Mobutu dies in exile in Morocco
Ruled Zaire with iron grip for 3 decades
September 7, 1997
Web posted at: 10:55 p.m. EDT (0255 GMT)
RABAT, Morocco (CNN) -- Mobutu Sese Seko, who held an iron
grip on Zaire during his more than three decades in power,
died Sunday, less than four months after he was forced into
exile. He was 66.
The former president of what is now called the Democratic
Republic of Congo died at about 9:30 p.m. (2130 GMT) at a
military hospital in the Moroccan capital of Rabat, according
to a report from the Moroccan news agency MAP. He had been
hospitalized there since early July.
Hospital workers, speaking on condition of anonymity,
confirmed the report of Mobutu's death to The Associated
The cause of death was described as a "long illness." Mobutu
had reportedly been suffering from advanced prostate cancer
and had traveled to Europe for medical treatment during the
last year of his rule.
Mobutu fled from what was then called Zaire in May after
forces led by rebel leader Laurent Kabila marched from
strongholds in the eastern part of the central African nation
to the outskirts of the capital, Kinshasa -- meeting
surprisingly little resistance from Mobutu's collapsing army.
After seizing control from Mobutu, Kabila discarded the name
Zaire, which Mobutu had adopted in 1971 in a drive to
Africanize the country and replace names from its Belgian
In Congo, there was no immediate mention of Mobutu's death on
radio or television.
Mobutu seized power in 1965
The man who would one day become his young country's dominant
political force was born Joseph Desire Mobutu on October 14,
1930, in what was then known as the Belgian Congo. In later
years, he would Africanize his name to Mobutu Sese Seko.
After the vast colony with significant mineral wealth gained
independence in 1960, Mobutu, a journalist by training, was
named army chief of staff and later commander-in-chief.
In 1965, Mobutu seized power with the backing of the military
and tacit support of Western countries, who saw him as a
bulwark against communist expansion in Africa. He established
a one-party state, banning all other political organizations
but his own.
Over the next three decades, Mobutu led one of the most
enduring regimes in Africa -- and, said his critics, one of
the most dictatorial and corrupt.
Despite the country's obvious natural resources, including
copper, gold and diamonds, much of Zaire's population
continued to sink further into poverty. But Mobutu, known for
his trademark leopard-skin hat, amassed a personal fortune
estimated to be as much as $5 billion, with homes in
Switzerland and France.
Mobutu also pursued a policy of "Zairianization," a
nationalistic attempt to expunge remnants of colonialism. In
addition to changing the names of the country and many of its
cities, major industries were nationalized. And emulating
Mobutu, government workers and ministers had to wear
Mao-style jackets and drop their Western names.
West dropped Mobutu after Cold War
However, as the Cold War waned in the early 1990s, so too did
Western support for Mobutu, especially in light of
allegations of human rights abuses and rampant corruption.
Belgium, France and the United States all suspended military
and financial assistance to the regime, undermining Mobutu's
grip on power.
As the economic and political situation worsened, Kabila, a
long-time rival of Mobutu's and now president of Congo, began
a military drive from eastern Zaire in October 1996 to depose
him. As the rebels advanced, Mobutu -- who had been out of
the country receiving medical treatment -- returned to Zaire,
vowing to crush the rebellion.
But by May, with his regime in shambles, Mobutu fled, first
to Togo and then to Morocco. He had reportedly requested
permission to travel to France for medical treatment, but the
French government refused.
A diplomatic source told Reuters that Mobutu, a Roman
Catholic, would be buried in Rabat's Christian cemetery. But
a family member, speaking in Kinshasa on condition of
anonymity, said Mobutu had requested that his body be
cremated and his ashes scattered over the land he once ruled.
Reuters contributed to this report.