Saturday, February 28, 2004

When Mobutu Reigned Supreme

Here's a truly hilarious piece on one woman's (partially succesful) attempt to get a personal audience with the Congo's one time Kleptocrat-in-Chief, Mobuto Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa za Banga* ("The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake.") The following anecdote about Mobutu's rule tells one all one needs to know about the man's philosophy of governance:

Mobutu once told citizens at a public rally, "Go ahead and steal, but don't steal too much, or you will get caught."

It's clowns like this who gave both African leadership and anti-communism a bad name. Unlike a lot of Africans, I have no illusions that Patrice Lumumba would have done great things for the Congo - a country so diverse simply couldn't have been held together other than by brute force, and Belgium had done almost nothing prepare the Congo for independence - but I still think it would have been better in the long run had Lumumba been allowed to try to govern and fail. That Lumumba sought Soviet aid to quell Katanga's attempt at seccession was hardly grounds enough to label him a "communist" and green-light his kidnapping and murder; plenty of Third World rulers before and since have welcomed Soviet arms and training without buying into the Soviet ideology, including Egypt's Nasser, Nigeria's Gowon, Syria's Assad and Iraq's Saddam Hussein. All that was achieved by the unseating of Lumumba was a delay of Congo's day of reckoning by some 37 years, and the granting of Joseph Desiré Mobutu the licence to rob his countrymen blind in the interlude.

*UPDATE: Heeding the remarks of one commenter, I've amended Mobutu's name to reflect the title in it's full glory.