Mobutu Sese Seko (Joseph Désiré Mobutu) was born on October 14, 1930, in Lisbala, the son of a servant of a local magistrate. Mobutu Sésé Seko was president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was also known as Zaire for much of his reign, from 1965 to 1997.
He served in the country’s army and later became a journalist. Through press contacts, he met several influential politicians and was eventually appointed to high positions. He died in exile in 1997.
A member of a Ngbandi ethnic minority group, he went to local missionary schools where he spent seven years before being expelled in 1950 and sent to the military.
His command of French helped his progress and he joined the army’s school for non-commissioned officers, where he made many useful contacts. Eventually, he reached the rank of sergeant major, the highest then available to Africans. He also wrote for local newspapers in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) under a pseudonym.
He was discharged in 1956 and became a reporter for the Leopoldville newspaper l’Avenir. Helped by a Belgian editor named Pierre Davister, he edited the weekly Actualités Africaines.
Through his press contacts, he met Patrice Lumumba, the then leader of the Mouvement National Congolais, and in early 1960, he represented Lumumba at a conference on the fate of the soon-to-be-independent Congo, where he championed Lumumba’s plan for a centralised state.
After independence in 1960, Lumumba became prime minister and made Mobutu secretary of state for national defence.
Mobutu used his power to gain allies within the army and they later helped him to seize power in a military coup that ousted Lumumba.
In 1961 he handed power to president Kasavubu, retaining the post of commander in chief of the army where he consolidated his position before naming himself president following another coup in 1965. He banned all political parties other than his own, the Mouvement Populaire de la Revolution.
He sought popularity by appointing civilians to government posts and tried to encourage economic development. He eliminated political opposition and ran unopposed in a show election in 1970. No elections were held thereafter.
Throughout 1971 and 1972, calling for “authenticisation”, he changed the name of the country to Zaire, changed his own name to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga (the cock that leaves no hen unruffled), and decreed that all citizens should choose African names for themselves.
Western powers including America and France gave him financial and military backing aid, seeing him as a bar to the spread of Communism in Africa. This helped him stay in power in spite of the growing poverty and violence in the country.
In 1990, under increasing popular pressure, he ended the ban on political parties. A transitional government was set up, but he retained most of his power. His regime weakened and was toppled in 1997 by Laurent-Desiré Kabila and Rwandan troops.
He died in exile in Rabat, Morocco on September 7, 1997.
- Joseph Désiré Mobutu Biography (Biography / Telegraph)