Top positive review
on 18 April 2017
To put this all in perspective we have to understand the time and place that lead to the instalment of Mobutu. In the late 50s and early 60s Americans had recently come out of a decade of feverish McCarthyism and still had the bogey man of communism looming and the possible domino effect. The Congo lies literally at the heart of Africa and has no less than nine neighbouring countries, so the Americans were thinking ahead, though probably thinking hard enough. No doubt the country’s vast mineral wealth was also a consideration, after all over 80% of the uranium in the nuclear bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki came from the Congo. The thought of the USSR getting access to that alone must have caused some anxiety.
So in 1960 when the newly independent Congo had democratically elected one, Patrice Lumumba American concerns were raised. The Soviets had been trying to infiltrate the Congo for a while and Lumumba had contact with them, even though he found colonialism and communism equally deplorable, fears of Soviet influence grew stronger. After previous failed plots, the CIA eventually succeeded along with help from the Belgians in “neutralising” him. His remains were allegedly chopped up and dissolved in sulphuric acid. The killing of Lumumba paved the way for Mobutu, the CIA’s favoured candidate.
This book makes heavy reference to “King Leopold’s Ghost” and the author freely admits and credits the highly influential work. I would say that this book makes an ideal pairing with it, both of them help build quite a vivid and picture of the Congo from Free State, Zaire to the so called DRC status of today and if you are really keen, might I recommend “Radio Congo” by Ben Lawrence, which covers slightly different terrain.
Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (The all powerful warrior who goes from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake) as he re-named himself, in many ways was like a cartoon baddie from a far-fetched movie. He seemed just a little too outrageous to be true. “Go ahead and steal, as long as you don’t take too much.” He once said. CIA man Devlin said of him, “He was a political genius, but an economic spastic.” Mobutu claimed to have only had $6 to his name back in 1959, but by the end of his life he had stashed away between $4 billion and $14 billion, depending who we believe or as many think, he was actually close to being broke?....
In 1971 Mobutu started his process of Zaireanisation, Congo would be known as Zaire, the abacost would be chosen over a tie, Lingala the language over French. Foreign owned farms were turned over to the sons of the country, radicalisation in which the largely Belgian controlled industrial sector was confiscated. “The result was an obscene scramble for freebies by the burgeoning Zairean elite. Thousands of businesses, totalling around $1 Billion in value, were divided between top officials in the most comprehensive nationalisation seen in Africa.” The was also the era where the Congo hosted the Rumble in the Jungle, the heavyweight boxing tie between Foreman and Ali in 1974. It was also during this period that Mobutu went onto build the doomed Gbadolite complex, the so called Versaille of the Jungle, though today it resembles more an African Pripyat. He ploughed billions into this complex in the far north, that included a runway big enough to accommodate Concorde as well as installing a nuclear bunker amongst many other outlandish and superfluous features.
Erwin Blumenthal, a German bean counter was eventually brought into evaluate Mobutu’s financial state and he ended up sleeping with a gun beneath his pillow after uncovering the extent of the financial irregularities. At one stage inflation was at a staggering 9,800% . “Between the start of the Zairean economic crisis in 1975 and Mobutu’s departure in 1997, Zaire received a total of $9.3 billion in foreign aid.” Leading the way were the World Bank and IMF, who did what they often do in poor countries, they intervene, make reckless decisions in their single minded bid to serve US business interests and political agendas and consequently made the problem bigger and then pulled out far too late.
Mobutu consistently played the western governments of France, Belgium and US against each other to great effect and some of the stunts he pulled off in his manipulation are simply staggering. In spite of his well known grand theft Reagan received him and insisted, “A voice of good sense and good will.” George H W Bush greeted him as “One of our most valued friends.” So it is worth remembering that the scale of this kleptocracy would have not been possible if not for the sustained support of Washington financiers granting billions to a world renowned thief and the assistance of the dark and sinister Swiss banking system who helped keep it safe.
This book is prone to jumping around a bit, but these jumps can lead to some interesting asides, it allows Wrong to touch on some other aspects of life in the Congo, such as the cult of Kimbanguism, the Lingala music scene, the fashion obsessed youngsters who favour dancing and posing over politics and war, or the Kongo Kingdom movement lead by the eccentric King Mizele. In the end after all the Western parasites had ran away and left him, it took the AFDL (Coalition of four rebel movements set up in 1996 with the aim of bringing down Mobutu) to affect meaningful change in the Congo, though it was prostate cancer that ended up taking Mobutu at the age of 66.