Laurent-Désiré Kabila (November 27, 1939 – January 16, 2001), or simply Laurent Kabila, was President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from May 17, 1997, when he overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko, until his assassination by one of his bodyguards on January 16, 2001. He was succeeded by his son Joseph eight days later.
Kabila was born to a member of the Luba tribe in Baudoinville, Katanga Province, (now Moba, Tanganyika District) in the Belgian Congo. His father was a Luba and his mother was a Lunda. He studied political philosophy in France, and in Yugoslavia at the University of Belgrade.
Later he attended the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
When the Congo gained independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960 and the Congo Crisis began, Kabila had a role as a “deputy commander” in the Jeunesses Balubakat, the youth wing of the Patrice Lumumba-aligned General Association of the Baluba People of Katanga (Balubakat), actively fighting the secessionist forces of Moise Tshombe. Within months, Joseph Mobutu overthrew Lumumba, and in 1962 Kabila was appointed to the provincial assembly for North Katanga and was chief of cabinet for Minister of Information Ferdinand Tumba.
Kabila established himself as a supporter of hard-line Lumumbist Prosper Mwamba Ilunga. When the Lumumbists formed the Conseil National de Libération, he was sent[by whom?] to eastern Congo to help organize a revolution, in particular in the Kivu and North Katanga provinces.
In 1965, Kabila set up a cross-border rebel operation from Kigoma, Tanzania, across Lake Tanganyika.
Che Guevara assisted Kabila for a short time in 1965. Guevara had appeared in the Congo with approximately 100 men who planned to bring about a Cuban-style revolution. Guevara judged Kabila (then 26) as “not the man of the hour” he had alluded to, being too distracted.
This, in Guevara’s opinion, accounted for Kabila showing up days late at times to provide supplies, aid, or backup to Guevara’s men. The lack of cooperation between Kabila and Guevara contributed to the suppression of the revolt that same year.
In Guevara’s view, of all of the people he met during his campaign in Congo, only Kabila had “genuine qualities of a mass leader”; but Guevara castigated Kabila for a lack of “revolutionary seriousness”.
After the failure of the rebellion, Kabila turned to smuggling gold and timber on Lake Tanganyika. He also ran a bar in Tanzania.
Marxist mini-state (1967–1988)
In 1967, Kabila and his remnant of supporters moved their operation into the mountainous Fizi – Baraka area of South Kivu in the Congo, and founded the People’s Revolutionary Party (PRP).
With the support of the People’s Republic of China, the PRP created a secessionist Marxist state in South Kivu province, west of Lake Tanganyika.
The PRP state came to an end in 1988 and Kabila disappeared and was widely believed to be dead. While in Kampala, Kabila reportedly met Yoweri Museveni, the future president of Uganda.
Museveni and former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere later introduced Kabila to Paul Kagame, who would become president of Rwanda. These personal contacts became vital in mid-1990s, when Uganda and Rwanda sought a Congolese face for their intervention in Zaire.
First Congo War
Kabila returned in October 1996, leading ethnic Tutsis from South Kivu against Hutu forces, marking the beginning of the First Congo War. With support from Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, Kabila pushed his forces into a full-scale rebellion against Mobutu as the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL). He used children in the conflict and it was estimated that up to 10 000 children served under him.
By mid-1997, the ADFL had almost completely overrun the country and the remains of Mobutu’s army. Only the country’s decrepit infrastructure slowed Kabila’s forces down; in many areas, the only means of transit were irregularly used dirt paths. Following failed peace talks held on board the South African ship SAS Outeniqua, Mobutu fled into exile on May 16.
The next day, from his base in Lubumbashi, Kabila proclaimed himself president. Kabila suspended the Constitution, and changed the name of the country from Zaire to the Democratic Republic of the Congo—the country’s official name from 1964 to 1971.
He made his grand entrance into Kinshasa on May 20 and was sworn in on May 31, officially commencing his term as president.
The Flag of the Democratic Republic of the Congo used by Kabila.
Kabila had been a committed Marxist, but his policies at this point were a mix of capitalism and collectivism. He declared that elections would not be held for two years, since it would take him at least that long to restore order.
While some in the West hailed Kabila as representing a “new breed” of African leadership, critics charged that Kabila’s policies differed little from his predecessor’s, being characterised by authoritarianism, corruption, and human rights abuses. As early as late 1997, Kabila was being denounced as “another Mobutu.
Kabila was also accused of self-aggrandizing tendencies, including trying to set up a personality cult, with the help of Mobutu’s former minister of information, Dominique Sakombi Inongo. Sakombi Inongo branded Kabila as “the Mzee,” and posters reading “Here is the man we needed” (French: Voici l’homme que nous avions besoin) appeared all over the country.
By 1998, Kabila’s former allies in Uganda and Rwanda had turned against him and backed a new rebellion of the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), the Second Congo War.
Kabila found new allies in Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, and managed to hold on in the south and west of the country and by July 1999, peace talks led to the withdrawal of most foreign forces.
Joseph Kabila succeeded his father
In the afternoon of January 16, 2001 Kabila was shot by one of his bodyguards, Rashidi Muzele, who was killed as he attempted to flee the scene. According to a Rwandan former intelligence chief and allegations made by Democratic Republic of Congo’s officials; his assassination was committed by some of his bodyguards and masterminded by Rwanda. According to the documentary film Murder in Kinshasa, made by Marlène Rabaud and Arnaud Zajtman; A Lebanese diamond dealer allegedly organized the logistics of the assassination.
Eleven Lebanese nationals were executed in the evening of the assassination as part of a punitive campaign by the DRC’s authorities who managed to keep power, despite the assassination of their President. The exact circumstances are still disputed. Kabila reportedly died on the spot, according to DRC’s then health minister Dr Mashako Mamba, who was in the next door office when Kabila was shot and arrived immediately after the assassination. The government claimed that Kabila was still alive, however, when he was flown to a hospital in Zimbabwe after he was shot so that DRC authorities could organize the tense succession.
The Congolese government announced that he had died of his wounds on January 18. One week later, his body was returned to Congo for a state funeral and his son, Joseph Kabila, became president eight days later. By doing so, DRC officials were accomplishing the “verbal testimony” of the deceased President. Then Justice Minister Mwenze Kongolo and Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s aide de camp Eddy Kapend have reported that Laurent Kabila had told them that his son Joseph, then number two of the army, should take over, if Laurent-Désiré Kabila was to pass away.
The investigation into Kabila’s assassination led to 135 people – including 4 children – being tried before a special military tribunal. The alleged ringleader, Colonel Eddy Kapend (one of Kabila’s cousins), and 25 others were sentenced to death in January 2003, but not executed. Of the other defendants 64 were jailed, with sentences from six months to life, and 45 were exonerated. Some individuals were also accused of being involved in a plot to overthrow his son. Among them was Kabila’s special advisor Emmanuel Dungia, former ambassador to South Africa. Many people believe the trial was flawed and the convicted defendants are innocent.
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