PEOPLE, POWER AND POLITICS: Recalling Mobutu Sese Seko Tyrannical Rule.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been on the world’s spotlight for many reasons, both good and bad. The large and expansive country in the of Africa is headquartered in Kinshasa. People in Congo speak French, Kikongo, Lingala, Shiluba and Swahili. It boasts of a massive 84 million people as per the 2018 population census. Congo has had a violent past, with its leaders taking over power only to be ousted in bloody coups. One particular leader stood out in DRC, Mobutu Sese Seko. In 1965, Mobutu as the Army Chief of Staff took over power after a successful coup that toppled Lumumba’s government. Later in 1971, he renamed the country Zaire from being called the Republic of Congo. His stance against communism made him an ally to the US, especially during the cold war. He ruled through his party, the Popular Movement of the Revolution, in a single party state. His dictatorial rule lasted from 1965-1997. President Mobutu, always seeking global glory and spending government funds with no caution, hosted Mohamed Ali historical fight against George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle fight held in 1974 in Kinshasa. Each fighter was paid $5 million for appearance only.

Former DRC strongman Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, who ruled between 1965-1997.

Other than the bloody wars and controversial politics in Congo, the vast central African country is rich with natural resources, from rubber, minerals and indigenous forests, DRC has it all. Congo has the second largest river in the world in Congo River. The vast tropical Congo forest is full of wild life, from over 10,000 species of tropical plants to chimpanzees, gorillas, lions and forest elephants. Precious minerals consisting of diamonds, copper, cobalt, gold, tin ore and oil are found deep in the Congo Basin which can be mined. One of the reasons for constant violent chaos in Congo is the vested interest of those who control portions of these areas, where they mine and sell the minerals for personal gain. Many consider the rich minerals to be Congo’s biggest curse. Secession, corruption, deadly disease outbreaks, unending conflicts, wars and poverty has been the order of the day.

This is the dilemma Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga found himself during his rule, and eventual downfall in 1997, and into exile. His totalitarian regime was riddled with corruption and plundering of the national resources. Zaire then was crippled with human rights violation, uncontrolled inflation, massive national debt, currency devaluations. During his reign, he amassed massive worth of wealth for himself up to a tune of over $ 15 billion. As a typical African leader who wanted to create his own legacy that would outlive him, Mobutu Sese Seko built a city in the bush, away from civilization. Gbadolite, located in the Northern Zaire, was situated 12 km south of the Ubangi River towards the border with Central African Republic. Gbadolite, the capital of Nord-Ubangi Province was his home and residence, and he wanted it to have all comforts anyone in power could imagine. He envisioned a mall, supermarkets, libraries, colleges and even an airport which were symbols of modernization. The airport once or twice saw the landing and taking off of the iconic jet liner, the Concorde. In an ambitious project of modernization, Mobutu embarked on financing the building of his luxurious town deep in the jungle.

Ruins of Mobutu’s expensive palace in Gbadolite, a luxurious town deep in the jungle.

To generate power for the town and its residents, he build a dam could generate HEP from the Ubangi River. 3 Palaces with luxurious accommodation were developed near the Gbadolite Airport. They were used to host Mobutu that could accommodate important state guests. The town quickly developed and became a busy economic hub, with jobs available in the various companies that operated there. There were corporations that specialized in real estate and farming inputs production. The General Hospital in the town was high tech and supermarkets and malls that were of international standards. Mobutu ensured everything was catered for as far as creating a modern civilization was concerned. He brought quality education to Gbadolite, by facilitating the development and administering of a primary, private secondary and college learning institutions that had state of the art facilities. He also built a nuclear bunker, the biggest in Africa that could accommodate 500 people which had a secret tunnel connected to the Ubangi River. Unfortunately, the ambitious projects and the equally ambitious modern town in the middle of nowhere, which had been named the Versailles of the Jungle was looted and destroyed when he was exiled in 1997. What remains are ruins, of what was and what would have been.

Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga had groomed his son Nyiwa to succeed him from power as President, but he died in 1994 due to AIDS. He had over 21 children with one of his sons, Nzanga Mobutu Nbangawe, now a politician, being the head of the family and having contested in the 2006 DRC presidential elections. In the over 3 decades he was in power, Mobutu senior displayed open nepotism, extreme show of power, opulence and exploitation of the government’s and western backed IMF support for own gain. His strong stand against communism made him not to visit the Russia even once is his time in power, based on his strong pro-American stances. While he was away in Switzerland for treatment against prostate cancer, Laurent Kabila, leader of Alliance of Democratic Forces supported by Museveni’s and Kagame’s foreign armed forces launched an offensive rebellion against his regime. The match to Kinshasa went unopposed as Mobutu’s army crumbled and offered little resistance. Eventually, amidst failed peace talks between him and Kabila mediated by S. Africa’s President Nelson Mandela, Mobutu fled to exile in Togo, then Morocco. He later died in Morocco, aged 66 years due to advanced prostate cancer. It was his last wish for his family to cremate his body and scatter his ashes over the DRC, where he once ruled with an Iron fist.

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