Mobutu Sese Soko was born Joseph-Desire Mobutu on 14 October 1930 in Belgian Congo, the son of a cook and a domestic servant. His mother worked for a Belgian judge, whose wife took a liking to the young Mobutu and taught him how to read and write French. His father died when he was eight and his mother moved often, following the work and so Mobutu was schooled in a number of catholic schools.
By all accounts he was a good student but he was also known for being a prankster, ever finding himself being expelled and conscripted into the Force Publique, the colonial army of the Belgian Congo. Initially, he found the army discipline difficult but his fluency in French served him well, he was trained as a non-commissioned officer and given a desk job as an accountant. He rose quickly through the ranks reaching the rank of sergeant-major by the time of his discharge which was the highest achievable rank allowed to Congolese nationals. He continued his education, reading anything he could get his hands on, he was heavily influenced by the writings of Machiavelli, Churchill and De Gaulle.
After leaving the military he began working as a journalist, rising to the position of editor of a weekly publication named Actualites Africaines. He later began writing for the daily L'Avenir, he was assigned to cover the 1958 World Exposition in Belgium, he stayed on, attending the Brussels School of Journalism. He began moving in circles of Congolese intellectuals who were to the movers and shakers of post-colonial Congo. He also made very important contacts with CIA agents, wealthy backers and built a close relationship with Patrice Emery Lumumba who was at the forefront of the independence movement and was to become the first legally elected Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo.