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.

In March 1977 and again in May 1978, rebels based in northern Angola known as the Katangan Gendarmes, or Tigres, invaded Zaïre's Shaba Province and seriously threatened the survival of Mobutu Sese Seko's regime.1 On both occasions, France responded by providing crucial military support to Mobutu. In 1978, French aid included a direct airborne assault on Kolwezi, Shaba's most important mining center, on the pretext of liberating European hostages. The French military support provided a solid political basis from which Mobutu negotiated a reduction in tensions with Angola and worked to consolidate his repressive regime.

The French actions signaled to Mobutu that he benefited from a de facto security umbrella, which then allowed him to buck general Western and domestic pressures to reform his regime, reinforcing its worst aspects.2 On the basis of recently declassified French archival materials, this article seeks to understand what drove French security policy toward Mobutu in the late 1970s. The article explains why French policymakers, who had usually limited their military activities in Africa to their former colonies, made such a commitment to Zaïre, a former Belgian colony.

The article contends that France's defense of Mobutu's regime was driven largely by Cold War concerns. French policymakers saw Zaïre as a “frontline” state against international Communism. The large Cuban troop presence in neighboring Angola, backed by the Soviet Union, and the increasing intensity of struggles for majority rule in southern Africa, lent credence to worries about an aggressive Soviet-inspired plot to destabilize Zaïre and the rest of central Africa. This feeling was deeply entrenched in the minds of many French officials, who believed that a failure to confront the Communist threat would have a negative impact on their credibility among other important African allies. Furthermore, Mobutu himself played an important role in cultivating these views through his interactions with French officials and the distorted intelligence he fed to French diplomatic and military personnel. Although potential commercial opportunities played a role in the growing French interest in Zaïre, military support to Mobutu was not directly driven by important business interests or by immediate economic considerations.

France in Zaïre

Zaïre's importance to French policymakers grew substantially during the administration of President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (1974–1981). French interest in Zaïre dated back to the colonial period, but French political engagement in the country was comparatively limited before Giscard came to power.3 However, Giscard's general policy toward Africa aimed to extend France's sphere of influence beyond its traditional former colonial domains.4 This resulted from a combination of factors, including ideological and geopolitical ambitions to reinforce France's world stature as the leader of a bloc -of francophone countries, as well as a desire to seek profitable opportunities for French businesses. Zaïre, as the “second largest Francophone country in the world,” thus had a privileged position.5

By the mid-1970s, Zaïre appeared to hold enormous economic potential. Mobutu had brought a modicum of political stability to the country after his 1965 coup d’état. Zaïre's vast mineral wealth attracted the most attention. The country was the largest global producer of cobalt and industrial diamonds, the world's sixth largest copper supplier, and the site of vast quantities of manganese and tin, as well as zinc, iron, gold, and other minerals.6

In a letter to Giscard's chief adviser on Africa, René Journiac, in 1975, André Ross, the French ambassador to Zaïre, described the broader French interest in the country:

Our interests are not situated in the short term, but rather in the medium and long-term. It is essential to ensure for the future our direct supply of copper and non-ferrous metals, for which this country has the richest deposits. Our interests also consist in France's long-term participation in the construction and exploitation of the Grand Inga Dam, which is the biggest source of hydro-electric energy in the world.

For us, that is Zaïre, but it is also the second largest francophone country in the world which, through its weight, necessarily exercises an attractive force on the countries of our former Black Africa, and we need to hold to our positions. The Americans, who have helped Zaïre in a difficult period, have managed to keep essential positions there. Our action should try to exploit the current situation to place ourselves in a comparable way.7

This somewhat rosy image formed the backdrop for Giscard's state visit to Kinshasa, Zaïre's capital, in early August 1975, a visit that provided an enormous political and psychological boost to Mobutu. Officials at the French Foreign Ministry, the Quai d’Orsay, proclaimed that the trip constituted the most important political event of the year in Zaïre and significantly contributed to reinforcing French prestige and economic interests in the country.8 Mobutu treated Giscard, a lover of adoring crowds, to a grand welcome at Kinshasa's 21st of May Stadium.9 Giscard fondly remembered how the stadium was “filled to the brim with a crowd as enthusiastic as it would have been for a World Cup Final.”10

Giscard's visit signaled an important affirmation of French interests. One of the principal objects of discussions between Giscard and Mobutu was a major telecommunications contract involving the French electronics and defense firm Thomson-CSF.11 The project involved the installation of satellite telecommunications infrastructure to establish direct links between Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, as well as a national television network that would enhance the regime's prestige.12 Giscard agreed to a financing scheme that included a 59.3 million franc treasury loan for the acquisition of necessary building materials in France.13 For Giscard, French interests went hand-in-hand with family interests. The head of Thomson-CSF was Philippe Giscard d’Estaing, the president's cousin. The director of the Banque Française du Commerce Extérieur, which provided special financing for French firms trading overseas, including for Thomson-CSF's contract in Zaïre, was François Giscard d’Estaing, another cousin.14

French economic interests in Zaïre were principally concentrated in Shaba and focused mostly on the activities of a large French parastatal, the Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières (BRGM), one of the largest mine operators in Africa.15 The BRGM, whose presence in Zaïre dated to 1965, owned shares in several mining consortia operating in the province.16 Several other prominent French companies were also present in Shaba, mainly in small road-building projects and the construction of meteorological stations.17 Additionally, France imported roughly one third of its total copper supply from Zaïre. In 1975, this amounted to some 179 million tons, with a value of roughly 1 billion francs.18 Much of French investment in Zaïre, as elsewhere in Africa, was strongly linked to interests related to or controlled by important French business elites.19

However, by the mid-1970s, harsh economic realities had diminished the possibilities for sustainable and inclusive economic development. Mass nationalizations, combined with a severe reduction in global demand for raw materials, particularly copper, as a result of the 1973–1974 oil crisis, led to a series of economic shocks in Zaïre.20 The downward trend in the price of raw materials exacerbated the country's growing current-account deficit and accumulation of arrears on its foreign debt. By 1976 Zaïre had accumulated an unsustainable level of external public debt, totaling some $2.7 billion, or 55 percent of the value of that year's exports.21 Recourse to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forced Mobutu to agree to a 42 percent devaluation of Zaïre's currency in an effort to improve the balance of payments.22

French officials thought these measures too harsh. France by this time was Zaïre's second most important creditor, and French policymakers extended Zaïrian debt repayments and encouraged other countries to do the same.23 Partly this stemmed from a feeling that the Mobutu regime bore little responsibility for Zaïre's difficulties, which instead had resulted from exogenous shocks. Ambassador Ross emphasized the short-term nature of Zaïre's financial difficulties and criticized the attitude of those, particularly in Belgium, who held pessimistic views of Mobutu.24

Regional politics compounded Mobutu's economic problems, however. With the overthrow of the Portuguese dictatorship in April 1974, Lisbon's colonies rapidly gained independence. As the Portuguese started withdrawing from Angola, Zaïre's large southern neighbor, three principal guerrilla movements escalated their struggle for power. Shortly before Angola became independent on 11 November 1975, a massive Cuban military intervention aided by Moscow helped to tip the balance of forces definitively in the direction of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), a Soviet-backed Marxist-Leninist group. Mobutu had played a key role both in providing support and in helping U.S., French, and South African efforts to assist the opponents of the MPLA.25 However, by early 1976, the MPLA controlled most of the major cities in the country.

After signing an agreement with the new MPLA government in February 1976, Mobutu had more or less stopped providing substantial aid to Angolan rebels, though in reality both states continued to support armed opposition groups.26 Nonetheless, massive refugee flows and the presence of armed groups along Zaïre's lengthy border with Angola posed a threat to Mobutu's security. Continued fighting in Angola had closed the vital Benguela railway linking Zaïre's landlocked Shaba region to the Atlantic Ocean through Angolan territory. Exports of Zaïre's mineral wealth thus became more difficult. That same month, partly in response to the reality on the ground and pressures from important francophone allies in Africa, France also officially recognized the MPLA government in Luanda.27 This came despite France's role as the most important European supporter of the MPLA's opposition, particularly the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).28 Unofficial French support for UNITA persisted at least until 1978, and probably beyond.29

The failure of U.S. and French efforts in Angola reinforced Mobutu's regional importance in the eyes of French policymakers. The U.S. government's inability to shape the outcome in the Angolan conflict bolstered French concerns. Officials in Paris worried that allowing Mobutu to fall would irreparably damage not only French prestige on the continent but also the standing of the West more generally. In March 1977, shortly before the first Shaba invasion, an embassy analysis stressed that Zaïre's economic importance was overshadowed by its geopolitical significance:

[Zaïre’s] political interest is capital. The influence provided by its central position combined with its exceptional size is considerable. A change that would establish a progressive regime in Kinshasa would make 1. The survival of moderate regimes in neighboring or nearby countries (Gabon-Cameroon-CAR-Rwanda-Burundi) extremely problematic and above all 2. Would seriously compromise chances for a peaceful solution to southern Africa's problems, while at the same time increasing the possibilities for penetration of outside influences hostile to the West.30

After Mobutu's acceptance of the IMF's initial conditions in March 1976, officials in the French Foreign Ministry concluded that the most important means of ensuring future economic prosperity in Zaïre, as well as the security of growing French interests, lay in the continued stability of the regime.31 Much of France's policy toward Zaïre was driven by the fragile regional political situation, which gave Zaïre a strategic significance far in excess of its economic importance.

Although French policymakers and investors placed a great deal of hope in future prospects, French economic interests in Zaïre were actually quite limited. Compared to other Western countries, French direct investment was minuscule. In 1978, for instance, Belgium had some $800 million of direct investment, followed by the United States with $200 million, West Germany with $80 million, and Great Britain with $60 million. France lagged far behind at a mere $20 million.32

Overall, the relative importance of French trade with Zaïre actually declined during Giscard's presidential term. In 1974, it represented a mere 3.4 percent of the value of France's total trade with sub-Saharan Africa. By 1981, this figure had declined to 1.7 percent, though real trade figures fluctuated around an annual mean of 619 million francs in imports from Zaïre and 544 million francs in exports.33 Because the total value of French trade with sub-Saharan Africa as a whole averaged only 6.5 percent of total French trade from 1974 to 1980, the economic value of Zaïre to French interests was minimal.34

As a result, French and Belgian mining elites with investments in Zaïre had a “surprisingly casual attitude” toward outside threats to Mobutu. Polled by French intelligence officials during the first Shaba invasion, these investors expressed “realism” about Mobutu's vulnerability. They further affirmed that even a situation in which Zaïre's mineral wealth came under Communist control and its output dedicated solely to the Communist world, their interests would not suffer much insofar as buyers would dominate the market for most of Zaïre's exports for the foreseeable future. The decline of copper prices as the first Shaba invasion progressed into the heart of the country's copper belt seemed to confirm this view.35 Furthermore, although Zaïre was the world's largest producer of cobalt, an important strategic mineral, French interests had few close links with Zaïrian production because France imported most of its cobalt from Morocco. In the United States, which imported some 70 percent of its cobalt needs from Zaïre, policymakers expressed a great deal of hesitation about protecting the regime.36

Moreover, the French state investment insurance agency (Compagnie Française d’Assurance pour le Commerce Extérieur, or COFACE), stopped guaranteeing all medium and long-term investments in Zaïre with the first invasion of the Katanga Gendarmes. COFACE informed the Quai d’Orsay that this had less to do with the invasion itself than with Zaïre's precarious financial situation.37 The move dealt a harsh blow to future French private investment projects, a prospect that Ross vigorously protested.38 In short, France's commitment to protecting Mobutu's regime did not primarily derive from commercial pressure.

Shaba I

On 8 March 1977, roughly 2,000 Katangan Gendarmes entered Zaïre's Shaba province from Angola.39 Over the following weeks they expanded their control over a large portion of Shaba as units of the Zaïrian army, the Forces Armées Zaïroises (FAZ) disintegrated, many without fighting. The location of the invasion and the identity of the invaders made a forceful response necessary in the eyes of French officials. Shaba Province (currently known as Katanga), constituted the primary repository of Zaïre's mineral wealth. It hosted thousands of European expatriate workers and their families, most of whom were tied to the Zaïrian mining parastatal Générale des Carrières et des Mines (Gécamines), which dominated the local economy. Shaba contained 80 percent of Zaïre's natural resources, principally copper. Copper exports from the province provided some 70 percent of the regime's foreign exchange earnings and budget.40 Any movement that threatened to deprive Kinshasa of this lucrative source of revenue posed an existential threat to the regime. The past record of war and secession in Katanga, combined with regime repression of the Lunda, one of Shaba's principal ethnic groups, meant that instability in the province could result in serious consequences for the country as a whole.

The earlier record of the Gendarmes heightened these fears. Their political movement, the Front de Libération Nationale du Congo (FLNC), led by the former Kolwezi chief of police, Nathanaël Mbumba, had an ostensibly national political agenda.41 However, the Gendarmes had originated in 1960 during the failed Katangan Secession under Moïse Tshombe as the backbone of secessionist Katanga's military force. French observers suspected that its current iteration had not entirely shed its secessionist past. Although veterans of the 1960–1961 conflict were probably no longer the majority of FLNC fighters by the time of the Shaba invasions, the young people who had been recruited from among refugee populations were from families that had fled Katanga to Angola in the 1960s.42 Serving as armed auxiliaries to the colonial Portuguese regime until Angolan independence in 1975, they quickly realigned with the Marxist MPLA and played a significant role in their victories over FNLA troops backed by Mobutu before the arrival of the Cuban intervention force.43 In return, the MPLA allowed the FLNC a substantial degree of political and military control over parts of northern Angola bordering Shaba Province, from which they could threaten Zaïre.44 The MPLA leaders also agreed to continue the subsidy the Portuguese had paid to the Gendarmes.45

The actual goals of the invasion remain unclear. Miles Larmer has suggested that the slow rate of advance and increase in numbers indicate that the invasion was primarily aimed at recruitment, presumably in preparation for later operations.46 Most of the Gendarmes were ethnic Lunda, and the territory they ended up controlling during their first invasion extended to the geographical limits of the Lunda community in Shaba. As a frequent target of regime repression and poor governance, the Zaïrian Lunda would have formed a natural constituency for a longer-term insurrection.

French officials however, were convinced that the invasion represented a Soviet or Cuban policy aimed at striking Zaïre. In this view, Zaïre constituted a “perfect target” for Moscow, which could, “without great risk, contribute to undermining the confidence of moderate African countries with respect to Western protection, and test the American will to retaliate.”47 From the French perspective, the FLNC's agency appeared largely circumscribed by the designs of other actors. This bias affected French political analyses throughout the Shaba crises.

Apparent U.S. inaction reinforced French concerns. The new administration of President Jimmy Carter did not seem inclined to commit serious resources to counter the invasion. Unlike their French counterparts and the previous administration of Gerald Ford, Carter administration officials had deep reservations about Mobutu's regime. Carter's National Security Council met in mid-March to discuss the situation as it unfolded. U.S. officials believed the Katangan invasion put them in a difficult situation. The NSC concluded:

The dilemma is a simple and traditional one. How far do we go to support a regime that is very imperfect but is friendly to us, with which we have been deeply involved, and which is seen to be our “ally”? To what extent is our credibility at stake? Will our help have any real chance of success in making the FAZ a capable instrument?48

This dilemma plagued U.S. policy toward Zaïre throughout the Carter presidency. During the first Shaba crisis, U.S. officials wished to keep a low profile while hoping, justifiably as it turned out, that Europeans and Africans would carry the burden of Mobutu's defense.

Thus, during Shaba I, the Carter administration did little to support Mobutu apart from providing $15 million worth of supplementary “non-lethal” military assistance.49 The lack of U.S. involvement irked French authorities, who remarked that U.S. officials would have a hard time protecting Zaïre “by contenting themselves with the delivery of canteens, blankets, and medicine.”50 However, the French themselves soon began to fear that no amount of material military aid could save the situation because, “regardless of Zaïre's quantity of weapons, the men who can use them are lacking.”51

In late March and early April, the FLNC advance threatened Shaba's mining capital, Kolwezi. The FAZ fled without fighting, often pillaging communities as they passed through them. The threat to Kolwezi, home to more than 3,000 expatriate workers and their families, including some 600 French, became the trigger for a deeper French commitment. French Ambassador Ross feared that the capture of Kolwezi would empower other opposition groups and fatally weaken Mobutu's ability to hold the country together.52 French military advisers on the ground began to push for a military intervention as the only means of saving Kolwezi and expelling the FLNC from Zaïre.53

However, Ross believed that Africans themselves should resolve the problem if possible.54 An intervention by a fellow African country had the advantage of avoiding possible diplomatic repercussions on a continent in which Cuban and Soviet military interventions had made the question of foreign involvement politically sensitive. Perhaps more importantly from the French point of view, a French intervention could conceivably escalate and internationalize the invasion in a way favorable to the Soviet Union, Cuba, and their African allies by undermining Mobutu's already shaky legitimacy. The problem lay in finding an appropriate country willing to mount such an intervention. Mobutu needed a friendly African state that had some kind of rapid intervention capacity.55

Ross's push for an African intervention helped convince Giscard to take action. He gave approval for Ross and Journiac to put pressure on Mobutu to ask Morocco's King Hassan II to send troops.56 Hassan and the Moroccan regime had sympathized with Mobutu's position from the beginning of the crisis. Pro-government newspapers quickly compared the Katangan invasion to Morocco's struggle against the Polisario guerrillas in the Western Sahara who aimed at securing an independent state within territory claimed by Morocco.57

Hassan had also frequently and vocally criticized the increased level of Communist involvement in Africa. Thus, in the first week of April, he agreed to Mobutu's request for assistance with a rapid deployment of some 1,500 elite troops.58 The French air force provided significant logistical and equipment transport support for this deployment.

Officially, the French government participated only minimally in the intervention. Foreign Ministry talking points for its diplomats emphasized the limited nature of the operation and insisted that French planes did not carry Moroccan troops and that French forces would not participate in “military activities in the operational zones.”59

At the outset, French authorities kept even this support for the Moroccan mission a secret. As the eleven French C-160 “Transall” military transports left for Morocco on 7 April, they had orders to paint Moroccan insignia on their aircraft. Although the French military transport command countermanded these orders the following day, they are indicative of the general atmosphere.60 Ultimately, this operation, dubbed Opération Verveine (Operation Verbena) transported some 125 vehicles and large amounts of equipment to Zaïre for the Moroccan expeditionary force during the course of a week.61 Although finished by 16 April, the French support mission had provided a vital service in defense of Mobutu's regime. Only on 12 April did Giscard publicly announce the dispatch of Verveine, specifying that “there are no French who are, or who will be engaged in Zaïre. This is an assistance operation, of cooperation, for transportation between Morocco and Zaïre.”62

This kind of affirmation made sense politically, but it bore little relationship to reality. Giscard had already actively committed a substantial military advisory mission to Zaïre that seems to have had a decisive effect on the eventual outcome of the war. First, the French mission included an air and a ground detachment to help maintain FAZ equipment.63 Second, soon after the invasion began, French officers took up key posts in the Zaïrian Defense Ministry to help with war planning. Furthermore, French advisers established a major logistics base at Kolwezi and managed the entirety of the FAZ supply train.64 French advisers also worked to train a Zaïrian mortar unit and an airborne company.65 In late April, the French flew a secret photoreconnaissance mission, codenamed Opération Libellule (Operation Dragonfly) in support of Moroccan and FAZ forces.66

Publicly, French officials tried to downplay these roles. French advisers in Kolwezi even received orders to remove insignia that made them readily identifiable as military personnel.67 This did not change the fact that France's active participation in war planning and execution, combined with crucial logistical support, played a fundamental role in the deployment of the Moroccan forces, the recovery of the FAZ, and the eventual expulsion of the Katangans.

From the beginning of the Moroccan deployment on 11 April, the combined Moroccan-FAZ forces took a month and a half to recapture the towns held by the FLNC and gradually push the organized Gendarme units back across the Angolan border. French military officials observed that many abuses characterized the FAZ advance. Even in the absence of any combat, FAZ troops burned villages to the ground and committed other atrocities.68 The Moroccans loudly complained about the FAZ's “scorched earth” tactics.69 Overall, the FLNC conducted an orderly withdrawal, and most of the FAZ advance occurred without resistance as the Gendarmes’ withdrawal outpaced the FAZ offensive. On a few occasions the Gendarmes mounted fierce rearguard actions that delayed FAZ movements, but otherwise the Gendarmes managed to slow the counteroffensive by damaging or destroying bridges along the line of their retreat and by laying mines, while otherwise avoiding combat.70

On 27 May, Mobutu returned to Kinshasa in triumph. In a speech delivered in Kinshasa's 21st of May Stadium, he declared that although Zaïre had suffered a “serious moral defeat” before the successful counteroffensive, his forces had finally carried the day with a significant military and diplomatic victory.71 With this declaration, the “80 Day War” came to an end.

French policymakers saw Mobutu's victory as their own. Officials at the Quai d’Orsay felt that the support given to Mobutu reinforced their credibility among their moderate African allies by signaling a French commitment to “security and solidarity.” This allowed these states to hold the line more firmly against the radical governments solidly backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba within the Organization of African Unity (OAU). French policymakers also saw their support for Mobutu as a warning to the radical African states and their Soviet-bloc allies that attempts to repeat the “destabilization” of Katanga would inevitably transform the region into a “theater of confrontation between Great Powers.”72

A French embassy report written two years later captured the dominant mood in its summary of the consequences of the French role during the first Shaba crisis:

The result was thus beneficial: it gave a boost to our influence in Zaïre; this state linked itself more closely with other states in Francophone Africa; a deep feeling of satisfaction was felt in moderate African capitals, now convinced that despite the immobility of the American administration, our determination could protect them from Soviet expansionism.73

Now more than ever, Mobutu's survival had become important for French interests. Although some officials at the Quai d’Orsay privately blamed Mobutu for Zaïre's state of decay and the failure of its army, they felt that “the future of Zaïre is tied to that of President Mobutu.” The need to continue supporting him stemmed from “a doubly negative reason.” First, no one in Mobutu's entourage or in the opposition could succeed him while maintaining the country's stability. Second, they judged the potential risks of anarchy arising from his departure as too great to contemplate.74 Mobutu did little to dispel these illusions himself. He confided to Ross that he had “felt the wind of the bullet” and that his two priorities were fixing the army and stabilizing the economy.75

However, the conduct of this war came as something of a shock to French military observers. The FAZ had a disastrous record. In spite of the 65,000 troops in the army, often provided with modern weaponry, their training, organization, pay, and maintenance were severely deficient. FAZ columns did not know how to take proper security measures, sometimes resulting in deadly ambushes. Combined with massive shortages of communications equipment and transport, the shortcomings undercut morale, as manifested in the FAZ's initial 200-kilometer headlong retreat when it barely engaged in combat.76 In a later assessment, Lt. Colonel Bommier, the French military attaché in Kinshasa, described the FLNC's battlefield superiority as “expressing itself more through the fear that it inspired than by the blows it dealt.”77 Bommier also observed that, apart from some fighting in the first days of the invasion, the FAZ had engaged the FLNC only three times in substantial combat.78

Mobutu appeared to move swiftly in reconstituting the army. He began with purges of high-ranking officers and a restructuring of the logistics and communications chains. French observers felt that his new army appointments, particularly at the top of the military leadership and in Shaba, went to more capable and experienced officers.79 However, they also felt the purge went too far, removing close to 200 officers from an army that had only 800. Mobutu executed 14 officers for various alleged abuses and sentenced others to lengthy prison terms. French observers began to fear that these “reforms” would lower army morale still further and cause more problems for Mobutu in the future.80

Nonetheless, the French responded favorably to Mobutu's requests for aid, providing significant amounts of assistance. By March 1978 this included the deployment of dozens of advisers and maintenance personnel to assist the FAZ in several areas, including training. However, the French military mission reported mixed results. Of the fourteen Mirage III fighter aircraft in the Zaïrian air force, only three to five were operational at any one time. The French also ran into problems training air force personnel, whose quality was sorely lacking, though the French did report some success in training a FAZ airborne battalion.81

French officials coupled this with substantial material aid, including 1.3 million francs worth of munitions, and four million francs worth of equipment for the newly formed airborne brigade.82 By way of comparison, the Belgian government provided the FAZ with advisers for its General Staff, as well as training for an infantry brigade and the newly established logistics command. The Carter administration had greatly limited its aid, but did provide the FAZ with a C-130 transport aircraft.83 Nonetheless, in early March 1978, French intelligence concluded: “The operational value of the Zaïrian ground forces is practically zero. … One would think that without outside help, they could not counter limited incursions of the Shaba 1977 type, and would not long be able to resist a large attack conducted by standard means.”84

Mobutu's commitment to human rights should also have raised questions about the nature of the regime and the capacity of its army to provide true security for its people and the economy. In February 1978, Ross reported that FAZ troops had slaughtered some 500 people in an effort to suppress a small-scale uprising in Kwilu Province, some 400 kilometers east of Kinshasa.85 This event distressed Ross enough that he attempted to address the question of the central government's direct role in the massacres. He acknowledged that it was hard to evaluate the issue, but he went on to say that Mobutu, then on a trip abroad, had “ordered firmness to ensure that order is maintained during his absence in an area which is particularly sensitive. However, this instruction was largely exceeded by officials, among whom the psychosis of conspiracy and revolt have remained extremely powerful since the war in Shaba.”86 The sheer brutality was likely, at least in part, the result of the area's close links with former opposition figure Pierre Mulele, whom Mobutu had murdered in 1968 following an amnesty offer. Ever since, the regime had worried about unrest in the region.87 Ross's indication that Mobutu considered the region to be “particularly sensitive” must be viewed in this context.

In any event, the FAZ's state of unpreparedness and the country's worsening economy ensured that Zaïre would remain vulnerable to a renewed Katangan offensive. A series of cross-border raids, including one through Zambian territory, and indications of an FLNC buildup on the Angolan border, characterized the situation in the first months of 1978.88

Shaba II

On 13 May 1978, some 2,500 Gendarmes launched a daring attack through Zambian territory and seized the city of Kolwezi.89 The FLNC's advance toward Kolwezi had triggered a French-Moroccan intervention the previous year. This time the Gendarmes captured it on the first day of their invasion. They quickly gained control over most of the city, including the airport, where they destroyed a few of the aircraft.90 They met very little resistance since the FAZ had moved much of Kolwezi's garrison to counter the supposed FLNC threat along the Angolan border.91

On the afternoon of 14 May, Mobutu requested “any kind of help” from the United States, China, Morocco, Belgium, and France.92 Later in the evening, Mobutu made a personal appeal to Ross for any assistance France could offer.93 The head of the French military mission, Colonel Yves Gras, with Ross's approval, began to search for a military solution. He telephoned the État-major particulier, Giscard's personal military staff, to request the immediate deployment of an airborne battalion to Kolwezi to secure the city and repel the Gendarmes.94 However, Journiac told Ross that Giscard first wanted to see what the Belgian government would do, presumably because most of the expatriates living in Kolwezi were Belgian nationals.95

However, on 16 May, as reports that FLNC forces had killed Europeans reached the French embassy in Kinshasa, Ross sent an urgent formal request for military intervention. In his view, the nearly 3,000 Europeans in Kolwezi had effectively become hostages. Local Zaïrian forces were dangerously unreliable and “too novice and too close to African military traditions to be relied on to save foreigners.”96 In his mind, “only an airborne operation within the next 48 hours will allow us to save the maximum number of human lives.”97

That same evening, the Belgian government's crisis committee decided to order the Defense Ministry to prepare a large-scale evacuation plan for the Belgian (and other European) expatriates in Kolwezi.98 However, the emerging Belgian response to the crisis threatened to undermine French strategic interests. Belgian military officials planned to have a 1,200-strong force from the Para-Commando Regiment land at and secure Kolwezi's airfield for 72 hours while the city's European residents were evacuated.99 Gras and other French military planners preferred an airborne attack directly on the city because they believed it would disorient the FLNC, forcing them to surrender or flee and thereby minimizing the risk to the European residents.100 Politics played another role in the decision. The Europeans working in Kolwezi were crucial for the operations of the Gécamines mining parastatal. A full-scale evacuation could potentially have disastrous consequences for the company and hence, for Zaïre's economy. French policymakers deemed such a risk unacceptable. Thus, the French intervention aimed to secure Kolwezi so that the expatriate community could remain and quickly return to work.101

Initially, Giscard wanted to wait for Belgium's response and delayed until 17 May, the day after Ross's plea for an intervention, to order the French military into action.102 Nevertheless, by the next day, emerging fears of Belgian intentions, along with reports of more killings of Europeans by the FLNC and leaks to the press about impending French and Belgian interventions, encouraged an acceleration in France's planning process.103 Gras, placed in command of the operation, had originally planned to land French troops in Kolwezi on 20 May, but the reports and leaks of 18 May, combined with a radio “intercept” provided by the FAZ chief of staff, General Babia, from Nathanaël Mbumba ordering the Katangans to prepare to retreat after executing “all the prisoners” and sabotaging Gécamines's mining installations, caused Gras to move the operation up to the following day, Friday, 19 May.104

However, neither the French nor the Belgians had the airlift capacity for rapid intervention. The French military could transport its troops on commercial planes to Zaïre, but to ferry the heavy supplies that the units would need on the ground, including fuel for the C-130 and C-160 aircraft carrying the paratroopers to their destinations, France needed longer-range U.S. C-141 transport aircraft. The Carter administration authorized U.S. airlift support, provided that the aircraft did not enter the combat zone.105 Overall, ten C-141s carried French equipment to Zaïre, and eight C-141s carried ammunition and other supplies for the Belgians.106

Despite French fears of the consequences of Belgian aims, the response of the French government to Belgian efforts at coordinating an attack remained confused. Until French forces were already on their way to Zaïre, the French General Staff and officials in the Defense Ministry refused to communicate details of the French operation to their Belgian counterparts and neglected to inform the Belgians of Giscard's decision to intervene.107 Also, citing air traffic control difficulties, French officials denied overflight permission to transport aircraft carrying Belgian troops, delaying them for four hours and giving French forces a head start.108 At the same time, though, French Foreign Minister Louis de Guiringaud, under orders from Giscard, made last-minute attempts to coordinate the French attack with his Belgian counterpart, Henri Simonet.109

After Guiringaud's failure to reach an agreement, Giscard ordered the 2nd Régiment étranger de parachutistes (2nd REP), just arrived in Kinshasa from France, to launch its assault. Late in the afternoon of 19 May, after delays caused by mechanical problems and conflicting orders, the first wave of French paratroopers landed in Kolwezi. When reinforcements arrived the next morning, they rapidly secured the city. Despite occasional heavy fighting, the FLNC had already begun to withdraw before the intervention began. On 20 May, the Belgian Para-Commando Regiment landed at Kolwezi's airfield and began to evacuate the city's European residents. Over the next several days, the 2nd REP cleared the areas outside Kolwezi, losing five soldiers and suffering twenty wounded in the process. Additionally, 131 European civilians were killed, including 15 French.110 Although French and Zaïrian sources attributed these deaths to FLNC-directed killings, a substantial proportion of them may have resulted from spontaneous violence by destitute civilians and, more significant, by elements of the FAZ either out of panic or as a deliberate strategy to induce a foreign intervention.111

The FLNC almost certainly did not come to Kolwezi to kill off its European inhabitants or even to take them hostage. French troops found orders from Mbumba instructing the FLNC cadres not to harm anyone, European or African.112 This contradicted theories that the FLNC had preplanned the coming massacres as an attempt to provoke a mass exodus of expatriates working in the mining sector.113 The FLNC troops in Kolwezi had instructions to maintain order and basic economic activity.114 Other documents found on a dead Katangan officer indicated that the FLNC attacked Kolwezi as a staging point for a move against Likasi and Lubumbashi, Shaba's capital, further east.115

The French also counted some 250 dead FLNC troops and captured a large quantity of weapons and equipment.116 The Zaïrian civilian population suffered the most, however. The Katangans, FAZ troop activity, and, to a lesser extent, the French intervention together killed hundreds of civilians. The 2nd REP commander, Colonel Philippe Erulin, observed that some 700 corpses had been found, mostly people from the Kasais, whom the Katangans and their local accomplices had singled out.117 Ross estimated the number of dead at nearly 1,000.118

Although the rescue of Europeans in Kolwezi received much favorable press, its underlying political motives and the French support for an unsavory regime provoked significant criticism. Shortly after the Kolwezi intervention, Socialist Party leader and future French President François Mitterrand attacked Giscard's interventionist African policies for making France the “Cuba of the West.”119 These criticisms found a large echo among the French left. However, it also attracted anger from the Gaullist right, which feared that France had become “NATO's Gendarme” and worried about a “NATO-ization” of French policy.120 They further criticized Giscard for returning to a hardened Cold War logic.121

French Motives and Mobutu's Manipulations

The humanitarian motive for French intervention, while real in some sense, essentially served as an effective pretext for broader security aims. Although Giscard made the ultimate decision to intervene, the initiative and pressure to do so came from French officials in Zaïre. By all accounts, Ross and Gras constituted the “primary pressure group” for intervention and benefited from direct communication with the presidency.122 Other officials, such as Guiringaud and Defense Minister Yvon Bourges contributed only marginally to the decision-making.123 Furthermore, Giscard and his top advisers were informed of events primarily through diplomatic and military channels rather than from reporting gathered by France's principal foreign intelligence agency, the Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage (SDECE).

This likely stemmed from the contempt in which Giscard and his close advisers held the spy agency and its chief, Alexandre de Marenches. Giscard's chief of staff, Jean François-Poncet was particularly harsh in his criticisms. He later noted that SDECE's reports were “without interest” and complained that “a lot needed to be done to make the agency really useful for the state.”124 This attitude was widespread in French official circles.125 François-Poncet also disdainfully recalled that SDECE's reporting was not only, in “99 cases out of 100,” completely useless, but that “it was entirely the opposite with the information communicated by our ambassadors in the form of telegrams.”126 Giscard himself later described Marenches as “an incompetent, a vain man.”127 This disdain for Marenches and the SDECE was likely reinforced by botched SDECE operations in Angola and Benin in 1976 and 1977 respectively.128

With few exceptions, French diplomats, military officials, and policymakers in Paris, Kinshasa, and elsewhere shared a belief in the necessity of French action in Zaïre and Zaïre's place in France's broader Africa policy. This outlook framed Giscard's decisions to intervene in both Shaba I and II. French officials shared a desire to maintain France's credibility as a reliable partner for friendly African regimes against external threats. They viewed Zaïre's situation as particularly perilous because the threat stemmed from a perceived Communist effort to overthrow Mobutu and destabilize Central Africa. Although the sources of Cuban and Soviet policy in Africa are outside the scope of this article, French perceptions of this activity—and, more important, the sources of this worldview—are vital in explaining French behavior.

Colonel Yves Gras later explained why he and Ross had requested a military intervention in Kolwezi:

Uniquely for political reasons … We knew perfectly well who we were dealing with, what the Soviet-manipulated Katangans’ goal was, and we knew very well that if they managed to spread throughout Shaba, to separate Shaba from the rest of Zaïre, this operation would provoke the fall of Mobutu's regime. Or, which to us on the ground seemed even worse, [it would cause] a civil war in Zaïre between the North and the South, similar to that in Biafra where one knows how it begins, but never how it ends and which, in any event, serves as a pretext for lasting foreign interventions. Consequently we needed to nip this affair in the bud through an immediate military intervention and snuff out the fire while we still could.129

François-Poncet later reiterated this point. He explained that the Kolwezi airborne intervention could be understood only by taking account of the broader context of Cuban intervention in Angola, which “constituted one of the characteristics of Soviet action in the world.” He stressed: “To understand why France intervened in Shaba, it is indispensable to remember the anxiety that the Cuban intervention inspired in black African capitals. Our motivation was political, and in no way economic.”130

These views were fueled by an increasingly alarming flow of intelligence reports between the wars suggesting significant Cuban activity in training, arming, organizing, and (in some cases) leading FLNC formations on the Angolan side of the border. The reports, based on apparent radio intercepts, highlighted the presence of a group of Cuban liaison officers within the FLNC headquarters and indicated that the Cuban military was training more than 1,000 new FLNC recruits in Chicapa in northern Angola near the border with Zaïre in the use of heavy weapons and the organization of logistical support. Additionally, intelligence indicated that some 100 Cuban instructors were present with Gendarme units between the towns of Saurimo and Caianda in northern Angola.131

A later report, compiled less than two weeks before the outbreak of Shaba II, also painted a bleak picture of growing Cuban influence around Zaïre. It suggested the existence of a new Cuban presence in Burundi aimed at helping to organize and train the armed groups under Laurent Kabila's command in neighboring South Kivu in eastern Zaïre along Lake Tanganyika. The report also noted that the Cubans had deployed a battalion of troops in Lumbala in Angola's Moxico Province in support of the Katangan units along the Zaïrian frontier.132 The spread of Cuban activities around Zaïre's borders intensified fears of encirclement.

This view also emerged in French “after-action” reports following Shaba II. Shortly after Kolwezi, Ross noted that one of the most important observations drawn from the recent conflict consisted of “the carelessness of the Cubans who hardly hid the leading role that they played in the affair: their headquarters was 40 kilometers from the frontier, their radio transmissions were intercepted, the names of Cuban cadres are known. In these conditions, it is very improbable that the USSR was not informed.”133 Sometimes the “Cubans” became the “East Germans” or the “Soviets.” Given the propensity of many Western policymakers to conflate the aims of Cuba and East-bloc countries with those of the Soviet Union, this attitude is not surprising. The official French embassy study of the Kolwezi affair described the FLNC offensive as representative of a “new phase” in the strategy of the Soviet Union, which aimed to give “support to political and social liberation movements and seemed to orient itself toward an aggressive satellitization of dependent countries (Angola).”134

Later, Gras explained that “according to certain information,” in March 1978 the Katangans, Cubans, and East Germans held a major conference in Ouargla in the Algerian desert to plan the Kolwezi attack under the auspices of a Soviet general, “whose name I have forgotten.”135 Gras also claimed that East German officers led the FLNC operation. According to Gras, the Katangan move through Zambia was planned by an East German colonel, “for whom we know only the pseudonym,” and “in conformity with the principles of the Kriegsakademie.”136 In an almost comical explanation of this theory, the embassy's official study on the Kolwezi events affirms: “It would not be surprising that East Germans took part in the planning process, which resembles the Blitzkrieg, the passage through Zambia being not without analogy to the violation of Belgian neutrality, an old reflex of Prussian General Staffs.”137 The accumulation of various fears inspired by apparent Communist successes on the continent fed a mentality that led to a singular interpretation of the nature of the FLNC invasion. Such a litany of evidence—particularly, detailed information on Cuban troop locations and personnel movements—seems damning. Carter administration officials held similar views, and this perception became the centerpiece of their justifications for their actions in support of the French intervention, as well as their renewed and increased support for Mobutu.138

However, information gathered by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) could not support the extreme conclusions reached by French officials. In early June 1978, CIA Director Stansfield Turner briefed the U.S. House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the evidence. According to Turner, the evidence had led the CIA to conclude that the Cubans had trained and advised the Katangans since 1975, that they and the Soviets had supplied the Katangans with arms and equipment, that this support had continued at least up until the second Shaba invasion, and that the Cubans had known in advance about the attack.139 Taken at face value, these assertions were a far cry from French accusations that Cuba, East Germany, and the Soviet Union had helped to plan and organize the attacks. Turner explained, however, that the CIA “discounted all reports from Zaïrian sources, given the high probability of bias.”140 The substantially more ambitious French claims of Cuban involvement relied largely on Zaïrian sources.

By Turner's own admission, however, most of his evidence regarding Cuban and Soviet arms supplies to the Katangans was “limited” and based on hearsay.141 The French chargé and head of mission in Angola, Jean-Jacques Peyronnet, the only skeptical voice among French diplomats regarding the Cuban question, noted that the FLNC, because it controlled diamond mines in the northeast of the country, could just as easily have been the ones who bought Cuban weapons.142 Indeed, UNITA later exploited these diamonds for the same purpose. Turner questioned other claims regarding the actual presence of Cubans in Shaba during the invasion.143

Peyronnet also knew of several such accounts, later used by French officials as evidence for the Cuban presence in Kolwezi. He noted that accounts from eyewitnesses under severe duress and threat of death “do not count as scientific observation: on the one hand the ‘Katangans’ could also be of mixed race, bearded, smooth-haired, and have an Iberian accent,” since many had been in Angola for a long time. On a sarcastic note, he added: “on the other hand, the media hammering [these accusations] creates the kinds of hallucinations whereby when one talks of UFOs in an area, everyone sees them. It is the same with the Cubans.”144

Turner did think it probable, however, that Cuban advisers had accompanied the Katangans to the Angolan border.145 As evidence, he cited a conversation held by Newsweek journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave with Gendarme prisoners, sources that also perhaps “do not count as scientific observation” given their incentives to say things their captors wanted to hear, particularly if the FAZ had custody. Turner also cited a source, which has since been redacted, suggesting that “Cuban personnel were organizing a large number of Katangan troops and that Cuban advisers were moving with the troops towards the Zambian border.”146 Peyronnet mentioned a similar claim, which he heard from Belgian, British, and Portuguese diplomatic sources. However, he noted that these claims all originated with the same individual, an employee of Diamang, the Angolan parastatal diamond mining company.147

With such a paucity of good sources, the only seemingly solid claim Turner could make was that the Cubans, with possible Soviet and East German assistance, had helped to train FLNC units at bases in northern Angola. However, while the sources are redacted in the declassified documents, each claim is based on what the source heard from other parties not directly linked to the FLNC.148 Walter Cutler, then the U.S. ambassador to Zaïre, later noted that U.S. intelligence was “flying blind” in Zaïre because of a lack of human assets on the ground.149

Even though the CIA based these claims on hearsay rather than direct observation, they became the cornerstone of Carter administration denunciations of Cuban and Soviet policy.150 Even U.S. officials questioned their value. Jokes about finding the “smoking cigar” became common within the State Department and National Security Council.151 In early June, Rick Inderfurth, an aide to National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, wrote a joke memorandum that included a picture of a cigar discovered through “recent overhead reconnaissance,” which, he said, constituted proof of Cuban participation in the Katangan invasion.152

The same problems beset French intelligence-gathering. Colonel Gras later explained that after Shaba I, one Belgian and two French officers worked in the Zaïrian General Staff. The Belgian officer, Major Van Melle, worked with FAZ intelligence and regularly passed information on to all the military attachés. According to Gras, this meant that the French and other Western embassies often had a good idea of FLNC activities, at least from the perspective of FAZ intelligence.153

However, in January 1978, Mobutu had several FAZ officers in the General Staff executed under accusations of plotting against the regime. He also removed Van Melle from his post without explanation. Mobutu replaced him with a Zaïrian colonel who stopped informing embassy military attachés on a regular basis.154 French journalist Pierre Sergent, in his interviews with various French diplomatic and military personnel, writes that this meant the French “now only possessed second-hand information gathered here or there from the Belgians, civilian or military, or from the Americans.”155 The Belgian government, however, did not unanimously share the French view that the Cubans played an important role in the Katangan attack.156 Combined with U.S. evidence that also came from second- and third-hand sources, this translated into a murky understanding of the nature of Cuban activities.

Piero Gleijeses, having been permitted to see Cuban records, has convincingly argued that the Cubans played no substantial role in the Gendarmes’ activities.157 Documents Gleijeses was given bear this out, suggesting that the Cubans viewed the FLNC with suspicion. East German records support this view as well.158 The Cuban ambassador to Luanda told Peyronnet as much. He explained: “For Cuba, the FLNC is not a liberation movement. Its past, the changing directions of its leader in serving different sides, do not make it a movement worthy of support.”159

Peyronnet found charges of external support for the Gendarmes absurd. He noted that one did not need to resort to Cubans or East Germans as an explanation for the Gendarmes’ improved strategy in Shaba II. They had probably learned from their mistakes in the previous invasion. He also thought the Cubans were unlikely to have run training camps for the FLNC, given that many of the Katangans actually had more combat experience than the Cubans.160

Unlike the CIA, which discounted Zaïrian sources in their search for conclusive evidence of Communist collusion with the Gendarmes (or so the CIA told Congress), French officials took these sources seriously. French archival records show that most of their major evidence came directly from Zaïrian government and military sources rather than from French observers on the ground. The seemingly precise intelligence the French received regarding Cuban personnel movements, training operations, and military activities vis-à-vis the Katangans came directly from the FAZ. The French “bulletins de situation” regrouping these reports cite their sources as “écoutes ennemies” (enemy intercepts) or “écoutes réseau ennemi” (intercepts of enemy radio networks).161 However, a close reading of the reports indicates that this designation referred only to apparent FAZ radio intercepts. Additionally, according to both Gras and Sergent, the French did not have any operational intelligence presence along the Angolan border at the time.162

The official French embassy report on the Shaba II invasion explains that Ross's claim about the Cubans—that they had a headquarters 40 kilometers from the frontier and were maintaining radio links with the Katangan invaders—also came directly from FAZ sources, not French.163 Ross repeated this claim to Paris, though, as if it were an indisputable fact.164

In this vein, General Babia's 18 May radio “intercept” needs to be critically reexamined. Babia claimed that the FAZ had intercepted an order from Mbumba to massacre “all of the arrested expatriates” in Kolwezi and to move the population en masse and by force across the Angolan border in a general retreat.165 This intercept helped to convince Gras to accelerate military planning against Kolwezi.

However, most sources attest that a Katangan retreat began around 17 May or 18 May, before the French intervened. Much of the evidence, particularly from French records, suggests that the height of the violence against Europeans took place on 16–17 May.166 Nothing indicates that the Katangans also tried to forcibly dislocate thousands of Kolwezi's residents. Thus, either the FLNC did not follow Mbumba's apparent order, could not follow the order, or never received it because it was never given. If Mbumba never gave the order, Mobutu might simply have played on French fears to his own advantage.

In reality, Zaïrian intelligence was not in a state to collect the kind of detailed intelligence it provided to its French interlocutors. In his account of the Shaba invasions, Major Malutama di Malu, an intelligence officer in the Zaïrian army who was assigned to the Zaïrian General Staff and was present in Kolwezi during both invasions, stated only that, “according to Washington,” Cubans had trained the FLNC.167 Additionally, his account principally argues that Zaïrian intelligence failed during the invasions.168 Malu notes that despite rumors of Gendarme activity preceding the Shaba invasion, the FAZ took no preventive measures.169 If FAZ intelligence was uncertain about the extent of Cuban involvement, one could ask what Mobutu's staff really gave to French officials. This suggests a certain level of manipulation on the part of Mobutu to encourage the French to protect his regime.

Zaïrian officials reinforced rather than created a French worldview that saw Communist expansion in Africa as a major threat to African stability and French influence on the continent. According to this view, the Soviet Union and its Cuban client-state worked together to create a “belt of insecurity” around Zaïre, whose weaknesses made it particularly vulnerable.170 The evolution of African politics in the year preceding Shaba II reinforced this perspective, particularly in light of a major Soviet and Cuban military intervention in Ethiopia.171 The increasing tension stemming from perceptions of major Communist aggression in Africa (and in the Third World more generally) easily lent itself to a more sinister interpretation of the second Shaba invasion. This played a major role in convincing French policymakers that they needed to intervene in Zaïre to “halt Soviet expansionism at a moment where the situation was evolving rapidly in all of Central and Southern Africa.”172

Nonetheless, Mobutu probably sincerely feared Soviet and Cuban motives, worries he shared with like-minded African leaders. Although the threat may have been exaggerated, or even invented, fears of Communist intervention on the continent weighed heavily on “moderate” African leaders. Mobutu knew how to play on these fears and exploit them to his own benefit.

Aftermath and Conclusions

In the months following Shaba II, fears of a Shaba III spurred French policymakers to take the lead in organizing the deployment of a multinational Inter-African Force (IAF) to secure the Zaïrian-Angolan border.173 The IAF consisted of some 1,500 Moroccans, 560 Senegalese, 150 Togolese, 50 Gabonese, and 200 Ivoirians as part of a medical detachment.174 Although all were francophone states and all were French allies, the force represented the first collaboration among African countries in a military operation outside United Nations auspices. Transport and financing were provided in part by France and the United States, with contributions from Belgium, the United Kingdom, and West Germany. The deployment sought to buy time for French and Belgian advisers to train sufficient numbers of FAZ troops to a level of proficiency that would allow them to defend their borders on their own.

Shortly after the deployment of the IAF in early June, Mobutu undertook major diplomatic efforts to address the Angolan threat. With U.S. encouragement, Congolese President Dennis Sassou Nguesso acted as a mediator.175 On 18 July, Mobutu and Angolan President Agostinho Neto Neto met face to face in Khartoum at the OAU summit meeting to discuss a final agreement. Mobutu agreed to end his support to Angolan opposition groups, and Neto agreed to disarm the FLNC and reopen the Benguela railroad. Both sides also agreed to normalize diplomatic relations. The agreement became public when Neto came to Kinshasa for a two-day visit on 19 August.176 Mobutu coupled this agreement with an amnesty offer that would allow some 150,000 refugees to return to Zaïre from Angola.177 Although only around 50,000 refugees returned, some of whom faced reprisals from Mobutu's security services, the Angolan government under pressure from the Cubans exiled the FLNC leadership and removed its units from the border.178

The French intervention, the IAF deployment, and Western support all meant that Mobutu benefited from the semblance of a Western, particularly French, security umbrella. This allowed him to consolidate his political control within Zaïre. As was the case after Shaba I, Mobutu removed politically unreliable officers from the FAZ. He tried and convicted General Tshikeva, the commander of the Kamanyola Division's 14th Brigade charged with defending Kolwezi, of cowardice and sentenced him to death. French intelligence officers lamented Mobutu's later decision to commute the sentence to a prison term, fearing that “this clemency risks being interpreted as a sign of weakness.”179 Other Western countries and private-sector donors also willingly allowed Mobutu to limit his economic and political reforms to cosmetic changes in the name of security and Cold War solidarity.180

Accusations portraying France as the “Cuba of the West” or “NATO's Gendarme” have some merit. Of non-African countries, only Cuba had a stronger military presence than France on the continent. Furthermore, in Zaïre, France cooperated with major North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies who coordinated on logistical, financial, and diplomatic support for the IAF. The previous administrations of Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou had often viewed the United States, rather than Communist encroachments, as the most serious threat to French interests in Africa.181

During Giscard's administration the East-West logic of the Cold War took center stage in French thinking about Zaïre. The partial withdrawal of the United States from the continent after the Angolan debacle left France as the sole Western power with major strategic interests on the continent. Although not formally part of NATO's integrated military command, France fought its own Cold War battles. Like the Cubans, French policymakers acted neither on behalf nor at the behest of their superpower ally. At the same time, both Paris and Havana required superpower assistance for certain logistical and financial aspects of their operations. Also, like Cuba, France could not always control or even substantially influence the actions of its African “client.” Rather than acting as proxies of their superpower patrons, both French and Cuban policymakers acted with their own goals in mind—which, however, did tend to coincide with the broader aims and interests of their respective ideological blocs in the Cold War struggle. For these reasons, Mitterrand's reference to France as the “Cuba of the West” was perhaps more pertinent than he realized.

The Cold War and broader credibility-focused political dimensions of French policy in Africa best explain Paris's military commitment to Mobutu. To be sure, the minuscule levels of French investment in the country were connected to certain Parisian elites, notably in Giscard's family. However, French policymakers made significant military commitments in other African countries with few French economic connections. This fact, combined with the lack of pressure by major business interests to come to Mobutu's aid, strongly implies that economic considerations played a marginal role in French decision-making. What does seem clear, however, is that Mobutu's regime successfully manipulated French thinking by feeding false intelligence to French officials and exploiting Zaïre's importance to broader French and Western geopolitical aims.

The real tragedy of these policies lay in their narrow vision of security. As Zaïre observer Michael Schatzberg notes, “the security of the state had nothing whatever in common with the security of its people. If anything, it could be argued that in saving Mobutu these interventions substantially decreased the security of ordinary Zaïrians.”182 Giscard later bragged to Carter that by acting in Zaïre the West had not only saved Zaïre from disintegration but had saved all of Africa as well.183 Mobutu was perhaps the biggest beneficiary of this newly established “security.” He emerged from the Shaba wars stronger than ever, free to continue running his country into the ground as he saw fit.


The author would like to thank Miles Larmer and Erik Kennes for fruitful discussions and their willingness to exchange some archival and other source materials relating to the Shaba wars.



For a good background discussion of these conflicts, see Miles Larmer, “Local Conflicts in a Transnational War: The Katangese Gendarmes and the Shaba Wars of 1977–78,” Cold War History, Vol. 13, No. 1 (2013), pp. 89–108.


For an in-depth analysis of the functioning of Mobutu's regime, see Crawford Young and Thomas Turner, The Rise and Decline of the Zairian State (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985).


For a brief overview, see Theodore Trefon, French Policy toward Zaire during the Giscard D’Estaing Presidency (Brussels: Centre d’Étude et de Documentation Africaines, 1989), pp. 12–15.


John Chipman, French Power in Africa (Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1989), p. 244.


“Visites de personnalités françaises: M. V. Giscard d’Estaing,” Dossier “Note économique,” Letter from André Ross to René Journiac, 16 May 1975, in Archives of the Ministère des Affaires Etrangères (MAE) Nantes, Kinshasa Ambassade, Carton 22.


Dossier “Notes du département, 1976–1978,” “A/s. Le Zaïre,” 21 December 1976, pp. 2–3, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 16.


Ross to Journiac, 16 May 1975.


Dossier “Notes du département, 1976–1978,” “L’Année 1975 au Zaïre, Note de l’Ambassadeur,” 23 January 1976, p. 6, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 16.


He frequently writes about this obsession in his memoirs. See Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Le pouvoir et la vie (Paris: Le Livre de Poche, 1988), p. 43.


Ibid., p. 587.


Note de la Coopération, “La politique française d’aide au Zaïre,” 1977, p. 3, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/1.


Note, “A/S: Présence économique française dans le Shaba,” 23 March 1977, p. 4, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/1.


“La politique française d’aide au Zaïre,” 1977, p. 3.


Young and Turner, The Rise and Decline of the Zairian State, p. 375.


Jean-Claude Willame, “La France au Zaïre: Le grand ‘safari technologique,’” in François Maspero, ed., La France contre l’Afrique (Paris: F. Maspero, 1981), p. 225.


“A/S: Présence économique française dans le Shaba,” 23 March 1977, pp. 1–2.


Ibid., p. 3–4.


Ibid., p. 5.


See Trefon, French Policy toward Zaïre, pp. 84–85.


See Young and Turner, The Rise and Decline of the Zairian State, pp. 326–362; and Dossier “Notes du département, 1976–1978,” Note du Ministère de l’économie et des finances, Direction du trésor, Service des affaires internationales, “Note sur le Zaïre,” April 1977, p. 1, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 16.


IMF Database, “Zaïre—Recent Economic Developments,” 13 May 1977, p. 38.


IMF Database, “Zaïre—Use of Fund Resources—Compensatory Financing Facility,” 20 April 1977, pp. 1–2.


Trefon, French Policy toward Zaïre, p. 55; and Dossier “Notes du département, 1976–1978,” Conférence des chefs d’Etats africains, Paris mai 1976, “Note: A/s. le Zaïre,” 30 April 1976, p. 8–9, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 16.


Ross to Journiac, 16 May 1975, p. 2.


For details on U.S.-French collaboration in Angola, see John Stockwell, In Search of Enemies: A CIA Story (New York: Norton, 1978), pp. 164, 242–243.


For more on the Angolan civil war and foreign intervention during this time, see John A. Marcum, The Angolan Revolution, Vol. 2: Exile Politics and Guerrilla Warfare (1962–1976) (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1978), pp. 241–281; Piero Gleijeses, Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959–1976 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), pp. 246–346; Piero Gleijeses, Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria, and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976–1991 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013); and Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 207–249.


For an outline of French concerns, see Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Vol. 28, Docs. 172–177 (hereinafter referred to as FRUS, with appropriate year and volume numbers).


See Kissinger's comments to this effect in “Telegram from Secretary of State Kissinger to the Embassy in France, ‘France Plans to Recognize MPLA,’” 14 February 1976, in FRUS, 1969–1976, Vol. 28, Doc. 176.


Telegram from Secretary of State Vance to Paris Embassy, “French Policy toward Angola,” 12 November 1978, in Jimmy Carter Library, JCL, CREST Database Doc. NLC-16–114–1–42–1; Alexandre de Marenches and Christine Ockrent, Dans le secret des princes (Paris: Stock, 1986), pp. 186–187; Claude Warthier, Quatre présidents et l’Afrique: De Gaulle, Pompidou, Giscard d’Estaing, Mitterrand (Paris: Seuil, 1995), p. 362; and Jean-Pierre Bat, Le syndrome Foccart: La politique française en Afrique, de 1959 à nos jours (Paris: Gallimard, 2012), p. 392.


Handwritten note, “Signification du Zaïre pour les intérêts occidentaux,” n.d., in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/1.


“Note: A/s. le Zaïre,” 30 April 1976, pp. 7–8.


Note, “A/S: Zaïre,” 27 December 1978, p. 3, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 21, 21/3.


Daniel Bach, “La France en Afrique subsaharienne: contraintes historiques et nouveaux espaces économiques,” in Samy Cohen and Marie-Claude Smouts, eds., La politique extérieure de Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (Paris: Presses de la Fondation nationale des sciences politiques, 1985), p. 289; and Trefon, French Policy toward Zaire, p. 118 table 1.


Bach, “La France en Afrique subsaharienne,” p. 305.


Fiche du Groupe Permanent d’Evaluation de Situations du Secrétariat General de la Défense Nationale, No. 21/CER/B/CD, “Evolution de la situation au Zaïre,” 7 April 1977, Annexe, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/2.


Galen Spencer Hull, “The French Connection in Africa: Zaire and South Africa,” Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2 (1979), p. 225.


Note from the Direction des affaires économiques et financières to DAM, “A.s. Attitude de la COFACE à l’égard du Zaïre,” 25 May 1977, ii MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/1.


Telegram from Ross to Paris, 19 May 1977, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/1.


Embassy report, “A/s: Etude de M. BERGER, stagiaire de l’E.N.A. sur la guerre du Shaba,” 15 September 1977, p. 2., in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/1.


Note pour le Secrétaire Général N. 36 DAM/1, “A/S: Situation au SHABA (Zaïre),” 26 January 1976, p. 1, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/1.


Their 1976 action program called for “a struggle of national liberation” and the formation of a “national and democratic government” to “achieve national independence and freedom for the Congolese people.” See Programme d’action du F.L.N.C., cited in Comité Zaïre, Zaïre: Le dossier de la recolonisation (Paris: Ed. L’Harmattan, 1978), pp. 247–248.


Jean-Claude Willame, Contribution à l’étude des mouvements d’opposition au Zaïre: Le F.L.N.C. (Brussels: Centre d’Étude et de Documentation Africaine, 1980), p. 10.


Piero Gleijeses, “Truth or Credibility: Castro, Carter, and the Invasions of Shaba,” The International History Review, Vol. 18, No. 1 (1996), p. 71.


Larmer, “Local Conflicts,” p. 93.


Gleijeses, “Truth or Credibility,” p. 72.


Larmer, “Local Conflicts,” pp. 96, 98.


Note pour le cabinet du ministre, “A/s. Situation au Zaïre,” 18 March 1977, p. 3, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/2.


Memorandum for the File from Thomas P. Thornton, “Zaire Situation,” 16 March 1977, p. 1, in JCL, CREST Database Doc. NLC-12–61–1–8–2.


Memorandum from Christine Dodson to Denis Clift, “Vice President Mondale's Meeting with Zairian Commissioner for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Nguza Karl-I-Bond,” 26 July 1977, p. 2, in JCL, White House Central File, Box CO-67: Zaire, Folder: [CO 177 Confidential 1/20/77–1/20/81].


“A/s. Situation au Zaïre,” 18 March 1977, p. 3.


Ibid., p. 4.


Dépêche d’actualité, “A/s: Le temps des oppositions?” 31 March 1977, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/2.


Telegram from Mission Militaire to Paris, “Appréciation de la situation à Kolwezi le 3 avril à 11 heures,” 4 April 1977, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/2; and Telegram from Mission Militaire to Paris, “Appréciation de la situation à Kolwezi le quatre avril à 18 heures locales,” 4 April 1977, in MAE, La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/2.


Interview with Yves Gras in Cohen and Smouts, eds., La politique extérieure, p. 320.


“A/s: Etude de M. BERGER, stagiaire de l’E.N.A. sur la guerre du Shaba,” 15 September 1977, pp. 8–9, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/1, N.603/DAM.


Interview with Yves Gras, p. 320.


Telegram from French Embassy Morocco to Paris, “A/S: Evénements du Zaïre,” 21 March 1977, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 25, 25/1.


CERM, Fiche de Situation, “Bilan de la situation militaire au Shaba depuis le 09 mars 1977,” 20 April 1977, p. 1, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/2.


Note, “A/s. Transport d’éléments militaires marocains vers le Zaïre,” 28 April 1977, pp. 1–2, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/1.


Laurent Levitte, “L’opération Verveine en 1977: Maîtrise de la projection de force et diplomatie aérienne,” Penser les Ailes françaises, No. 24 (December 2010), p. 67, http://www.cesa.air.defense.gouv.fr/images/pdf/Plaf/Theme/Politique_defense_securite/PLAF_No24_Levitte.pdf.


Ibid., p. 68.


“A/s. Transport d’éléments militaires marocains vers le Zaïre,” 28 April 1977, p. 2.


Note, “A/S: Le Zaïre à l’épreuve,” 4 April 1977, p. 3, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/1.


“Rapport de renseignement bimestriel avril–mai 1977,” from Colonel Bommier to le Général d’Armée Chef d’État-Major des Armées, 8 April 1977, p. 7, in MAE Nantes, Kinshasa Ambassade, Carton 49.


“Rapport de renseignement bimestriel juin–juillet 1977,” from Colonel Bommier to le Général d’Armée Chef d’état-major des armées, 3 August 1977, p. 4, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre, Carton 27, 27/2.


“Operations du Shaba (Déroulement sommaire),” 8 June 1977, in MAE Nantes, Kinshasa Ambassade, Carton 49.


Telegram from Paris to Kinshasa, 14 April 1977, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/1.


CERM, BPS, “Situation au Shaba le 21 avril 1977,” 21 April 1977, p. 1, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/2.


CERM, Fiche de Situation, “Point de la situation militaire au Shaba le 25 avril 1977,” 26 April 1977, p. 2, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/2.


CERM, Fiche de Situation, “Point de la situation militaire au Shaba à la date du 13 mai 1977,” 23 May 1977, p. 1, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/2.


Telegram from Ivan Bastouil, Kinshasa embassy political counselor, to Paris, “Retour à Kinshasa du Président Mobutu,” 30 May 1977, p. 2 in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/2.


DAM Note, “A/s: Conséquences de l’intervention française en faveur du Zaïre,” 8 July 1977, p. 3, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/2.


Dossier Force I. Africaine et Aide Militaire, “La Force Inter Africaine au Shaba—bilan,” 6 September 1979, p. 2, in MAE Nantes, Kinshasa Ambassade, Carton 51.


Note pour le Ministre, signed by Guy Georgy, “A/s: Que faut-il faire pour le Zaïre ?” 27 May 1977, pp. 1–2, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/1.


Ibid., p. 2.


“Rapport de renseignement bimestriel avril–mai 1977,” from Colonel Bommier to le Général d’Armée Chef d’État-Major des Armées, 8 June 1977, p. 5, in MAE Nantes, Kinshasa Ambassade, Carton 49.


Ibid., p. 4.




Note, “A/s: Le Zaïre après la crise du Shaba,” 7 October 1977, p. 2, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 27, 27/1.


“Compte rendu de la réunion tenue le 27 Avril par le Groupe d’Examen de Situation, sous la présidence de Monsieur Jean-Claude PAYE,” 2 May 1977, p. 1, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 16.


Fiche du Groupe d’Evaluation de Situation du Secrétariat General de la Défense Nationale, “Aide apportée au Zaïre depuis la crise de mars 1977,” 9 March 1978, pp. 1–2, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 21, 21/1.


Ibid., p. 2.




Fiche du Groupe d’Evaluation de Situation du Secrétariat General de la Défense Nationale, “Les Forces armées zaïroises,” 9 March 1978, p. 1, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 21, 21/1.


Note from Ross to Foreign Minister Louis de GUIRINGAUD, “A/S répression des troubles de la région de KIKWIT,” 24 February 1978, p. 2, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 24, 24/3.


Ibid., p. 3.


Young and Turner, The Rise and Decline of the Zairian State, p. 427, n. 11.


“Bulletin de situation,” from Colonel Larzul, French military attaché in Kinshasa, to Paris, 2 May 1978, p. 1, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 24, 24/1.


For a fairly comprehensive treatment of Shaba II in English, see Thomas P. Odom, Shaba II: The French and Belgian Intervention in Zaire in 1978 (Fort Leavenworth, KS: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Combat Studies Institute, 1993).


Consulat Lubumbashi, Dossier “1978,” Dépêche d’Actualité, “A/S: Le mois de Mai 1978 au Zaïre,” from Ross to Paris, 8 June 1978, p. 7, in MAE Nantes, Kinshasa Ambassade, Carton 45.


Ibid., p. 6.


Telegram from Ross to Paris, “Shaba,” 14 May 1978, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 24, 24/2.


Telegram from Ross to Paris, “Message oral du Général Mobutu,” 14 May 1978, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 24, 24/2.


Général Yves Gras, “L’Opération Kolwezi,” Mondes et cultures, Vol. 45, No. 4 (1985), p. 694.




Telegram from Ross to Paris, “Situation des étrangers de Kolwezi,” 16 May 1978, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 29.




Serge Brabant, Aspects politiques et diplomatiques de l’intervention de Kolwezi en 1978: Réalité-information (Paris: Travail de fin d’études, Ecole Royale Militaire, 1984), p. 35.


Telegram from Ambassador Francis Huré in Brussels to Paris, “A/S Les événements du Shaba,” 17 May 1978, p. 2, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 24, 24/1.


Letter written by General Guy Méry, cited in Brabant, Aspects politiques, p. 60.


Dossier Consulat Lubumbashi, 1978, “Etude sur les événements de Kolwezi,” 9 August 1978, pp. 11–12, in MAE Nantes, Kinshasa Ambassade, Carton 45.


Letter written by French Army Chief of Staff General Guy Méry, cited in Brabant, Aspects politiques, pp. 58–59.


Telegram from Ross to Paris, “Kolwezi-Voyage de Mobutu, Situation des étrangers,” 18 May 1978, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 24, 24/1; and Pierre Sergent, La Légion saute sur Kolwezi: Opération Léopard: le 2e R.E.P. au Zaïre, mai–juin 1978 (Paris: Presses de la Cité, 1978) p. 130.


Sergent, La Légion saute sur Kolwezi, p. 131. See also Gras, “L’Opération Kolwezi,” p. 699.


Chronology, n.d., in JCL, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material 6, Box 87 [Country File Yugoslavia: 3–5/80 through Zaire 1/79–1/81], Folder: [Zaïre 1–5/1978], Doc. 44, Chronology, n.d.


Memorandum from William Odom to David Aaron, “SCC Working Group Meeting on Zaire—Friday, May 19, 1978,” 19 May 1978, in JCL, Donated Historical Material: Zbigniew Brzezinski Collection, Box 28 [Meetings—SCC 50: 1/9/78 through SCC 100: 8/10/78], Folder [Meetings—SCC 80: 5/26/1978], Doc. 1B.


Brabant, Aspects politiques, p. 78.


Ibid., p. 76.


Giscard, Le pouvoir et la vie, p. 226.


Sergent, La Légion, p. 228.


See my discussion of the evidence in Nathaniel Powell, “France's African Wars, 1974–1981,” Ph.D. Diss., Graduate Institute of International Studies (IHEID), Geneva, 2013, pp. 121–132.


“Etude sur les événements de Kolwezi,” 9 August 1978, p. 5.




Ibid., pp. 2–3.




Gras, “L’Opération Kolwezi,” p. 702n; and Sergent, La Légion, p. 228.


Letter written by Colonel Philippe Erulin, in Euloge Boissonnade, Le mal zaïrois (Paris: Hermé, 1990), p. 441.


“A/S: Le mois de Mai 1978 au Zaïre,” 8 June 1978, p. 8.


Le Monde, 13 June 1978.


Lellouche and Moisi, “French Policy in Africa,” pp. 108–110.




Samy Cohen, “La politique extérieure de la France de 1974 à 1981: Un seul homme? Un homme seul?” in Cohen and Smouts, eds., La politique extérieure, pp. 31–33.


Ibid. Also see the narrative in Brabant, Aspects politiques.


Cited in Eric Denécé, Les services secrets français sont-ils nuls? (Paris: Ellipses, 2012), p. 107.




Pierre Péan, Secret d’état: La France du secret, les secrets de la France (Paris: Fayard, 1986), p. 199.


Cited in Geraldine Faes and Stephen Smith, Bokassa 1er, un empereur français (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 2000), p. 222.


See Stockwell, In Search of Enemies, pp. 164, 242–243; “Publication des archives oubliées des mercenaires de Bob Denard sur l’opération de janvier 1977 au Bénin voulue par Journiac,” Afrique-Asie, No. 128 (27 June 1977); and Bat, Le syndrome Foccart, pp. 400–401.


Interview of Yves Gras, p. 321.


Interview of Jean François-Poncet, in Cohen and Smouts, eds., La politique extérieure, pp. 313–314.


“Bulletin de situation,” from Colonel Larzul, French military attaché in Kinshasa, to Paris, 17 December 1977, p. 2, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 24, 24/1.


Ibid., pp. 2–3.


“A/S: Le Zaïre après Kolwezi,” from Ross to Paris, 2 June 1978, p. 2, in MAE Nantes, Kinshasa Ambassade, Carton 45 Consulat Lubumbashi, Dossier “1978,” Dépêche d’actualité.


“Etude sur les événements de Kolwezi,” 9 August 1978, p. 17.


Interview of Yves Gras in “Compte rendu de la séance du 8 novembre 1985,” Mondes et cultures, Vol. 45, No. 4. (1985), p. 714.


Ibid., p. 713.


“Etude sur les événements de Kolwezi,” 9 August 1978, p. 16.


Gleijeses, Visions of Freedom, pp. 53–60.


CIA: CREST Database Doc. CIA-RDP81B00401R002100020012–7, DCI Congressional Briefing, “Cubans in Angola,” June 1978, p. 5.


Ibid., p. 6.


“Cubans in Angola,” June 1978, p. 10.


“A/S. Shaba II—Questions et observations,” Note from Peyronnet to Paris, 5 June 1978, p. 5, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 24, 24/2.


“Cubans in Angola,” June 1978, p. 11.


“A/S. Shaba II—Questions et observations,” 5 June 1978, p. 5.


“Cubans in Angola,” June 1978, p. 12.




“A/S. Shaba II-Questions et observations,” 5 June 1978, p. 4.


“Cubans in Angola,” June 1978, pp. 7–8.


Gleijeses, “Truth or Credibility,” p. 102.


Ibid., p. 90.


Gleijeses, Visions of Freedom, p. 58.


JCL, CREST Database Doc. NLC-17–128–1–6–5, Memorandum from Inderfurth to Brzezinski, “Cuban Assistance to the Katangese,” 2 June 1978, p. 1.


Interview of Yves Gras in “Compte rendu de la séance du 8 novembre 1985,” p. 713.


Ibid., p. 714.


Sergent, La Légion, p. 29.


“A/S. Shaba II—Questions et observations,” Note from Peyronnet to Paris, 5 May 1978, p. 3, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 24, 24/2.


See Gleijeses, Visions of Freedom, pp. 53–60; and Gleijeses, “Truth or Credibility.”


“Fidel Castro's 1977 Southern Africa Tour: A Report to Honecker (excerpt),” 3 April 1977, in Cold War International History Project, http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/112142. This document, from the Stiftung “Archiv der Parteien und Massenorganisationen der ehemaligen DDR im Bundesarchiv” (Berlin), DY30 JIV 2/201/1292, was obtained by Christian F. Ostermann and translated by David Welch with revisions by Ostermann.


Telegram from Peyronnet to Paris, “A/S: Shaba,” 13 June 1978, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 29.


“A/S. Shaba II—Questions et observations,” 5 June 1978, p. 5.


See “Bulletin de situation,” 17 December 1977, p. 2; and “Bulletin de situation,” 2 May 1978, p. 4.


For the indication that “écoutes ennemies” always referred to FAZ intelligence, see “Bulletin de situation,” 2 May 1978, p. 4; and, “Écoutes radio effectuées par les forces armées zaïroises 1975–1978,” in Service Historique de l’Armée de Terre Archives, Vincennes: Missions militaires françaises à l’étranger, Inventory p. 46, GR 13 S 31.


“Etude sur les événements de Kolwezi,” 9 August 1978, p. 17.


“A/S: Le Zaïre après Kolwezi,” 2 June 1978, p. 2.


Cited in Boissonnade, Le mal zaïrois, p. 396.


Telegram from Ross to Paris, “Déclarations des réfugiés de Kolwezi,” 22 May 1978,in MAE, La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 24, 24/1; and “Etude sur les événements de Kolwezi,” 9 August 1978, pp. 6–7.


Malutama di Malu, The Shaba Invasions (Fort Belvoir, VA: Defense Technical Information Center, 1981), p. 55.


Ibid., p. 71.


Ibid., pp. 54–55.


“Etude sur les événements de Kolwezi,” 9 August 1978, p. 17.


Westad, The Global Cold War, p. 276.


“Etude sur les événements de Kolwezi,” 9 August 1978, p. 17.


For an account of this operation, see Nathaniel Powell, “La France, les Etats-Unis et la Force interafricaine au Zaïre (1978–1979),” Relations internationales, no. 150 (2012), pp. 71–83.


Ibid., p. 74.


“Telegram from US Embassy Brazzaville to Washington, “Das Walker Visit to Congo,” June 1979, in JCL, CREST Database Doc. NLC-129–1010–6–0.


Colin Legum, ed., Africa Contemporary Record, 1978–1979 (London: Africana Publishing Company, 1980), p. B579.


Dossier Force I. Africaine et Aide Militaire, Note du Ministère, “Sécurité au Shaba,” 6 April 1979, in MAE Nantes, Kinshasa Ambassade, Carton 51.


Larmer, “Local Conflicts,” p. 107.


Fiche “Zaïre: Perspectives après le retrait des forces françaises et belges,” Annexe, “Les Forces Armées Zaïroises en mai 1978,” Groupe Permanent d’Evaluation de Situations, Secrétariat Général de la Défense Nationale, 5 May 1978, p. 1, in MAE La Courneuve, DAM Zaïre 1975–1978, Carton 21, 21/2.


For a biting insider's view of this phenomenon, see Erwin Blumenthal, “Zaïre: Rapport sur sa crédibilité financière internationale,” La revue nouvelle, Vol. 77, no. 11 (November 1982), pp. 115–129.


See Pierre-Michel Durand, L’Afrique et les relations franco-américaines des années soixante: Aux origines de l’obsession américaine (Paris: l’Harmattan, 2007).


Michael G. Schatzberg, “Military Intervention and the Myth of Collective Security: The Case of Zaïre,” Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 272 (1989). p. 335.


Carter's personal notes from the Guadeloupe Summit, 6 January 1979, p. 15, in JCL, CREST Database Doc. NLC-128–4–12–3–9.