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Managing the Military

Mobutu's regime emerged from a coup but is not a military regime because it has never given priority to the interests of the military. Since 1965 Mobutu has continued to manage the armed forces by the same methods he used, as chief of staff, to rebuild them after 1960, i.e., by tying individual units and officers to him. Rather than a traditional pyramidal organization, the Zairian security forces resemble a wheel with Mobutu at the hub. Time and again, when existing units have proven to be unreliable, he has created new units trained by foreigners (see Armed Forces Missions and Organization , ch. 5).

In addition, Mobutu has been careful both to keep the military under his personal control and to minimize military participation in the civilian government. He has usually been the only military man in the cabinet, filling the role of minister of defense and veterans' affairs.

The reforms announced in April 1990 ostensibly included depoliticization of the armed forces, presumably to include elimination of the official MPR presence within the military, which had annoyed many of the officers. But in a broader sense, of course, the military services remain political in that they are under the control of President Mobutu. As one part of that control, Mobutu's cronies and relatives head key military units.

Nevertheless, despite the military's role as the backbone of the regime, it is also a potential Achilles' heel. Military coup attempts were reported in 1975, 1978, and 1984. For several years, there were no further reports of coup attempts. Then in August 1987, the Voice of Zaire (La Voix du Za´re) announced that a large cache of arms and ammunition brought illegally into the country had been discovered in a military camp in Kinshasa. Each of the alleged coup attempts was followed by a major purge of high military officers. These purges, as well as Mobutu's general organizational policy, made it clear that political reliability would be given higher priority than military effectiveness.

The events of September 1991, in which unpaid paratroopers mutinied and engaged in a frenzy of looting throughout Kinshasa cast into doubt the morale and loyalty of the military. Such doubts were reinforced by the periodic bouts of looting that occurred throughout 1992 and 1993, as well as an exchange of fire between paratroopers and the Civil Guard in June 1992, prompting fears that many armed forces elements were beyond any control.

Nevertheless, Mobutu has shrewdly retained the loyalty of his most important military units, the DSP in particular. In the early 1990s, the beleaguered Mobutu reportedly continued to receive bags of newly printed currency flown in from abroad, which he disbursed to key military personnel.

Data as of December 1993