Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Great Plunderer: Mobutu Desire Sese Seko, Zaire.

How the cold war waxed Zaire.
American CIA and Belgium forces propped Joseph Desire Mobutu to power fast on 14th September 1960 and later in 1965 as the absolute president.
The two countries felt jittery when Patrice Lumumba sought the eastern bloc; Russia and Czechoslovakia support against Moise Tshombe and Mobutu. Primarily Belgian, colonizers were interested in Zaire resources while USA had cold war interests.
The two countries later plotted the assassination of Lumumba when the eastern bloc intervened on 15th August 1965.
President Eisenhower regarded Lumumba a maddog and ordered CIA to plan his elimination on 26th August. CIA director Allen Dulles authorized Kinshasa chief Lawrence Devlin to use $100,000 for Lumumba's assassination which was to be ‘urgent and a prime objective’.

CIA scientist Dr. Sidney Gottlieb designed an assassination kit of poison intended to be placed on Lumumba’s toothbrush. It expired before the material day.
Mobutu used to answer directly to CIA chief Devlin when he was an army officer and the president to spy on fellow countrymen.
Lumumba was captured by Mobutu’s forces and beaten badly. Mobutu scrutinized him with malicious air, spat on his face and said:

“Well! You swore to have my skin, now it is I who has yours”.

On 18th January 1976 Lumumba and two accomplishes were taken by Moise Tshombe, Belgian policemen and their commissioner. Under the command of a Belgian officer they were shot by a firing squad and buried in graves.

Afraid of their involvement on the deaths the Belgians unearthed the corpses, chopped them in bits and charred them in a barrel full of sulphuric acid. Their skulls, bones and teeth were grounded and the ashes scattered. A tale was rumored that Lumumba and his accomplishes had been killed by ‘patriotic villagers’.

With the deed over, the western world turned to Mobutu calling him ‘a friendly tyrant’ who had western interest at heart. The CIA used Zaire as a base to spy on its neighbors especially Angola. US aided UNITA forces led by Jonas Savimbi to fight the Angolan government backed by Cuba and Russia.

The pain of the cold war still lingers between Angola and DRC to date. Cabinda secessionists group is aided by DRC, and Angola blamed DRC for changing the border of oil and diamond rich region on December last year.

When Angolan backed rebels tried to overthrow Mobutu in 1977 & 78 the west swiftly came to his aid. In 23 years of mobutu misrule the US aid was $860 million despite the worsening economy. Through flattery president Nixon led the west to invest $2 billion for resources of copper, cobalt, industrial diamond and other minerals by 1974.

On the same year, despite mobutu tyranny US propped the image of Zaire further by organizing world heavyweight boxing match between Mohammad Ali and George Foreman dubbed ‘rumble in the jungle’

Mobutu consolidated power to strengthen his rule. He hanged four former cabinet ministers in public attended by 50,000 spectators for being opponents.

“In our African tradition, there are never two chiefs. Can anyone tell me that he have known a village that has two chiefs?”

He started and become the sole leader of movement populaire de la Revolution (MPR), the only political party in Zaire with ‘mobutuism’ ideology where deviation was a constitutional offence.

To built national spirit mobutu used personal power by decree to change western names to African. The name Congo was changed to Zaire. Towns with western names were changed too: Leopoldville to Kinshasa, Elizabethville to Lubumbashi, Stanleyville to Kisangani and Katanga to Shaba.

On equal measure Christian names were dropped for African and any priest caught baptizing Zairian children with Christian names were sentenced to five years imprisonment.

He changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngendu Wa Za Banga which in his Ngbendu tribe meant: “’the warrior who knows no defeat because of his endurance and inflexible will and is all powerful;, leaving fire in his wake as he goes from conquest to conquest.” A more succinct translation in Tshiluba meant ‘invincible warrior; cock who leaves no chick intact’.

European suits were banned too. Men wore a collarless Mao-style tunic without shirt or tie called abscot. The abscot became Mobutu’s personal trademark worn with a leopard skin hat and thick, black framed glasses.

Mobutu built a personality cult. His deeds were praised in songs and dances as the ‘father of the nation’ ‘savior of the people’ ‘supreme combatant’ and ‘great strategist’. Officials in his government had to wear badge with his miniature portrait.

His personality cult took a religious twist. Before and after every TV News there was an image of Mobutu descending, as it were, from heaven. Places where he had worked and lived became pilgrimage points: high places of meditation. His interior minister Engulu Baanga Mpongo once told party faithfuls:

“God has sent a great prophet, our prestigious guider Mobutu. The prophet. Our liberator, our messiah. Our church id MPR. Its chief is Mobutu. We respect him as one respects a pope. Our gospel is mobutuism. This is why the crucifixes must be replaced by the image of our messiah.”

Mobutu’s personal wealth was unusurped by any African tyrant. In 1973 he seized 2,000 foreign owned enterprises- farms, plantations, ranches and factories. The seizure benefited his family and cronies who were given orders like ’you have been allocated’ and ‘the state authorize you t take possession of.. .’

Mobutu controlled the central bank where he channeled money to his personal Swiss accounts. He controlled mining by filling planes with copper and cobalt for personal use. US House of Representatives heard in ’81 that mobutu sold 2,000 ton of copper worth 35M for personal use.

In a country ravaged by poverty mobutu owned three quarters of ranch cattle and produced a quarter of cocoa and rubber in Zaire. His firms become third largest employer. Within 15 years Mobutu was worth more than $5Billion, a sum larger than Zaire’s $3billion debt.

Mobutu bought houses, apartments and estates in Europe, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Morocco and Brazil. He had a three storey luxury cruiser, Kamanyola, to entertain guests. In Zaire he hard three expensive villas in Kinshasa and a $100 million palace in Gbadolite.

The palaces had private zoos, several lakes and gardens, a nuclear shelter and a private airport for his supersonic concord.

To maintain power Mobutu had to bribe his opponents starting a wave of kleptocracy. Consequently it lead to massive inflation, fuel shortage and failing civil servants. 40% of government expenditure was looted while ‘ghost workers’ existed with their salary being pocketed by senior civil servants.
Mobutu had advice for his greedy ministers:

“If you steal , do not steal too much at a time. You may be arrested. Yibana Mayele- steal cleverly, little by little.”

In ’79 an economist sent to revamp the economy, Erwin Blumenthal, had to sleep with a shotgun and a radio to call West German and American embassies when he was threatened by armed men. The problem started when he gave a list of 50 plundering companies owned by Mobutu’s cronies to be investigated against corruption charges.

“Convectional wisdom said that besides Mobutu and his family there are only 80 people who count in Zaire” Blaine Harden, American journalist noted. “At one time, twenty are ministers, twenty are in exile, twenty are in jail, twenty are ambassadors. Every three Mobutu the music stops and Mobutu shuffles the park.”

Shuffling was a method to neutralize his enemies, mobutu said:

“My father used to say ‘keep your friends close, but your enemies closer still’ leaving people in exile was a danger, they were making a lot of noise. The game was to neutralize their capacity to damage them"

Moise Tshombe nephew Nguza Karl-I-Bond was a good example.

He was a foreign minister in ’74 and ’79. He paid the foreign press to mention him a possible successor of Mobutu. He was accused of involvement with the rebel group, charged with treason, tortured and sentenced to death in ’78. He was imprisoned and made prime minister (’79). Nguza went in exile (’81) where he made noise about Mobutu’s regime. He returned in fold, ’85, made a foreign minister and prime minster again.

Use of Zaire as a CIA base to spy on Angola brought tension in the region. Mobutu end came when he got involved in Rwanda's politics by supporting the Hutu rebels.

“The big mistake of Mobutu was to involve himself in Rwanda.’ Yoweri Museveni said “so it’s really Mobutu who initiated the programme of his own removal. Had he not involved himself in Rwanda, I think he could have stayed.”

Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Angolan forces outset Mobutu by placing Joseph Kabila as president on 17th may 1977.
The western world deserted him.

Three days before Kabila’s inauguration an elite presidential guard from his Ngbendu tribe mutinied against him. He escaped with his family on a cargo plane belonging to Jonas Savimbi, an Angolan rebel he supported, with bullets ripping into the fuselage as it took of.

He died in exile in Morocco bitter and resentful at the betrayal of his cronies and the US.

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