Congo, Democratic Republic of the: The Mobutu Regime
The Mobutu Regime
In late 1966, Mobutu abolished the office of prime minister, establishing a presidential form of government. Léopoldville, Stanleyville, and Elisabethville were given African names (Kinshasa, Kisangani, and Lubumbashi, respectively), thus in effect beginning the campaign for “African authenticity” that became a major policy of Mobutu in the early 1970s. (In 1971 the country was renamed Zaïre, as was the Congo River; in 1972, Katanga was renamed Shaba—largely in an attempt to destroy the region's past association with secession—and Mobutu dropped his Christian names and called himself Mobutu Sese Seko, while advising other Zaïreans to follow suit.) By the end of the 1960s, the country enjoyed political stability, although there was intermittent student unrest.
The government was firmly guided by Mobutu, who headed the sole (from 1970) political party, the Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR). In 1970, Mobutu, the sole candidate, was elected to a seven-year term as president. In the early 1970s he centralized the administration of the nation, encouraged the participation of foreign firms in the economic development of the country, improved relations with neighboring independent countries, and maintained good relations with the West while establishing (1972) full diplomatic relations with China. In 1973, Mobutu nationalized many foreign-owned firms in the attempt to reduce unemployment; however, the nation remained dependent on volatile world copper prices. Mobutu forced European investors out of the country in 1974 but invited them back (unsuccessfully) in 1977.
In addition to economic decline in the 1970s, the government had to contend with increasingly active political opposition. Mobutu's policy of giving members of his own ethnic group (the Ngbanda) jurisdiction over security matters led to ethnic conflicts and a succession of coup attempts between 1975 and 1978. Opposition parties grew in number and in size; one of these, the Front Libération Nationale du Congo (FNLC), organized Katangese refugees forced out of the country by Mobutu. The FNLC, working from its base in Angola, launched a rebellion in the Katanga region but was repulsed after the intervention of French, Belgian, and Moroccan troops.
Promising political reforms, the government made superficial changes to satisfy foreign aid donors, but the detention of dissidents and violent clashes between soldiers and students continued. In the early 1980s opposition groups were organized in exile and formed alliances in the hopes of overthrowing Mobutu. In 1989 the country defaulted on a loan from Belgium, resulting in the cancellation of development programs and increased deterioration of the economy. In 1990, Mobutu announced an end to single-party rule and appointed a transitional government. However, he reserved for himself the position of head of state “above all political parties” and kept substantial power in his own hands.
Sections in this article:
- Government and Ongoing Instability
- Rebellion and Civil War
- The Mobutu Regime
- Independence and Conflict
- The Independence Movement
- The Belgian Congo
- The Congo Free State
- European and Arab Contacts
- Early History
- Land and People
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