More than a game? Mobutu, Sport and Zairian Identity, 1965-1974.
History has often neglected the study of Sport as an element in State identity, something that is detrimental to historical inquiry. The goal of this paper is to consider Sport within a larger socio-political context and thereby examine how Sport can be utilised in State identity formation. It will be argued that Zairian Dictator, Joseph Mobutu, utilised Sport at a critical juncture in that State’s history and used it to help foster a Zairian identity, both internally and internationally. The paper will firstly examine the background to Mobutu’s reign and the challenges facing Mobutu in 1965. Following this, Mobutu’s initial forays into Sport as a tool for internal identity formation will be examined before bolder steps taken by Mobutu post-1970 are considered. Having examined the case of Sport assisting internal identity formation, the paper will examine how Sport was used for international identity formation, with special reference to the Heavyweight Boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman held in Zaire in 1974 and the Zairian football team’s experience at the 1974 World Cup. Finally, the paper will evaluate the success of Mobutu’s efforts.