Under Motubu’s rule, the creation of art and cultural heritage had two major roles for the government. One of those roles was to create a sense of post-colonial maturity:
“By building its own collection of the material cultures, archaeological traces, and musical traditions of the past, an “illusion of cognitive control” over that past could be wrestled from Belgium.”(Van Beurden, 2015, p. 127)
The creation of new art allowed the Mobutu-regime to show its ties with the authentically African and distance itself from the colonial past. The second way the Mobutu-regime used art was to use them as propaganda media. Art such as song and dance, were in fact often employed by Mobutu as valuable tools to propagate his regime.(White, 2006, p. 46) Furthermore, the nationalisation of museums allowed the Mobutu to use them as a tool to promote his authoritarian regime.(Van Beurden, 2015, p. 128) During the 1970s, the Mobutu regime mobilised economic nationalist model. Much of the art during Mobutu’s regime did embrace their ethnic origins even though they ultimately served to create a notion of “authenticité.” This seems contradictory but actually connected the cultural authenticity of the past with a national identity. In 1971, Mobutu announced that a recourse to authentic African values would be central to his politics while simultaneously portraying Zaire as a modern and united nation.(Van Beurden, 2015, p. 153; White, 2006, p. 47) While during Belgian rule museums displayed regional artefacts, under Mobutu the display cases were used to promote a national image and showcased items from across the country.(Van Beurden, 2015, pp. 134–135) The modernity of Zaïre lied primarily in the sentiment of national unity but was fundamentally based on traditional values.
Art was however not only intended to promote the nation, but also to promote the cult of personality of Mobutism. During the 1970s the government started to abandon the initial project of autheticité in favour of Mobutism.(Van Beurden, 2015, p. 162) The quest for authenticity was still in process, but the government opted for a change in tactics: the precolonial culture was replaced by Mobutu himself as the inspiration for authenticité.
Ties with African tradition could also be seen in the image in which Mobutu wanted to be portrayed. For instance: to legitimise himself, Mobutu often used an analogy that described him as the father of the nation.(Schatzberg, 1993) The parental metaphor clearly shows the traditional ties of parental authority. Traditional imagery like the parental metaphors were ultimately used to create obscure foreign concepts and influences by making them resemble traditional characteristics.(White, 2006, p. 47) Schatzberg says:
“Imagery and language of father and family are widespread in Africa because they strike a resonant and deeply embedded cultural chord. They form part of a culturally valid and largely implicit comprehension of the limits of political legitimacy based on a complex and largely unarticulated moral matrix of legitimate governance derived from an idealised vision of patterns of authority and behaviour within the family.”(Schatzberg, 1993, p. 451)
This was thus a way for Mobutu to legitimise himself as the leader of the united nation of Zaïre. The imagery was widespread and could for example be heard through songs on the radio. “’Tata ko? Moko. Mama ko? Moko. Mboka ko? Moko. Mokonzi ko? Moko’ (‘One father, one mother, one country, one chief.’)”(Schatzberg, 1993, p. 450)
The father, in this case, is not necessarily linked biologically; he is rather he who nourishes and protects. The imagery of the father and the nation as a family comes accompanied by the implicit promise of nurture and parental care.(Schatzberg, 1993, p. 451) This ties in logically with what Patrick Chabal calls “the politics of partaking.”(Chabal, 2009) In this situation the people take the role of political clients who offer their support to Mobutu in exchange for economic capital or protection. Mobutu as a father-figure could thus in a sense be seen as a metaphor for the “Big Man.”(Daloz, 2003; Médard, 1992) Much like the big man, who uses a neo-patrimonial system to accumulate his wealth, the father is allowed to “’eat’ part of the children’s labour or the product of their labour.”(Schatzberg, 1993, p. 452) According to Daloz, it is widely accepted that the Big Man profits from a neo-patrimonial system and exhibits his tremendous power as long as the leader fulfils his role as a nourisher and protector.
In order to convince the people he had the means to serve the people as a father and big man, Mobutu had to prove them he was strong, rich and mighty. It seems fair to state that Mobutu managed to convince people of his might. According to Sapin Makengele, pictures of Mobutu could be seen everywhere, giving a sense of omnipresence and chants such as “Tata ko? Moko?” could be heard everywhere.