Democratic Republic of Congo remembers, 25 years after Mobutu

May 17, 1997 – May 17, 2022, twenty-five years since the end of Joseph-Désiré Mobutu’s power, after thirty-two years of unchallenged rule, over a territory four times the size of France. May 17 is also the anniversary of the coming to power of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL), led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila and supported by Rwandan and Ugandan troops.

as reported from Kinshasa, Patient Ligodi

May 1997. Power or what is left of it is living its last days. Mobutu decides to throw his last forces into battle in the hope of taking a few weeks or months. He built one last lock in Kenge, almost 250 kilometers from Kinshasa. He brings in Angolan warriors to support the Zairean armed forces. After almost a week of fighting, the lock jumps, highway N ° 1 (RN1) is free. The end is near, but Mobutu does not want to leave Kinshasa. The diplomats stationed in the capital make him understand that there is nothing more to hope for. But he, aware that the game is over, decides to die, says his co-worker, with the gun in his hand.

It takes the insistence of his biological family for him to agree to fly this Friday, May 19th. The business is managed by Mobutu’s closed circle. Some members of the government are unaware. Finally, the marshal’s plan lifts. Destination Gbadolite, home, in the north of the country.

“He could have done it earlier. He had chosen to die in Kinshasa. It was at the last minute that he made this decision under pressure from his family to go to Gbadolite. It will not be possible there either. His own troops wanted to attack. He must finally leave the city and go to Togo, then to Morocco, “says historian Isidore Ndaywel è Nziem, author of several encyclopedias.

Organizing the post-Mobutu party, the caciques of the regime will try to organize the post-Aigle of Kawele (one of the president’s nicknames, editor’s note). On Friday, Tryphon Kin-Kiey Mulumba, the last government spokesman led by Norbert Likulia Bolongo Lingbangi, was among the few ministers to arrive at the prime minister’s post. He knows the hour is serious, but he does not suspect that it is the end of everything: I go to the hotel in Cconseil. There is no prime minister or general. I’m told that everyone went to the airport to say goodbye to the marshal. I and those who were present, we waited until 12 o’clock when the ministers returned. The Prime Minister will then call me to his office. Before the commander of the army and the intelligence service. He will ask me to report on a Council of Ministers that did not take place and without providing me with any information. “You have the brain. You’re smart,” he tells me. »

Journalist with a respected pen and head of the newspaper Le Soft, Tryphon Kin-Kiey Mulumba scribbled a text and had it validated by Norbert Likulia Bolongo Lingbangi before reading it in front of the gang of journalists gathered at the Hôtel du Conseil: “I said:, in the text, that the government had decided to hand over power to Monsignor Laurent Monsengwo, who was president of the high council of the republic, the transitional parliament. “

The media is involved. The news travels around the world and a heavy climate is spreading in the city. The rebels are at the gates of Kinshasa.

“When I heard the news of the president’s escape, I was not surprised. What must have happened to him had happened to him, just like what happens elsewhere in similar circumstances, as with Sékou Touré, for example,” estimates mentality historian Jean-Richard Kambayi Bwatshia This former Minister of Higher Education, an academic under Mobutu, would later write The Tragic Illusion of Power, referring to this episode in Congolese history.

“Pathetic resignation” Even far from being surprised, the author and literary critic André Yoka Lye Mudaba remained thoughtful: “I thought his resignation was pathetic. I can not find any other words. Someone who has lived for 32 years at the height of power and who ends up reaching out to them that way. For all of us, it is a meditation on the definition and destination of power ”.

Mobutu is gone, his employees are like groggy. For a few hours, there will be a vacuum in the power organization. “Everyone was standing in the council chamber. A few minutes later, services began to organize the departure of ministers to Brazzaville. At that time, I did not understand anything about what was going on, “explains Tryphon Kin-Kiey Mulumba, who had tried to stay in the city, to this day. The next day, his co-workers advise him against it. He then got into a car belonging to one of his newspaper’s journalists and tried to leave Kinshasa on the road, without success. “Tank of our soldiers were on their way back from Bandundu. We could not go any further. “It is on the Congo River that he will reach Brazzaville.

This Friday night will be long. The next day, the city wakes up to the news of the assassination of the head of the army, General du Donatien Mahele Lieko Bokungu in the Tshatshi military camp.

“Army undermined by corruption” “It had the role of protecting Kinshasa. Realized that the Zairean troops could not resist for various reasons. The army was plagued by corruption. The weapons were heterogeneous. The parts purchased did not match the weapons. There was no chance that “General Donatien Mahele Lieko Bokungu had chosen the option of negotiating a soft entry for AFDL forces. He had at the last minute asked the troops not to fight. This gesture was considered by some as treason. That is why he was shot down by the troops.” , explains historian Isidore Ndaywel è Nziem.

At dawn, “Kadogos” (nicknames given to child soldiers by the AFDL) and the Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers entered Kinshasa to applause from the people of Kinshasa.

“Everyone was exhausted, including in Mobutian power. People wanted a change of landscape,” recalls Yoka Lye Mudaba. This was also noted by Kambayi Bwatshia: “The people were tired of the dictatorship. He was stuck in poverty and unemployment. some that they could even accept a dog, but no more Mobutu ”.

The news of the arrival of AFDL troops arrives in Gbadolite, but the marshal tries to resist once more, but not for long. “The story goes that the soldiers of the Special Presidential Division (DSP) were on their way to his residence and sang. He refused to leave and decided to die in his country. It was almost by force that he was abducted by force. He was ill. “He was almost dying. He knew he was doomed,” adds Tryphon Kin-Kiey Mulumba.

Revolution has become an almost taboo word May 17 has since been a public holiday in the DRC. The day has long been celebrated as a day of liberation. The key word was liberation. Today, history stems. Revolution has become an almost taboo word. May 17 is now celebrated as the day of the armed forces in the DRC. “Revolution is first and foremost an astronomical term. It’s doing the whole tour one thing. This is to ensure that the inner side becomes the outer side. We have not had a revolution. We have not had a revolution. It was a kind of change in continuity, ”explains Isidore Ndaywel è Nziem.

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