50 years ago: Mobutu launches coup in Congo


Joseph Mobutu of Congo (right) with United States President John F. Kennedy at White House, 1963

On November 25, 1965, Congolese military strongman Joseph Mobutu ousted the government of President Joseph Kasavubu in a bloodless, CIA-backed coup. Mobutu declared himself president, announced that the constitution would be altered to make the coup legal, that all political parties would be outlawed for five years, and that elections scheduled for the spring would be cancelled.

The Congo was at the beginning of a brutal dictatorship that would last until 1997. A US proxy in the struggle against liberation movements in southern Africa, Mobutu ruled the former Belgian colony, which he renamed Zaire, on behalf of western mining concerns, which raped the region of its immense mineral wealth and left behind one of the poorest countries in the world. Mobutu personally looted between $4 billion and $15 billion from the Congolese economy.

Mobutu, 35 at the time of the coup, had been pegged early by the CIA and the US State Department as an ally. Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Congo when it gained independence from Belgium in 1960, appointed Mobutu as army chief of staff, unaware that the latter was a paid Belgian agent. Mobutu removed Lumumba from office in September 1960, and, in November, handed him over to secessionist forces under Moise Tshombe, who murdered the elected prime minister with the backing of the Eisenhower administration.

Mobutu, promoted in 1961 to major general by Kasavubu, fashioned himself as an anti-communist and received major support from the CIA and the US military as he fought against multiple rebellions and secessionist movements over the next four years.

World Socialist Web Site

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