The government of Zaire is tightly controlled by President Mobutu Sese Seko, who is surrounded by an inner circle of four other men. The combination is often referred to as the "gang of five."
Mobutu and his aides run almost every aspect of their 28 million compatriots' daily lives.
All five are wealthy, have direct access to the nation's central-bank coffers and operate a mismanaged economy for their personal gain, according to Western sources.
The number two man is Litho Mboti, Mobutu's uncle. Like the other three men in the inner circle, Litho is from one of two tribal clans originating from the village of Mobutu's father, Gbadolite, located at the northern Ubangui River boundary of Zaire's Equateur Province.
The other three members of the gang, in order of status, are Seti Yale, Mobutu's security adviser; Army Col. Bolozi Gbudu, head of military intelligence and married to two of Mobutu's relatives; and Moleka Liboko, a wealthy businessman.
Until earlier this year the West pinned its hope for Zaire developing a democratic government, with less corruption, on Nguza Karl-i-Bond, once finance minister and previously prime minister. But Nguza fled to Belgium in April, saying that Mobutu was trying to set him up as a scapegoat for Zaire's economic problems.
Nguza had been out of Mobutu's favor before. In 1977, while prime minister and Mobutu's number two man, Mobutu accused him of having had foreknowledge of the first invasion of Zaire's Shaba Province by former secessionists now living in neighboring Angola.
Nguza was jailed and badly tortured, according to human rights officials. But in July 1978, under pressure from the Carter administration, Nguza was released, rehabilitated and appointed finance minister.
As part of a spate of moderate political reforms in 1977, Mobutu created a 273-member legislative National Assembly through free elections. Mobutu was pressured to undertake the reforms by his Western supporters after they saved his government from total collapse during two invasions in the same year from the exiles in Angola.
But after the assembly, in a bold move, published a list in 1979 accusing Mobutu, his advisers and numerous members of his family of corruption, it was doomed to political eclipse.
Mobutu then created a 114-member legislative Central Committee within the ineffectual -- and only legal -- political party, the Popular Movement of the Revolution. The functions of the National Assembly have been transferred to this Mobutu-appointed Central Committee.
The assembly still exists but is virtually powerless.