Mobutu Sese Seko, the Zairian leader toppled in May after nearly 32 years of autocratic rule that left his country in shambles, died Sunday. He was 66.
Mobutu, who for decades was a strong anti-communist ally of the United States, died of prostate cancer at the Mohamed V military hospital in Rabat, said two hospital workers who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Maghreb Arab Press agency said only that Mobutu had died at 9:30 p.m. local time “after a long illness.” He had been hospitalized there since June 30.
The billionaire leader fled Zaire on May 18, surrendering power to rebels led by Laurent Kabila. Mobutu was accompanied by an entourage of hundreds into exile, first to Togo and then to the north African nation of Morocco.
Mobutu became a symbol of excess, leaving his resource-rich country of 45 million in economic and political shambles. Rebels who began fighting to topple him last September finally deposed him after an eight-month sweep across the vast Central African nation.
Mobutu was out of Zaire during most of the rebel advance, recovering from cancer surgery in his palatial homes in Switzerland and the south of France.
When he finally gave up power in May, he cited only health reasons, ignoring the growing ranks of opposition that had undermined his rule.
Mobutu asked France, his longtime ally, to allow him to return for medical treatment but Paris refused him entry.
Several days after Mobutu fled Zaire, rebel leader Laurent Kabila seized power, proclaiming himself president of the country and renamed it the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mobutu was the last of Africa’s Cold War relics, an autocrat in a leopard-skin hat who lived like a king while leading his potentially magnificent country down a ruinous path.
The former Joseph-Desire Mobutu seized power in a military coup on November 24, 1965, five years after the mineral-blessed colossus once known as the Congo of the continent gained independence from Belgium.