The Journal of Modern African Studies

The collapse of Zaïre: implosion, revolution or external sabotage?

Mel McNulty a1 1
a1 The Nottingham Trent University, Clifton Campus, Nottingham NG11 8NS


The collapse of Mobutu's Zaïre in 1996/97 was the result of an unprecedented correspondence of domestic, regional and international interests. The Zaïrean state was established and sustained during the Cold War with Western support as a bulwark against communism and source of raw materials. It maintained itself after the Cold War by playing on external fears of state collapse and by supporting French regional interests. By 1996, with the failure of French credibility and US refusal to intervene, it had no reliable external protector. Internal support was non-existent, and an opposition alliance was constructed under Kabila's leadership. Regional states, notably Rwanda and Angola, intervened to protect their own security. Though successful, this regional alliance itself proved to be unstable, leading to a recurrence of war in 1998.


1 An earlier version of this article was originally presented as a paper on the panel: ‘The State and Regional Security: rogue states, collapsed states, emerging regional powers’, at the MacArthur Foundation conference on ‘Regional Security in a Global Context’, organised by the Department of War Studies, King's College London, April 1997. My thanks again to the MacArthur Foundation and the Department of War Studies for the opportunity to present new material in a supportive environment.