Laurent-Désiré Kabila (November 27, 1939 – January 18, 2001) 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 18, 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 Serbia at the University of Belgrade, and later 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 was 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, Lumumba was overthrown by Joseph Mobutu, and in 1962, Kabila was appointed to the provincial assembly for North Katanga and was chief of cabinet for Minister of Information Ferdinand Tumba. He established himself as a supporter of hard-line Lumumbist Prosper Mwamba Ilunga. When the Lumumbists formed the Conseil National de Libération, he was sent 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. In Guevara's opinion, Kabila (then 26) was "not the man of the hour" he had alluded to, being too distracted. This, in Guevara's opinion, was the reason that Kabila would show up days late at times to provide supplies, aid, or backup to Guevara's men. The lack of cooperation between Kabila and Guevara led to the revolt being suppressed that same year. In Guevara's view, of all of the people he met during his campaign in Congo, Kabila was the only man who had "genuine qualities of a mass leader" but castigated him 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.
In 1967, Kabila and his remnant of supporters moved their operation into the mountainous Fizi-Baraka area of South Kivu 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 mini-state included collective agriculture, extortion and mineral smuggling. The local military commanders were aware of the PRP enclave and reportedly traded military supplies in exchange for a cut of the extortion and robbery profits. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, Kabila had amassed considerable wealth and established houses in Dar es Salaam and Kampala. 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 were looking for a Congolese face for their intervention in Zaire.
War and presidency
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). By mid-1997, the ADFL had made significant gains. Following failed peace talks, Mobutu fled into exile on May 16. The next day, from his base in Lubumbashi, Kabila proclaimed himself president, suspended the Constitution, and changed the name of the country from Zaire to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He made his grand entrance into Kinshasa on May 20, officially commencing his term as president. Kabila had been a committed Marxist, but his policies at this point were a mix of capitalism and collectivism. 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. 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.
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.
Kabila was shot during the afternoon of January 16, 2001 by one of his bodyguards, Rashidi Kasereka, who was killed as he attempted to flee the scene. His assassination was part of a failed coup attempt. Kabila may have been alive when he was flown to a hospital in Zimbabwe after he was shot; the Congolese government confirmed that he had died there on January 18. One week later, his body was returned to Congo for a state funeral and his son, Joseph, became president eight days later.
The investigation into Kabila's assassination led to 135 people 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.