Mobutu Sese Seko

President of Zaire

President of Zaire—now known as CONGO (KINSHASA)—from 1965 to 1997, Mobutu Sese Seko ruled as a dictator. His regime gained a reputation for corruption and mismanagement. Despite Zaire's rich natural resources, the nation suffered a serious economic decline under Mobutu's rule.

Born Joseph Desire Mobutu in the Belgian colony of Congo, Mobutu was educated in missionary schools and entered the army in 1950. When the Congo gained its independence in June 1960, he was appointed head of national defense. During a struggle between the nation's top leaders, Joseph Kasavubu and Patrice LUMUMBA, Mobutu seized power. After a few months Mobutu turned the government over to Kasavubu, who named him commander in chief of the nation's armed forces.

In November 1965, Mobutu seized power again. This time he declared himself president and began establishing tight control over the country. He outlawed opposing political parties, set up a centralized government, and nationalized certain industries. He took steps to “Africanize” the nation by renaming it Zaire, and changed his own name to Mobutu Sese Seko.

For a time it appeared that Mobutu had stabilized Zaire's economy and was encouraging development. However, by 1975 the nation had begun a long and steady decline. Groups opposed to Mobutu staged coups to remove him from office, but they were unsuccessful. As opposition grew in the early 1990s, Mobutu was forced to allow multiparty elections in Zaire. In 1997, seriously threatened by rebel forces, he finally relinquished power and fled the country.

Mobutu Sese Seko