HISTORY TANK

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MOBUTU SESE SEKO

There is a Lingala jam known as Candidat na biso Mobutu sang by the legendary Lingala maestro L’Okanga La Ndju Pene Franco Luambo Luanzo Makiadi. Generally, this is what we call good music. The song has remained a hit since it was produced in 1984. People of all ages identify with it. If asked, I’d say that it is by far my favorite Lingala. Probably before you continue reading, let me give you a break so that you can search it up in your music app. Trust me you will have it playing everytime. Forget Donda. You realized how soothing that music is during the break? A syncopated rythm, slow down tempo, rich harmony and staccato melody punctuate this 26 minute production of TP OK Jazz Band. However, I am sure you do not know the story behind the song.

In 1984, current day Democratic Republic of Congo, then known as Zaire was having General Elections. Incumbent Mobutu Sese Seko sensing unpopularity requested the lingala maestro Franco to compose him a propaganda song. The song’s tittle means Mobutu our candidate.The front of the LP sleeve shows the signature image of Mobutu; he wore a leopard skin toque, an abacost and he raised his walking stick. At the back of the sleeve, there were words of praise describing Mobutu as a clairvoyant guide. It goes without say that Mobutu won that election with a landslide, whether this was due to the convincing tone of Franco or the mischief of the incumbent is a matter left to the court of public opinion. So let us delve a bit into Mobutu as a person.

Mobutu Sese Seko Koko Ngbenda Wa za Banga was born Joseph Desire Mobutu in 1930. He studied in local missionary schools before joining the Belgian Congolese Army Force Publique. He served in the colonial army until 1956 when he was dismissed. After the discharge, he became a reporter of a local daily L’ Avenir. Through his press duties, he met Congo nationalist Patrice Lumumba who recruited him into his party Mouvement National Congolais in 1958. When Congo was granted independence from Belgium in 30th, June 1960, Mobutu was made the State secretary of Defence by the government led by Joseph Kasavubu as President and Patrice Lumumba as the Prime Minister. Just a week after independence, the army staged a mutiny and it is largely believed that Mobutu influenced this. Soon after, a power struggle between President Kasavubu and Premier Lumumba began. Mobutu openly supported Kasavubu. In 1961, Kasavubu made Mobutu the Commander in Chief of The Armed Forces. It is by this role that it is believed that Mobutu had a hand in the brutal murder of Patrice Lumumba. In 1965, another power struggle began between President Kasavubu and his new Premier Moise Tshombe. Mobutu, being the cunning man he was; used this to his advantage , overthrowing President Kasavubu, marking the beginning of a 32 year rule that ended just as it began-through a coup.

As President, Mobutu Africanized all names. He renamed the country Republic of Zaire from Democratic Republic of Congo. He also changed his name from Joseph Desire Mobutu to Mobutu Sese Seko Koko Ngbendu Wa Za Banga translated to mean “The all powerful warrior who because of his endurance and inflexible will to win , will go from conquest to conquest , leaving fire in his wake. During his rule, he froze the opposition and his party, Mouvement Populaire de la Revolution was the only party in Zaire until 1990. In fact he was the only candidate for presidency in the 1970 and 77 elections. His reign was characterized with massive human rights violations, throwaway corruption, poor development records and little development in infrastructure. He faced serious rebellion from exiled Congolese, farmers, ethnic groups and endless insurgencies from Angola. In all this, Mobutu amassed vast wealth becoming one of the richest Presidents in the world. For example, he spent more than$100 million to construct a luxurious palace complex for himself in Gbadolite , a village he hailed from, deep inside the Congo Forest, 1000 km from the capital Kinshasa. The palace was featured with a vast swimming pool, a gold topped fence and an international airport where his private Concorde used to land. His children used to school in prestigious schools in Paris, France. They were flown to Paris every morning, and flown back to Zaire every evening using the Concorde. When Mobutu was forcefully driven out of power by rebels in 1997, the palace was looted and now it stands as ruins, though it is still a major tourist destination. In May 1997, Laurent Kabila who was a rebel leader toppled the government of Mobutu, forcing him to flee the country into exile. Curtains fell on the life of the strongman Mobutu in September 1997, in Morocco, where he had sought assylum. He was buried in a simple cemetery in Rabat, a large contrast to his opulence lifestyle.

Photos courtesy.