Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga (14 October 1930 – 7 September 1997), commonly known as Mobutu or Mobutu Sese Seko (pronounced /məˈbuːtuː ˈsɛseɪ ˈsɛkoʊ/ in English), born Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, was the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (also known as Zaire for much of his reign) from 1965 to 1997. While in office, he formed an authoritarian regime, amassed vast personal wealth, and attempted to purge the country of all colonial cultural influence, while also maintaining an anti-communist stance.
Mobutu, a member of the Ngbandi ethnic group, was born in Lisala, Belgian Congo. Mobutu's mother Marie Madeleine Yemo, was a hotel maid who fled to Lisala to escape the harem of a local village chief. There she met and married Albéric Gbemani, a cook for a Belgian judge. Shortly she gave birth to Mobutu. The name "Mobutu" was selected by an uncle. Gbemani died when Mobutu was eight.
The wife of the Belgian judge took a liking to Mobutu and taught him to speak, read and write fluently. Yemo relied on the help of relatives to support her four children, and the family moved often. Mobutu's earliest studies were in Léopoldville, but his mother eventually sent him to an uncle in Coquilhatville, where he attended the Christian Brothers School, a Catholic mission boarding school. A physically imposing figure, he dominated school sports. He also excelled in academics and ran the class newspaper. He was also known for his pranks and impish sense of humor. A classmate recalled that when the Belgian priests, whose first language was Dutch, misspoke in French, Mobutu would leap to his feet in class and point out the mistake. In 1949 Mobutu stowed away aboard a boat to Léopoldville and met a girl. The priests found him several weeks later, and at the end of the school year he was sent to the Force Publique (FP), the Belgian Congolese army. Enlistment, which came with a seven-year commitment, was a punishment for rebellious students.