Sese Seko Mobutu was born in Lisala, Congo, in 1930. Educated at a Catholic mission school he served in the Belgian colonial army. By 1960 he had reached the rank of colonel and was chief of staff to the Congolese Army.
After parliamentary elections in May 1960 Patrice Lumumba became the new prime minister of the Congo and immediately talked about the need for social and economic changes in the country. His decision to adopt a non-aligned foreign policy resulted in the CIA becoming interested in the developments in the Congo.
The country was governed from Leopoldville (Kinshasa). In Kantanga, a rich mining province, was very much under the control of Moise Tshombe. In July 1960, Tshombe, supported by white mercenaries and the Belgian mining company Union Minière, declared Katanga independent. Lumumba appealed to the United Nations for help and Dag Hammarskjold agreed to send in a peace-keeping force to restore order.
The following month Colonel Mobutu, with the support of the United States and Belgium, led a military coup and ousted Patrice Lumumba from power. Lumumba was arrested by Mobutu's soldiers and transferred to Elizabethville, Katanga, where he was murdered on 17th January, 1961.
In September 1961 fighting erupted between Katanga troops and the noncombatant forces of the UN. In an effort to secure a cease-fire he arranged to meet President Moise Tshombe. On 17th September 1961 Dag Hammarskjold was killed when his plane crashed close to Ndola airport.
The UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding an inquiry into the circumstances of his death. This was rejected by Moise Tshombe but evidence emerged later that the Belgian government was behind the events in Katanga.
The fighting continued and independent regimes were established at different times in Katanga, Stanleyville and Kasai. For a while Tshombe lived in Europe but returned to become prime minister of the Congo Republic in July 1964. After holding corrupt elections he was forced to flee and went to live in Spain.
General Mobutu staged another military coup in November 1965. He placed Moise Tshombe on trial for treason in his absence and was condemned to death. In July 1967 Tshombe was kidnapped and taken to Algeria. Moise Tshombe died in prison of a heart-attack on 29th June 1969.
Mobutu decided on a policy of Africanization and in October 1971 he changed the name of the country back to Zaire (the name of the country in the 14th century). Three months later a Nationality Law decreed the abolition of all European names for persons and places.
Despite this action Mobutu continued to arrange trading agreements with foreign companies engaged in exploiting the country's valuable copper deposits. He also received support from the United States who helped him develop a one party, anti-Communist, dictatorship.
Two further revolts took place in 1977 and 1978 and was only put down with the help of the French Army. Zaire continued to suffer from economic problems and in May 1997 rebel forces led by Laurent Kabila forced him to flee the country.
Sese Seko Mobutu died in Morocco in 1997.