Country Listing

Zaire Table of Contents


The National Executive Council

In Mobutu's Zaire, there is a parliament and a Council of Ministers, or cabinet, also known as the National Executive Council, but any formal resemblance to Western parliamentary democracy is misleading. Zaire's National Executive Council is responsible not to the parliament but rather to the president. According to the constitution of 1967, the president, as chief of the executive branch, named and revoked the ministers and determined their respective powers. The ministers were responsible only to the president. In their departments, they did not carry out their own policy, but rather the program established and the decisions taken by the president of the republic. The constitution of 1974, which established the MPR as "the sole institution" of the republic, left the role of the National Executive Council essentially unchanged. It gave the president of the MPR the right to name and dismiss the members of the National Executive Council as well as to fix the council's program of action and supervise policy implementation. Mobutu's control of the cabinet was so firm that in 1980 he had abolished ministerial interpellations by establishing the Central Committee as the new decision-making body within the MPR, which action also weakened the country's parliament.

Nevertheless, the post of minister, and particularly that of prime minister, remained important despite the changes made in the cabinet's constitutional makeup. In part, the notion of ministers retained prestige from the European model, and ministerial posts were eagerly sought for that reason. Moreover, ministerial posts were major rewards for service to the patrimonial ruler, as well as providing the incumbent with opportunities for self-enrichment. Zaire's disastrous economic and social situation resulted in part from this system, which guaranteed that top functionaries served the president rather than the nation.

The cabinet was subjected to frequent reshuffles, opening up some posts and assuring that those clients kept on were fully aware that they could go the next time. In a typical cabinet, all regions of the country were represented, although Mobutu's home region of Équateur was overrepresented. Often a political exile was "recuperated" and given a ministerial post. Few military personnel served as ministers. Mobutu personally retained control of the defense portfolio, and usually veterans' affairs as well, until the formation of the transitional government in May 1990. The president's control of the National Executive Council and his attempt to use it to appease and undercut the opposition were clearly evident in the formation of a succession of transitional and coalition governments following the May 1990 announcement of political pluralism.

Since March 1993, Zaire has had two cabinets. One is headed by Tshisekedi, elected by the CNS under the terms of the Transitional Act. This transitional government, the so-called government of national union, was reconfigured and broadened in September 1993; it consists of Tshisekedi as first state commissioner, or prime minister, and thirty-two state commissioners heading the various government ministries. The rival, Mobutu-appointed government, the so-called government of national salvation, is headed by Birindwa as prime minister, with three deputy prime ministers, and twentyfive other ministers. The United States government (and other Western powers) have not recognized the Birindwa government. Yet the Tshisekedi government cannot truly govern because of the ability of Mobutu to obstruct its operations, including using troops to prevent the prime minister and his cabinet ministers from occupying government offices. Tshisekedi has been forced to operate from his home.

Data as of December 1993