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Influential Africans: Mobutu Sese Seko

A prominent Liberian academic, Professor Joseph Saye-Guannue, says the most influential African is a man who has been largely unpopular in much of Africa, Mobutu Sese-Seko, the former leader of Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic Of the Congo.

Mobutu Sese Seko overthrew the nationalist leader Patrice Lumumba in the early 1960’s. His rule, which lasted until 1997, was know for vast corruption and tyranny. The theft of economic resources was so great under his rule that his administration was sometimes called a “kleptocracy.” He often bribed his rivals into submission using the slogan “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer still.” Western intelligence agencies helped keep Mobutu in power as an antidote to Marxist influence in neighboring Angola. He was finally driven from power by rebels led by Laurent-Desire Kabila.

Professor Joseph Saye-Guannu heads the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution at Liberia’s second largest university, Cuttington. Guannu told Monroviai-based reporter Frank Sainworla that Africans should learn a lesson from failed and corrupt leaders.

That, in fact, is the reason he gives for citing the late General Mobutu as the most influential leader in the past 50 years.

“He was an authoritarian, he was intolerant. He left his country bankrupt. For so many years he ruled that country, there was no sense of identity. So most of the problems we have today can be attributed to his leadership. He was part and parcel

of the club of dictators. Many followed him; Idi Amin (of Uganda), they were all part and parcel of this club.

They took their cue from him as well as other dictators on the continent, not only in Central and East Africa but also in West Africa,” he says.

The Liberian historian, who served as his country’s Ambassador to the United States in the 1980s, believes corrupt leadership and dictatorship can come to an end in Africa.

The solution, he says, is to develop a new breed of leaders that will understand the evils of Mobuto and others.

The Liberian academic challenges Africans, mainly intellectuals, to learn the lessons of bad leadership.

“In this connection, we all hope that intellectuals should play a determining part in moving forward. Intellectuals should be courageous. Intellectuals should not sacrifice their responsibility, their honor, dignity and truth [for] 30 pieces of silver,” he says.

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