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Mobutu's Second Coup

Until 1965, Mobutu was an army man showing himself at the dangerous places and trying to make of the ANC an organized and disciplined 20,000 men force. Seeing that the political parties could not come to an agreement to organize Congo on a sound and efficient basis and were not dedicating themselves to the national cause, Mobutu seized power a second time in November 1965.

Mobutu's second coup, on November 25, 1965, occurred in circumstances strikingly similar to those that had led to his first takeover a struggle for power between the incumbent president, Joseph Kasavubu, and Prime Minister Moise Tshombe. The Kasavubu-Tshombe friction began to gain momentum during the legislative elections in the spring of 1965. The immediate task facing the new parliament was the election of a new president, whose role was defined by the constitution as the chief executive, leaving the prime minister in charge of the day-to-day tasks of government.

Determined to seize the presidency from Kasavubu, Tshombe had organized a new party, the National Confederation of Congolese Associations (Confederation Nationale des Associations Congolaises Conaco), which in effect was little more than a loose alliance of forty-nine, primarily southern, parties from among the more than 200 parties that mushroomed into existence to participate in the electoral process.

Although Conaco emerged triumphant from the March 1965 elections, with a total of 122 out of 167 parliamentary seats, Kasavubu decided to appoint Evariste Kimba, a leading figure of the anti-Tshombe forces, as prime minister-designate. Complex maneuverings followed the nomination of Kimba. When the time came for a vote of confidence, on November 14, the Tshombe coalition, with its clear majority in parliament, managed to block his investiture by a vote of 121 to 134. Another candidate, Victor Nendaka, then sought the investiture, only to be faced with further obduracy from Kasavubu, who went on to renominate Kimba. As in 1960, the constitutional impasse threatened the machinery of government with total paralysis.

The constitutional deadlock paved the way for Mobutu's second military takeover. On November 24, fourteen members of the ANC high command met in Leopoldville with Mobutu in an emergency session. The following day, the announcement was made that Kasavubu and Kimba had been removed from office as president and prime minister-designate, and that Mobutu had been named as chief of state by the army. Colonel Leonard Mulamba became prime minister of the new "government of national union." Parliament, meanwhile, approved by acclamation the new government, which announced that it could remain in office for five years under a state of emergency.

The new regime received considerable initial approval from other African states and from the United States. Indeed, United States support for the new regime was to prove remarkably durable.

No force could oppose him and he could brush aside the existing executive. This time, he decided to declare himself President, to take away most of the Parliament's legislative authorities which were however restored some time later in 1966. He swept out all political opposition and established a new presidential constitution. He first ran the country with a Prime Minister, General Mulamba; he then dismissed him in October 1966 and took full executive powers having in addition control of the army, the police and the national defense.

When in 1965, as in 1960, the division of power between president and prime minister led to a stalemate and threatened the country's stability, Mobutu again seized power (again with United States backing). Unlike the first time, however, Mobutu assumed the presidency, rather than remaining behind the scenes. Ever since 1965, Mobutu Sese Seko dominated the political life of Zaire, restructuring the state on more than one occasion, and earning his self-appointed title of "Father of the Nation." Any discussion of Zaire's political structures and processes must therefore be based on an understanding of the man who literally gave the country its name.

In retrospective justification of his 1965 seizure of power, Mobutu later summed up the record of the First Republic as one of " chaos, disorder, negligence, and incompetence." Rejection of the legacy of the First Republic went far beyond rhetoric. In the first two years of its existence, the new regime turned to the urgent tasks of political reconstruction and consolidation. Creating a new basis of legitimacy for the state, in the form of a single party, came next in Mobutu's order of priority. A third imperative was to expand the reach of the state in the social and political realms, a process that began in 1970 and culminated in the adoption of a new constitution in 1974. By 1976, however, this effort had begun to generate its own inner contradictions, thus paving the way for the resurrection of a bula matari ("he who breaks rocks") system of repression and brutality.

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Page last modified: 22-06-2015 21:02:03 ZULU