Maria Stella Rognoni

On the «Extractive State»: The Congo/Zaire of the 1980s in the CIA Papers

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The military defeat in Angola and the two Shaba crises of 1977 and 1978 curtailed the military and international ambitions that had characterised the early years of Joseph-Désiré Mobutu’s regime (1965-97). Nevertheless, the Congo – Zaire since 1971 – remained an important ally for the United States and some European countries in the context of the transformations taking place in Southern Africa. Despite the economic and financial constraints of the 1980s, Mobutu did not give up his regional role, intervening militarily in Chad in 1983 and exploiting the logic of the Cold War to his own advantage. The decade also began with the first manifestation of dissent against the «Président-fondateur»: on 1st November 1980, a long letter signed by 13 members of parliament called for the end of the single party rule and a reassessment of the country’s governance. Two years later, this first mobilisation gave birth to the UDPS, a party that is still playing a major role in today DRC. Based mainly on primary sources from the CIA Archives, the article examines both the internal dimension – between authoritarian practices and multiple centrifugal and resistance forces – and the international dimension of the Congo in the 1980s, with particular attention to the tensions between the guidelines of international financial institutions and the choices of donor countries.


  • Zaire
  • State formation
  • Authoritarianism
  • Africa’
  • s International Relations
  • Donor-Recipient Relations
  • Cold War


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