light on his lifestyle and philosophies was published in 1997 by Michel Lafon.
He was the subject of Thierry Michel's documentary 'Mobutu, King of Zaire', released in 1999.
Mobutu’s character featured in Leon Gast's documentary 'When We Were Kings' (1996), Barbara Kingsolver's novel 'The Poisonwood Bible' (1998) and Raoul Peck's feature film 'Lumumba' (2000).
William Close, his personal physician, wrote a book, 'Beyond the Storm: Treating the Powerless & the Powerful in Mobutu's Congo/Zaire' (2006), focusing on his service in Zaire.
Family & Personal Life
Mobutu Sese Seko's first wife, Marie-Antoinette Mobutu, died on October 22, 1977, due to heart failure. She was 36 when she passed away in Genolier, Switzerland. On May 1, 1980, he married his mistress Bobi Ladawa, while also keeping her twin sister as a mistress.
In total, he had at least 21 children. However, within an interval of 12 years, his family lost him and four of his sons. Nzanga Mobutu Ngbangawe, his son from his second wife now heads the family. Nzanga served as a minister in the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 2007 to 2011.
While Congo was suffering from debt and inflation in 1974, Mobutu Sese Seko spent more than $10 million on a boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. This historic event is known as ‘Rumble in the Jungle'.
One of his fascinations was flying to Paris via expensive supersonic airliner Concorde for shopping.
His new name Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga means “an all-powerful warrior who will go from conquest to conquest and win them all due to his endurance and unwavering will to win.”
He started wearing a leopard skin hat when he became the head of the state.