Mobutu Sese Seko [key], 1930–97, president of Zaïre (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Born Joseph Désiré Mobutu, he returned from study in Brussels to the then Belgian Congo, joining the nationalist movement in 1956. In 1960 he led an army coup against the nationalist government of Patrice Lumumba; Mobutu soon became the army chief of staff. In a second coup (1965), he assumed the office of prime minister (1966), then established (1967) a presidential form of government headed by himself; the constitution did not come into force until 1970, when Mobutu was old enough to become president. As part of his program of “national authenticity,” Mobutu changed the Congo's name to Zaïre (1971) and his own name to Mobutu Sese Seko (1972). Citizens were required to drop their Christian names; place names were Africanized. Power was concentrated in Mobutu, who, backed by Western intelligence agencies that saw in him a foil to such leftist states as Angola, established a one-party state and a cult of personality. He suppressed tribal conflicts and encouraged a sense of nationhood, but at the same time amassed a huge personal fortune through economic exploitation and corruption, leading some to call his rule “kleptocracy.” The nation suffered from uncontrolled inflation, a large debt, and massive currency devaluations. By 1991 economic deterioration and unrest led him to agree to share power with opposition leaders, but he used the army to thwart change until May, 1997, when rebel forces led by Laurent Kabila expelled him from the country. Mobutu died in Morocco.
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