The Mobutu Regime: Leveraging State Weakness

Jeroen Van den Bosch

Abstract


This paper focuses on regime survival in Zaire/Congo. The author will analyse the events in Zaire during Joseph Mobutu’s reign from 1960 to 1997 through the lens of regime and linkage theories. It is no secret that President Mobutu came to power with Western (US and Belgian) assistance. It is also no surprise that Mobutu was dependent on Western support to remain in power. But it is remarkable that when this support was suddenly withdrawn after the Cold War, Mobutu was able to resist both Western pressure to abdicate and internal opposition, and did so successfully until he was invaded by his smaller neighbours and fled in May 1997. If Mobutu was so dependent on Western support, how did he manage to keep his regime afloat at a time when diplomatic and financial ties were severed? How is it possible that he was able to cling on to power with democratic protests on his doorstep, with no capable army and no alternative great powers to court? The author will show that a combination of regime and linkage theories can formulate answer to these questions by linking the domestic and external relations in one model. This text will not provide a full historical overview of the events in Congo/Zaire from 1960 to 1997, but only pick out those phases, which are necessary to explain regime behaviour.
Keywords: Mobutu, Personalist regimes, Zaire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Linkage, Leverage


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