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The Military under Mobutu


Marshal Mobutu Sese Seko, president of Zaire and supreme commander of the FAZ
Courtesy Agence Zaïre Presse

Mobutu did not initially establish a military dictatorship; the ANC continued in its role as the government's armed force rather than becoming the government. Mobutu stated that he had seized power in order to end the chaos and anarchy that had existed since the country had gained independence. He sought also to extract the country from its perennial government stalemate, largely caused by a power struggle between President Kasavubu and Prime Minister Tshombe, as well as to eliminate Kasavubu's threat to get rid of the white mercenaries at a time when they were needed to crush the Lumumbist rebellions. He also initiated efforts to encourage foreign assistance to reequip and train the ANC along modern lines. Belgian and United States involvement in these objectives became particularly important. Meanwhile, the ANC, aided by white mercenaries, continued to fight against insurgents around Kikwit and in Kivu.

Another threat to national security occurred in July 1966 when former Katangan gendarmes, who had joined the ANC during Tshombe's comeback, mutinied and took over the city of Stanleyville (see Toward Political Reconstruction , ch. 1). The rebels managed to hold out for two months, but the ANC, spearheaded by white mercenaries, finally retook the city. Again the next year, the ANC found itself fighting against a combined force of Katangans and mercenaries who had captured Bukavu, near the Rwandan border. The rebels held off a much larger ANC force for more than three months before United States air logistic support forced the insurgents to negotiate for safe passage out of the country.

While relying on the military to stay in power, Mobutu based his legitimacy on the country's only legal political party, the Popular Revolutionary Movement (Mouvement Populaire de la Révolution--MPR), which he created in 1967 (see The Party-State as a System of Rule; Managing the Military , ch. 4). Thus, despite his rank as field marshal, Mobutu rarely appeared in uniform. To safeguard his authoritarian rule, he staffed a high proportion of the top echelons of the military with people of his own ethnic group, while at the same time shuffling high-ranking personnel to weaken the army's professional independence or the emergence of any elements within the military that might threaten his rule. At the same time, he obtained foreign support to improve the capabilities of his military forces, particularly in counterinsurgency. Mobutu and his supporters maintained their hold over the defense ministry, which meant control of the army and the security forces.

Over the years Mobutu took a number of steps to improve the military's capability. In 1969 he established the National Security Council to provide coordination over external and internal security responsibilities. During the same period, he created military schools to train young Congolese at home rather than having them sent off to Belgium or another foreign country. By 1969 this effort had succeeded to the point that recruits from other African countries were trained in the Congo (see Military Schools , this ch.).

Despite this progress, the military still relied heavily on foreign aid programs to train its soldiers during the early 1970s. Americans, Belgians, and Israelis provided assistance with various aspects of military training and invited Zaire (as the country was called from October 1971) to send officers and NCOs to train in their countries. By expanding and diversifying the sources of military assistance, Mobutu hoped to reduce Zaire's reliance on any one source of aid. This process would give him greater flexibility and could also provide more assistance as the various donors competed for access. The wide variety of sources of military education assistance, however, did have negative consequences. First, it produced a kaleidoscope of military education that at times made it difficult for officers in the same unit to interact effectively. It also created pockets of competing pressure groups that believed that their source of training was superior to the others. For example, until the mid-1980s, officers trained in Belgium and, to a lesser extent, France, had an advantage over United States-trained officers when it came to promotions and highlevel assignments.

Data as of December 1993

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