The quintessential manifestation of how the regime of Mobutu cleverly and strategically exploited the political potentiality of cultural forms of expression channelized through state propaganda, is to be found in l’animation politique et culturelle. At the fulcrum of l’animation politique culturelle, faithfully adherent to the general scheme of the newly embraced philosophy of authenticité, laid music as the main form of artistic expression to be vastly relied upon by the regime. As it has been depicted by B.W. White, it was a

[…] system of state-sponsored singing and dancing that came to be synonymous with the image of the regime and the idea of the one-party rule. Much more than other forms of political mobilization, this practice[…] captivated local audiences and dominated state-run media.The wide diffusion of animation politique was facilitated by a particular kind of performancecombining the aesthetics of folklore with the spectacle of popular dance music whose lyrics sang the unconditional praises of the one-party state and its leader.[1]

What makes animation politique so relevant in our debates is not only it being a blatant manifestation of how music can be successfully morphed into a powerful tool of propaganda and thus legitimacy, in a time period when it was really needed, having the first part of the 1970s witnessed the lowest level of public support likely ever reached by Mobutu. The sheer numbers of people involved in its implementation, the hours of daily broadcasting through radio and television[2], the public events and manifestation of supports, would have made animation politique of the upmost relevance to any historian’s inquiry interested in the study of regimes’ propaganda, even if at its core would not had been music. Thus, given the focus of our research, it inevitably follows, that having the music as its centre, makes all of it even more interesting and compelling.

If the constant praises directed to the leader were omnipresent in the lyrics of those songs that were contributing in animation politique, and its content in fact often ‘’came directly from Mobutu’s speeches’’, the ingenuity of such a use of state-sponsored music is to be witnessed in how those very manifestations were at the same time serving the purpose of spreading information and knowledge regarding national policies and party ideology. ’’Keywords and phrases such as authenticité, revolution, national unity, mobilization, vigilance […] were very common in song texts and slogans and […] they persisted, perhaps even increased, over time’’.[3]It had such a pervasive and widespread diffusion, that by the late 1980s it had permeated virtually every aspect of everyday life,

[…] animation politique became required for all companies and organizations in Zaire, regardless of their connection with the state. [it] was performed at the beginning of the workday with employees and supervisors clapping their hands and singing patriotic songs […].[4]

It can really be disarming to witness a nation, whose love for music is so well known to have become almost a cliché, to be forcible compelled to sing and dance for the sake a of an illusory creation of national consensus and political legitimacy, within and outside the nation’s boundaries. To masterfully device and project to the outside world an international image of the regime that in no way was reflecting the reality, Mobutu indeed found ‘’a way of mobilizing masses literally, through their bodies’’.[5]

Indeed, it seems correct to say that ‘’Mobutu relied on the productivity of urban [and popular] musician to serve the revolution’’ and with what we have debated so far, it is in fact possible to understand how this strategic use of music was not only feasible, but also pragmatic and probably even the most natural way to go to achieve his vision of propaganda.

But just like in every other dictatorial regime worthy of this denomination, for a leader to achieve such a goal, there must be a complicit artist, unwillingly or not that he may initially be, to answer the leader’s call.

[1]White, Rumba Rules, 73. Emphasis added. 

[2]‘’in 1976, only ten years after the introduction of television to the region, animation politique took up anywhere from ten to twelve hours of programming per day, occupying as much as one third of total broadcast time.’’ White, Rumba Rules, 73.

[3]White, Rumba Rules, 76.

[4]White, Rumba Rules, 76.

[5]White, Rumba Rules, 78.