HE HAD a deep gravelly voice and he walked with majestic grandeur and he was master of all he surveyed. His public demeanour was always grave and stoic. His stony visaged face descended from the clouds as if from the heavens every time the news was shown on TV in Zaire.
He was Marechal Mobutu. Marechal Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga born Joseph Desire Mobutu, ex-sergeant in the Belgian Colonial Army, the Force Publique, journalist, personal secretary to Patrice Lumumba, Army commander and eventually military dictator and the Guide and Helmsman of Zaire. Of all his grandiose titles, he loved one the most. The Leopard.
In 1990 the waves of democracy rolled across Africa and in Zaire, the opposition came out in the open and with the urging of the church, a national conference to plot the way forward began.
Mobutu perhaps in a fit of pique or perhaps to show that he was above all this noise retreated to Gbadolite. There in his massive palace in the jungle, he settled down and ignored what was going on in Kinshasa.
He now resided in regal splendour in his home village and wallowed in extravagance. The local airport he extended in order for it to accommodate the DC-10 that he favoured for his trips abroad or Concorde for his wife Bobi Ladawa to go on her extended shopping trips to Paris, London, Hong Kong or the family holidays in the Cote D’Azur or Switzerland.
Mobutu’s marital arrangements were strange, to say the least. When his first wife Marie-Antoinette who he married as a young girl of 14 died, he subsequently married Bobi Ladawa and thereafter took her twin sister Kosia as his mistress.
It was said he felt safer because Bobi was thoroughly detested by the late Marie Antionette. With two identical twins, any evil spells would be confused and fail to work.
This arrangement was solidified and at times people were not sure when they went for a public function where Mobutu was present which of them was sitting next to him.
He settled into Gbadolite, his home village, transformed into an astonishing and lavish complex with its own hydroelectric dam, colleges, and schools for the staff, a massive replica of the Versailles Palace for ceremonies and his own living quarters.
He was to live there until he left for exile and subsequent death. His move to Gbadolite, was actually a factor in his fall. He was no longer in touch with what was going in the country. Instead, Mobutu went on picnics in the specially kept grounds of his palace or he would drive around in the local villages with wads of cash and hand them out.
He built a model farm with French dairy cows,Swiss beef cattle, and Argentine sheep. On occasion, he would drive himself, which was a terrifying prospect for his passengers, as he drove very fast and very badly.
The extravagance was incredible. He for instance used to have 100 cases fo wine flown in every month. His wine cellars were extensive and reputed to hold 5,000 bottles of wine.
When his daughter Yaki got married to a Belgian playboy the extravagance of the wedding, held in Gbadolite of course, was legendary, the bride wore three designer dresses at different times in nuptials, each of them costing $70,000 and on each change wore different diamond jewelry with each set worth reputedly $100,000.
The wedding cake was a huge creation baked in Paris and flown in by a jet chartered at a cost of $50,000. The newlywed couple received a huge wad of cash in a thick brown envelope reputedly $500,000 plus a villa in France and a flat in Brussels and the husband began to work for his father in law for a princely salary.
However, his stay in Gbadolite was not all fun and games. A stream of visitors continued to come and Ministers would fly in for cabinet meetings. Mobutu would sit behind his massive desk and dole out thick envelopes of cash. United States dollars of course. Every month a cargo plane would fly in especially with a crate full of cash both US dollars and Zaires.
Two events in 1994 shattered Mobutu and he never recovered from them. First was the death of Rwandese President Juvenal Habyarinama a close friend and protege of Mobutu on April 6, 1994. For the first time ever, when he heard the news, he cried in public
He had the remains flown to Gbadolite and he kept them there in a mausoleum. He promised the widow of Habyarimana that he would make sure the body would eventually be buried in Rwanda. It was a promise he never kept.
Then in September 1994, his son Nyiwa died. At the grand funeral, Mobutu for the first time exhibited weakness in public. He looked frail and could barely speak.
Thereafter the Mobutu long known disappeared. He was now more concerned with being a big chief in his home village or cruising the Congo River in his luxury yacht Kamanyola. He was at times distracted and without a firm grip on the goings on in the government.
At a grand parade the generals noticed the Marshal gazing up at the sky, they wondered what the problem was. Why was he expectantly looking up at the sky? “Where are my Mirages?”, he growled. The Mirage fighters of the Zairean Air Force, which were his pride and joy, had not made an appearance. No one had the heart to tell him they had been sold after an overhaul in France and he had actually signed the papers sanctioning the sale. The generals assembled lied that they were still in France.
When the war broke out in 1997, Mobutu was sick. In 1996 a routine medical examination found that he had prostate cancer. Immediate surgical intervention and radio therapy combined to make Mobutu frail and have a sickly pallor.
By 1997 he was a very sick man. When Kabila’s forces were about to reach Kinshasa, Mobutu flew there. A huge crowd received him and he gave a rousing speech. The last public one he ever gave.
When he and Kabila met on a South African Navy ship, it was a strange spectacle. Kabila, warned by witch doctors would not look Mobutu in the eye lest he fell prey to malevolent spells. He also kept massaging an object in his pocket which people speculated was a charm or amulet against Mobutu. Mobutu was in very bad shape and could not climb unaided into the ship. Instead, a ramp carried his limousine aboard and he then hobbled to the meeting.
Mobutu in the end fled back back to Gbadolite. Kabila took over Kinshasa and then sent more rebels to smoke him out of Gbadolite.
In Gbadolite panic ensued with one plane going back to Kinshasa to pick the rest of the family and with the situation deteriorating every minute they had to escape. Meanwhile, Mobutu’s troops began to mutiny they knew the boss was leaving.
How did they know ? Well Mobutu always kept a cargo plane full of gold near him. It followed him everywhere. To see it unloaded and the gold put in another plane meant he was running away. Without them.
The plane was emptied and the gold transferred to an Il-76. The reason was range. The Il-76 could carry more cargo and had a longer range. The plane in question belonged to or was chartered by Julius Savimbi of UNITA. It had carried a load of diamonds for Mobutu to pay for arms sent to Savimbi. The plane was now readied for a flight to Togo.
Mobutu sick and frail could not walk into the plane and there were no beds in the plane. A compromise was found. His limousine was driven into the cargo plane with him sitting in the back.
As bags of dollars were hurriedly thrown in the plane and family members scrambled on board, soldiers from Mobutu’s DSP decided to attack him. The plane took off with soldiers on the ground firing at it with AK47s.
On board the plane, were the twins, Bobi and Kosia and around 12 children ranging in ages from grown men and women to small children.
The flight to Togo was rough. The plane was holed by bullets and everyone was crowded in its cavernous cargo hold sitting on bags. In the middle was the limousine. It is said Mobutu wept all the way to Togo.
The remains of Habyarimana ? They were cremated in Kinshasa on the airport runway just before Mobutu’s final flight back to Gbadolite.
On arrival in Togo, a hurried reception by the Togolese Prime Minister and the family settled into Presidential guest quarters. A new better jet was chartered to replace the bullet riddled Il-76 and Mobutu flew off to his last friend in Africa King Hassan in Morocco.
Mobutu died in Morocco. His wife and her twin sister still live there. His son, Nzanga eventually went back to the DRC and was an MP and a Minister until 2011. he now lives in either the US, South Africa and DRC.
When rebels finally broke into the palace at Gbadolite, it had already been thoroughly and comprehensively looted. One thing remained in the grand bedroom and littered the floor. It was packs of the adult diapers that Mobutu had been reduced to wearing.
[10/10, 4:10 PM] Kalemba: #EDITOR’S CHOICE: Birthday of a Leopard
TODAY would have been the 90th birthday of a Leopard. It would have been the birthday of an evil genius who used his intelligence, his charm, and his good looks to destroy a country.
For 32 years, he tortured his country and his people. His arrogance knew no bounds. He called himself the Guide and gathered all power to himself. He destroyed the country in order to keep himself in power. To be very intelligent or very competent or very popular was to make an enemy of the Leopard.
As his stay in power lengthened, his grandiose self-image and self-delusion grew. His image was everywhere in the country. During the evening news his name would be heard 20, 30, 40 times. His national broadcaster had a whole unit, complete with outside broadcasting unit, reporters, cameramen and technicians that followed the great man wherever he went.
He eventually became richer than his country and one occasion paid the salaries of the civil servants of his country for three months and demanded repayment and scolded the Finance Minister and told him not to let this happen again.
Another time he held a cabinet meeting where he advised his Ministers not to steal too much because the people were noticing.
He owned mansions and villas in France, Belgium, Switzerland and the United States and he held birthday parties in his grand villa on the Cote D’Azur that would be attended by French Presidents and European Royalty.
It is said that his Ministers were in awe and fear of him. One day his son Kongolo spotted one Minister talking to his father. The night before there had been a concert in the Presidential Palace and the minister who was an excellent dancer had held all the guests spellbound with his dancing skills.
Kongolo demanded that his father should make the minister dance. The minister was at first annoyed and was on the point of refusing. Then he looked directly in the eyes of the Leopard. My dear Sir, the Leopard said, my son demands that you dance. Please dance. The Minister danced and danced with young Kongolo cheering him on.
Another Minister defied the Leopard. After refusing to do what the Leopard told him, he went home and sat there petrified. Then he heard a knock at the door. It was the Leopard himself. The Minister was so scared and terrified. The Leopard without a word called the Minister’s wife by her first name and called her to him. He drove away with her. Two days later she came back heavily laden with gifts for herself and the Minister. It was obvious the Leopard had slept with his wife. She came with a note. The Leopard warned that under no circumstances would he permit the minister to take action against his wife whether it was beating her or divorcing her or act in any way hostile to her.
Ministers regularly tasted prison or were fired and rehired like casual labourers. Two of his favourite ministers were fired and rehired as Prime Minister several times sometimes exchanging posts. On one occasion one of the favourite ministers was detained and in jail and forgotten. When a crisis arose and his particular skills needed, the minister was brought straight from a stinking jail cell and sworn in.
The Leopard hugged him and chided him for coming to his swearing in ceremony covered in dirt, smelling bad and dressed in rags.
He built himself a replica of the Palace of Versailles of French Royalty and a whole town to cater for him and his inner circle in Gbadolite his home village. He built a big international airport in the same jungle village so that his wife could charter Concorde and go shopping in New York, London and Paris and come back with a plane load of shopping with her friends.
Each of these jaunts cost $250,000 to charter the Concorde and his wife was not averse to spending around $1 million on the shopping jaunts. He himself kept a DC-10 for his personal use. Pilots at the ready, the plane was luxuriously equipped and would jet off at a moment’s notice to his holiday homes in Switzerland or France.
His palace complex in the jungle,in his home village was a city on its own, with its own hydro-electric dam and eventually needed 10,000 people to run and maintain the infrastructure which included three huge palaces, a technical college, primary and secondary school, a hospital, movie theatre, a grand ball room, and a hotel sized kitchen with chefs to match. He had delicacies flown in from all over the world.
The Leopard was to eventually get sick. He developed prostate cancer and meanwhile the economy of his country nosedived and the people jokingly renamed their ailing currency the Prostate after his illness.
Eventually the Leopard’s luck run out. His people rose up and with the help of outsiders he was overthrown. He fled the country in perched in his limousine which had been driven into the cargo plane. He died alone in exile.
All his hangers on except for a few loyal retainers had fled.
Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga born October 14, 1930 died September 7 1997. He will not be missed.
By Brian Mulenga
©Kalemba October 16, 2020