This article discusses French support for Zaïrian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko during the Shaba crises of 1977 and 1978. During both crises, “Katangan Gendarmes” based in neighboring Angola invaded Zaire's mineral-rich Shaba Province. Direct and indirect French military interventions, including an airborne assault on the mining city of Kolwezi in 1978, helped to defeat the invaders and save Mobutu's regime. The article shows that French policymakers were drawn to Mobutu because they saw him as a bulwark against Communist expansion in Central Africa. The large Cuban military presence in Angola fueled concerns among French leaders that the Shaba invasions were a Soviet- or Cuban-inspired plot to spread instability and influence into Zaïre and beyond. These fears, which were piqued by alarming reports from French intelligence, were substantially influenced by Mobutu himself, who successfully exploited French fears to gain a de facto security umbrella that allowed him to buck broader calls for reform.

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