Corruption nd Failed States - the case of Zaire into the DRC: Mobutu to Kabila


Beginning in 1956, newly-created Congolese political associations expressed very cautious and moderated nationalist views. Over time, these organisations were gradually radicalised; initially leading, in 1959 and 1960, to demands for immediate and complete independence.

 The coming to prominence of




The rather sudden activity for independence and the gradually rising violence of competition between the several political factions caught the Belgians 'off-guard' and rapidly precipitated them into granting independence.

 "a sudden burst of violence in January 1959, followed soon afterwards by other bloody incidents and a campaign of civil disobedience. After a few tentative steps, Brussels succumbed. At the beginning of 1960, after a conference with all the Congolese political forces, Belgium suddenly decided to put an end to its sovereignty in the Congo on 30 June 1960."


Rise of Mobutu

Force Publique which combined Belgian officers with enlisted personnel from what the colonial administrators considered "martial" ethnic groups like the Ngala and Tetels. This began a pattern of antagonistic relations between the security forces and the Zairian public with the army more a repressor of the citizens than their protector


June 30, 1960. The fragile new state, born without an educated elite, plunged immediately into crisis as the Force Publique mutinied against its Belgian officers while Katanga and, later, Kasai seceded. In the capital, a power struggle between leftist Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and President Kasavubu sparked further violence.


Led by Moise Tshombe, the Katanga secession posed the most serious threat. International support from Belgian commercial interests and other sources gave Tshombe the means to resist the central government.


UN forces step in to promote reintegration of Katanga. This was resisted by Tshobe's use of mercenaries but then the US gave military support to Lumumba and Kasavubu as leaders of the Congo, and Tshobe was defeated. But teh US help had far more to do with their fear of the Congo chaos providing an opportunity for Soviet advances in Africa.


There were further rebellions such as in Kwilu which ironically Tshombe, now PM, was in charge of resisting. He also used Belgian and US forces and this helped to discredit him and exacerbate his antagonisms with Kasuvibu.


Metz comments:


By the latter part of 1965, the government was almost totally paralyzed. On November 25, the army commander Joseph-Desire Mobutu removed both Kasavubu and Evariste Kimba, who had been nominated to replace Tshombe, and assumed power. The United States (and many other African states) breathed a sigh of relief and concluded that finally a figure had emerged who was strong enough to control the Congo's fractious tendencies.




Mobutu proclaimed himself President of Congo, formally planting the seeds of the totalitarian regime.


He justified his military action in the name of national order and security in a country wounded and divided by a civil war between regional factions. Mobutu promised to lead the country for five years, suspended the national constitution, and dismissed the democratically elected national assembly.


Depending on his military inner circle, he gradually eliminated the political elite, banned all political parties, abolished the right to strike, and eliminated any political character of the nation’s provinces, which became only administrative entities under the president’s authority. In short, Mobutu created a nation state.


To this end, he created the so-called Corps de Volontaires de la Republique [Republic’s Volunteer Corps], which he transformed a year later into his Mouvement Populaire de la Revolution (M.P.R.) [Popular Movement for the Revolution]. This organization quickly became the strongest pillar of Mobutu’s political system.


Ikambana sees it thus: In 1967, the 26-year-old President proclaimed the birth of the Second Republic and the beginning of his totalitarian political system. The system was centered, in cult-like fashion, in Mobutu’s personality and the unilateral character of the political structure established by his system... the Second Republic’s totalitarian regime substituted the rule of law with an empire of personal power. Another, a totalitarian system, replaced the constitution of the First Republic, Zaire’s first and only democratic regime. It imposed a one-party system to which every citizen belonged.




Economic decline in early Mobutu years

The national bank, state-led institutions, and the national treasury department were placed under the exclusive control of political injunctions. The national treasury department was at the service of the national party, which used the national bank as the source of its revenues.


Individuals in charge of the bank and the treasury were political appointees who had no control over the revenues





1960, its economic picture was promising.


the Republic of Congo was at the time of independence one of the most industrialized African countries with a vast range of industries, including: minerals, food and agriculture, textiles, cement, chemicals, and the most important industries of all of Black Africa—construction

and electrical materials.


The country’s food supply was self-sufficient, and many products were being exported (e.g., coffee, rubber, palm oil, cotton, and the like), contributing 40% of the state budget. The water and road transportation systems, inherited from the colonial era, were the largest in Africa and had the most sophisticated technological infrastructure. With an economy largely based

on the mineral industry, modern agriculture, and an excellent transportation system, the country’s economy appeared prosperous.


The national economy coped with the politically destabilising successionist movements due to  healthy agricultural and mineral sectors and the intervention of the European industrial sector.


Even after the Mobutu coup in 1965 (Second Republic), the country’s economy appeared to be solid; the military coup d’etat had established peace and territorial integrity. The rebuilding of state institutions, monetary stabilization, and, most importantly, the rebound in copper production, created a more favourable climate for economic growth.


Slowly mismanagement over the long term, resulted in deterioration in industry, increase in debt, and the deterioration of the national economy.


The policy of nationalization, or Zairianization of national enterprises, dictated by the Mobutu regime in 1973, as well as the radicalization of the same policy in December 1974, further deepened the crisis of the young economy. These two policies—Zairianization, which allowed the regime to take over any enterprise run by a non-national, and radicalization, which allowed the regime to take control over all units of production and distribution—had more negative impact than expected.



Trapped by significant debt, a negative underground economy, an imbalance between

currency production and national wealth production and, finally, a complete deterioration of national wealth production.



Some good ..of a sort:  Mobutu as nation-builder.


Mobutu attempted to invent a national identity by blending elements of local traditions with components of the emerging ideology of Pan-Africanism.


Initially this was manifested in a rather straight-forward nationalism, but by the 1970s had evolved into a more radical program called "authenticity."


Symbolic remnants of Belgian rule were expunged. Every street, location, individual, and the country itself was renamed. Congo became Zaire, Leopoldville became Kinshasa, and Joseph-Desire Mobutu became Mobutu Sese Seko. Western business dress was banned.


By the late 1970s, "authenticity" had mutated into "Mobutuism," which attempted to create a cult of personality glorifying the acts and sayings of the president




But the nation building efforts were at a price of installing elements tat were to lead to political corruption:


Weakness of governance systems courtesy of the legacy of Belgian policy meant Mobutu had to put in place administrators etc.


Again Metz:

His solution was consolidation of power in his own hands by placing members of his

ethnic group in many key positions, banning opposition political activity, and ruling by decree. To create an institutional framework for this, Mobutu formed the Popular Revolutionary Movement (MPR) and, out of admiration of the success that the

Bolsheviks and Chinese communists had in forging stable states out of large, heterogenous nations, proclaimed it Zaire's only political party. In 1974, all public institutions became

subsidiaries of the MPR.



The state was seen as the personal fiefdom of the president:


Mobutu's concentrating political power by patronage and fear.


Opposition brought exclusion from opportunities for personal enrichment, often exile, and sometimes torture or death.


Mobutu accumulated and disbursed one of the largest personal fortunes on earth, largely by controlling the state's finances and contracts, particularly those dealing with the extraction of Zaire's massive mineral wealth.



Mobutu played the role of puppet master, frequently shuffling officeholders and administrators to allow as many sycophants as possible their time at the money trough, and to make perfectly clear that the president could take power and wealth away as easily as he distributed them.


To further reinforce his support, Mobutu allocated offices and contracts to family members and ethnic kinsmen.


 Eventually, there was no political opposition in the normal sense.



Surveillance, internal security forces, weakness of military


The internal security forces:


name changed several times from the National Documentation Centre (CND) to the National Documentation Agency (AND) to the National Service for Intelligence and Protection



SNIP communicated directly with Mobutu rather than reporting to any other government agency or official. The disciplinary arm of the official party--the "Corps of Activists for the Defense of the Revolution" (CADR) also played a role in internal security and the intimidation of opponents.


The Zairian military was designed more to safeguard the regime than to defend the national borders or counter insurgents.


Rather than protecting the Zairian people, the armed forces and security forces prey upon them and are perceived, justifiably, as instruments of repression.


But the military was largely incapable of opposing any successionist threats or incursions from outside such as that into Shaba province in 1977and 78 by Angola


He also created a special French trained Civil Guard, and the Special Presidential Division which was drawn from Mobutu's own tribe - the Ngabandi.



Economic policies of the 70s saw nationalisations (a touch of the socialist faith)



that were chaotic..


and caused huge damage to investor confidence


Attempts at industrialisation fared no better and left Zaire with vast foreign debts


Copper prices collapsed.





IMF/International intervention and Structural adjustment...failure:


"As debt mounted, creditors became important players in Zaire's politics. In 1976, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) designed the first of a series of economic stabilization programs.


Each was supposed to reduce corruption, rationalize and control government expenditures, limit imports, boost production, improve the transportation infrastructure, eliminate arrears on interest payments, ensure that principal payments were made, improve financial management, and facilitate economic planning.


Private creditors also rescheduled Zaire's debt several times between 1976 and 1987. None of these structural adjustments or debt rescheduling schemes worked."


By the end of the 80s credit was drying up and by 1991 the IMF refused any further loans.


1994 IMF expelled Zaire.




Western Tolerance of Zaire/Mobutu


Angolan liberation struggles by Jonas Savimbi's UNITA forces against Angola's marxist government were supported by US (CIA)-led western military aid passing through Zaire.


As such Mobutu could maintain US 'support' while he served US foreign policy interests.


Decline of Cold war and Soviet/Cuban support for Angola receded so did US backing of Mobutu.


Bush administration cut off all aid to Zaire in the 90s


Mobutu weakening started to call for a return to democracy - declard an end to one-party rule.


August 1992: Etienne Tshisekedi wa Mulumba--whom the U.S. State Department called Mobutu's "most implacable foe"--transitional prime minister


Stopping reform once it is unleashed is difficult.


Mobutu used  violence against the opposition But the opposition refused to submit.


Its three principal groups formed a coalition called the  Sacred Union that became the vanguard of the anti-Mobutu forces.


The Sacred Union could not force Mobutu and his allies from power without control of key institutions like the Central Bank, the state-owned media, and the security forces.


The result was  near-anarchy as Zaire was cursed with two parallel, rival governments, each more intent on countering the other than running the country.


1991 - unpaid troops went on the rampage. Quelled by the Civil Giard. but frightened Mobutu.


Gecamines, the state-owned mining company which had once been one of the world's largest, fell into such disrepair that its only output was scavenged scraps of copper, thus choking off

another potential source of income for the beleaguered government.


"The Central Bank had no reserves, most other banks were closed, and those that

remained open dealt only in cash. The tax system was defunct. Most state institutions, including hospitals and schools, closed. Unpaid civil servants, teachers, and health care workers quit in large numbers. Unemployment was pervasive; up to 80 percent of

Zairians lived in dire poverty, most subsisting on one meal a day. As the medical system eroded, AIDS, malaria, sleeping sickness, and other diseases reached epidemic proportions"


Ethnic conflict flared up.


200,000 Kasaians forced from their homes in Shaba province.


Continued struggles between Mobutu and Tshiekedi for control of Zaire.


Further violence from rampaging soldiers with no pay in 1993


Most foreign workers were leaving.



The Rwandan crisis in 1994 and Mobutu's attempts to intervene to help bring peace revived his fortunes for a while.


and: by late 1996, the Sacred Union was clearly in disarray and the struggle for democracy had lost momentum. Until the outbreak of the Kabila-led revolt, Mobutu's declining health and the disintegration of his security agencies were about the only imminent threats to political dictatorship in Congo.


Tshisekedi made a futile attempt to join forces with Kabila in a separate effort to salvage the political fortunes of the Sacred Union. This was a confused strategy by the Sacred Union in its futile effort to unseat Mobutu. In what amounted to a dramatic vote of no confidence against both Mobutu and the Sacred Union, the Congolese people overwhelmingly threw their support behind Kabila whose troops had captured over two-thirds of the country by mid-May 1997


Laurent Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (Alliance des Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Congo-Zaire, AFDL) brought only temporary relief to the Congolese masses when it ousted Mobutu in May 1997.


Kabila renamed Zaire the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


Afoaku comments: Following Kabila's takeover of power in May 1997, he began to display Mobutuist tendencies, including misappropriation of public funds, human rights violations, suppression of dissent within the AFDL, tribalization, clientelization and nepotization of state apparatuses.
State Failure:

some general aspects that seem to be in most definitions proposed in this field of research. Brinkerhoff characterizes state failure as, the lack of human security, public services, and a lack of a credible entity within the international theater.1 The lack of sustainability by the state seems to be an essential trait for what constitutes state failure.


Kraxberg determines that state failure is a vacuum of authority where what was once an establishment that brought forth these services collapses on itself.2 As a result the state loses its legitimacy and separates its identity from the people that live within its boundaries.


....the inability of the state to provide basic services to its people. These services include: health care, security in agriculture development, effective state institutions, human rights, education, and rule of law, among others. Through the loss of these basic rights the states legitimacy starts to erode and its governmental system will crumble. The identity of the state and its connection to its people begins to disappear.



Failed state as predatory a.k.a. 'vampire state

Fukuyama alludes to Mobutu’s rise to power and his ability to reallocate a large portion of the state’s resources for himself and leave the rest of the society in what is termed as a ‘predatory state’. (Fukuyama, Francis. State –Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century. Cornell University Press. 2004:



International culpability

As with many African nations in this conflict, external catalyst provided potential

opportunities for directing forces in state behaviour. One of the major contributing external factors is the rivalry of the Cold War, as a result allowed super powers to use developing states as their battlefields in the spread of their brand of ideology. The DRC was no exception in this matter. Mobutu positioned himself as the recipient of aid from the West such that most of the DRC’s GDP comprised of external assistance




Other state's problems cross borders


Rwandan crisis in mid-90s - Refugees pour into Zaire pursued by Rawandan military who cross the border and attack the refugees with impunity. Zaire is too weak to do anything leading ultimately to Mobutu's loss of power.


As a result of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, close to one million Rwandese refugees found their way to Eastern Congo. Among the refugees were the alleged leaders of the genocide who recruited fighters among the refugees and started attacking Rwanda from Congo. In 1996, using the excuse of the attacks from Congo by rebels from their respective countries, Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Congo, thus flouting international law. Mobutu’s demoralized army was no match for the invading troops, who reached the capital, Kinshasa, after a few months. In March 1997, they installed in power Laurent-Désiré Kabila, believing they could easily manipulate him.



Iheukwumere argues:  (Colonial Rapacity paper)


In many instances, the departing colonial powers perpetuated their rape of the

continent through the imposition of constitutions which preserved the privileges of the immigrant European population at the expense of the native inhabitants. Not surprisingly, some of the new African leaders emulated the brutalism and savagery of the colonizers, and heaped misery, violence, and poverty upon their own. These unconscionable ‘leaders’

pitted ethnic groups against ethnic groups to preserve their political power, and lived in shameless luxury, while robbing their countries blind.


Corruption among African leaders and officials in turn is then, unfortunately and regrettably, aided and abetted by the banking and economic policies of the same colonial powers which initially heaped misery and savagery upon the continent, and helped ensure the despotism of some of the worst pretenders who branded themselves leaders.