Mobutu’s Loot and the Congo’s Debt

Against the Current, No. 69, July/August 1997

B. Skanthakumar

ZAIRE UNDER MOBUTU was synonymous with kleptocracy, or government by theft. He amassed a fortune through bribes, embezzlement and “gifts” from foreign governments and companies. There was no distinction between state and personal expenditures.

Mobutu’s illgotten loot is stored not only in personal bank accounts but in those of his family, friends and associates. All these criminals must be investigated. All real estate holdings, equities and assets must be frozen and returned to their rightful owners, the Congolese people. The Financial Times estimated his wealth at US$4 billion, with uncovered properties dotting Belgium, France, Portugal and Switzerland. (Jimmy Burns and Mark Huband, “How Mobutu built up his $4 billion fortune,” Financial Times, May 12 1997. Also, Mark Milner, Chris McGreal and Chris Barrie, “The $4 billion ripoff,” The Guardian, May 13 1997.)

What about the country’s debt? The debt has doubled just since 1990, now standing at $14 billion. This includes $7.7 billion in unpaid interest. Most of it is owed to the United States, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium and Japan. Western governments and banks freely loaned money to a regime they knew was both misappropriating it and had no intention of repaying. Divided by the forty million citizens, it represents more than the average yearly per capita income of $242. It is unfair for the Congolese people to inherit Mobutu’s debt. Why should they bear the burden so that Mobutu may still die better that most Congolese live?

ATC 69, July-August 1997