On 24 November 1965, faced with the paralysis of the state as a result of the increasing rivalry between President Kasa-Vubu and Prime Minister Moïse Tshombe (dismissed on 13 October in favour of Evariste Kimba), the military high command organized a coup d’état that conferred power on General Mobutu. The latter immediately established a strong government, granted himself ‘emergency powers’ and then ‘full powers’, stamped out the opposition, imposed a single party – the Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR) – and ruled his country singlehanded. In the years that followed, while all challenges were harshly repressed, President Mobutu proceeded to nationalize large sectors of the economy that had often remained in Belgian hands, including the Mining Union of Haut Katanga (UMHK), which contributed 50 per cent of Congo’s budget, and then launched his policy of Authenticité , which he defined as a return to the sources and values of his ancestors and ‘the refusal of the people of Zaire blindly to embrace imported ideologies’. It affected all sectors of society. The people and towns lost their Christian or colonial names in favor of ‘authentic’ names. Joseph-Désiré Mobutu became Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa za Banga, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo was renamed Republic of Zaire (in fact, a Portuguese name). Finally, in 1973 the Zairian President proceeded to the Zairianization of foreign firms, or the seizure of control of the country’s wealth for Zairians through the nationalization of agro-industrial firms in the hands of foreigners. They were redistributed to the state bourgeoisie close to Mobutu who, by virtue of his lack of experience and predatory practices, was to plunge the country into economic chaos.
In March 1977, the ‘Katangese Tigers’ (former gendarmes of Moïse Tshombe and numerous Katangese who had taken refuge in Angola from the late 1960s) of the Front for the National Liberation of the Congo (FLNC), led by Nathanaël Mbumba, invaded the province of Shaba. They were repelled in May 1977 thanks to Operation Verveine mounted by Morocco with the help of France. A year later, in March 1978, the FLNC unleashed a new war by attacking the mining town of Kolwezi, where a large number of Westerners were resident. The Zairian regime rapidly retook control thanks to military interventions by France and Belgium to protect their expatriates.
Harshly repressed during the first fifteen years of the Second Republic, internal opposition to the regime began to organize from the early 1980s when thirteen parliamentarians, among them the former Interior Minister Etienne Tshisekedi, openly challenged President Mobutu by sending him a memorandum in which they rejected his practices of bad governance and personalization of power and the increasingly visible deterioration in Zaire’s socio-economic fabric. In February 1982, having spent many months in the regime’s prisons, they founded the first opposition party in Zaire, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS).