World silent as Mobutu, robber baron supreme, dies

The Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, 66, has died in Morocco four months after fleeing his capital, Kinshasa. His death, after years fighting cancer, ends his embarrassing attempts to find a country which would provide him with a permanent home.

The death of the despot in the leopard-skin hat, who bled his country dry during his 32-year presidency, was met with a resounding political silence.

The United States, Mobutu's old ally in the Cold War, which turned a blind eye as he siphoned billions of dollars from state coffers into his own personal bank accounts, long ago abandoned him.

France, which had the dubious distinction of sticking by him the longest, was low key in its response to his death. Jacques Rummelhardt, foreign ministry spokesman, said that it was for historians to judge "the excesses of his years in power". The French earned the hatred of Mobutu's 40 million poverty-stricken subjects for continuing to prop up his regime long after it was expedient, and during the take-over by Laurent Kabila's rebels, Zaireans threatened to "cut up" French people in the streets.

Only Kenya's president Daniel arap Moi mourned Mobutu's passing. Mr Moi was one of the last African leaders to visit Mobutu at Gbadolite, his luxurious palace in northern Zaire from where he finally flew into exile.

Even in death Mobutu's presence continues to be an embarrassment. His son Manda said yesterday in Rabat that he would be buried in Morocco in the next few days but might be moved later. Flanked by his two brothers Kongolo and Nzanga, Manda said he did not know where his father would be buried. That would be up to King Hassan of Morocco. In recent weeks the Moroccans have asked many in Mobutu's 50-strong entourage to leave the country.

Yesterday a spokesman for the government of Zaire, now renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo, said Mobutu's family was welcome to bring him home to rest. The republic has been trying to seize Mobutu's personal fortune; by all accounts so vast it could wipe out much of the national debt of the country he left bankrupt.

Mobutu always had a brass neck about the wholesale looting of Zaire. In an interview on television in the US he once admitted his personal fortune could cover his country's debts, but he could not lend his country the money because he could not be sure he would get it back. It remains to be seen whether gaining access to Mobutu's stolen billions will be easier now he is dead.

Mobutu came to power in a coup in 1965, five years after Belgium pulled out of Africa's second largest country. At first he was seen as a strongman who could hold together a huge, unstable country comprising hundreds of tribes and language groups. In the Seventies he was feted by the US, which used the former Zaire as a springboard for operations into neighbouring Angola where Western-backed Unita rebels were locked in civil war with a Cuban- and Soviet-backed government. Because Mobutu was useful in the fight against Communism the brutality and repressiveness of his regime was ignored.

Optimists yesterday celebrated Mobutu's death as marking the end of a shameful period in Africa's post-colonial history. The breed of tyrannical presidents-for-life which he represented, they say, is dying out, as a new type of leader - personified by Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni - emerges. The new breed, though not Western-style democrats, are opposed to corruption and in favour of good governance.

But while Mobutu's suffering has ended it is not certain that his country's has. Mobutu left in ruins a nation blessed with sufficient natural resources to be among the richest in Africa. Laurent Kabila is struggling against incredible odds. His disparate rebel alliance is said to be splitting and Mr Kabila is struggling to maintain control. It is yet to be seen whether Mobutu's horrific legacy can be overcome.

Obituary, page 16

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value

Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas