Mobutu was placed into power as president of Zaire (the country which would be later known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo) primarily through circumstances involving foreign interests. The country was placed into crisis under the rule of Prime Minister Lumumba along with President Joseph Kasa-Vubu when the army mutinied and abandoned their posts. Lumumba asked for help from the Soviet Union which was viewed by American authorities in a highly negative light (Mwakikagile, 2006). This allowed Mobuto the support to seize power and eventually become the president of Zaire (Mwakikagile, 2006).
Under his rule, Mobutu allegedly embezzled billions from his country’s treasury and appointed his relatives to key positions in government, where the said relatives also siphoned away public funds for personal gain (Mwakikagile, 2006). Mobutu’s reaction to political adversary was simple, he tortured and killed his enemies publicly so that nobody would follow in their footsteps (Mwakikagile, 2006). While this increased the human rights infractions and raised public clamor for his ouster, Mobutu was not concerned because he knew that he had the American government to back him up. In fact, when he made state visits to president Reagan, all discussions about human rights were muted and the president had nothing but praise to give the African leader (Mwakikagile, 2006).
Mobutu could have sold part of his country’s problems and brought some measure of satisfaction back to his citizens simply by placing public institutions under better management and ending his habit of having political opponents killed, but Mobutu persisted in his ways, thinking that the Americans would always back him up. What he did not realize was that the American government only supported his regime because they believed him to be an essential asset in the Cold War. Thus when the Cold War finally ended, the motivation for the U.S. to support Mobutu’s cruel dictatorship came to an end as well (Mwakikagile, 2006). By the time Mobutu realized this, it was already too late and Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who had gained the support of the neighboring nations of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, had already amassed forces to take over Zaire (Mwakikagile, 2006). This shows that Mobutu relied on foreign support too much, not realizing that such support is based on temporary interests.
Mwakikagile, G. (2006). Africa is in A Mess: What Went Wrong and What Should Be Done. New Africa Press.