Congolese nostalgic for era of Mobutu, the 'leopard of Zaire'

More than 20 years after the fall of the charismatic Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled the vast African country with an iron fist from 1965 to 1997, many Congolese look back fondly on the era of "Papa Marshal", as he was nicknamed. Our reporters went to DR Congo to explore the legacy of the longtime strongman.


It’s been 21 years since Marshal Mobutu Sese Seko was ousted as leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo, meaning 21 years since the large African country swapped dictatorship for supposed democracy. And although the country seemed to suffocate under Mobutu’s autocratic regime, many Congolese now look back with nostalgia on the Zaire years, as the country was called at the time. From national pride to roads and electricity, plus a weakening of tribal influence, the successes of the "Marshal" now seem to outweigh his many failings.

In the north of DR Congo, not far from the border with the Central African Republic, lies Gbadolite. This is the location that Mobutu, the "leopard of Zaire", chose to be the stronghold of his power. Formerly a hamlet of 2,000 souls made up of a few terracotta huts, Gbadolite was transformed in the late 1960s to accommodate the dictator and his entourage. In just a few years, a modern and stylish city emerged in the heart of the rainforest.

But one morning of May 1997, the village found itself frozen in time. Driven out by rebels led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila, Mobutu had to flee to Morocco. The Marshal’s extravagant palaces were looted or destroyed. Some buildings under construction were never completed.

Our reporters Horaci Garcia Marti and Thomas Nicolon visited the ruins of Gbadolite and then Kinshasa, the bustling Congolese capital, to try to understand what traces Mobutu has left on the landscape and in the wider collective consciousness.

By speaking to those who worked with the dictator, plus those who suffered from his autocratic regime, our reporters explore the difficulty of moving on from a dictatorship that lasted for more than three decades.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning