Laurent-Désiré Kabila

Laurent-Désiré Kabila

A bust of Laurent Kabila being installed in the town of Bukavu, 2011.
President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
In office
May 17, 1997  January 16, 2001
Preceded by Mobutu Sese Seko (as President of Zaire)
Succeeded by Joseph Kabila
Personal details
Born (1939-11-27)November 27, 1939
Baudouinville, Belgian Congo
Died January 16, 2001(2001-01-16) (aged 61)
Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Cause of death Assassination
Nationality Congolese
Political party People's Revolution Party
Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo
Spouse(s) Sifa Mahanya
Children Aimée Kabila (1976–2001)
Jaynet Kabila
Joseph Kabila
Zoé Kabila
Alma mater University of Dar es Salaam
Profession Rebel leader, President
Religion Anglicanism

Laurent-Désiré Kabila ( pronunciation ) (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.[1] He was succeeded eight days later by his son Joseph.

Early life

Kabila was born to a member of the Luba tribe in Baudoinville, Katanga Province, (now Moba, Tanganyika Province) in the Belgian Congo. His father was a Luba and his mother was a Lunda. It is claimed that he studied abroad (political philosophy in Paris, got a PhD in Tashkent, in Belgrade and at last in Dar es Salaam) but no proof has been found nor provided.[2]

Political activities

Congo crisis

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.[3]

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 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.[3]

Che Guevara

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.[4]

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 and brothel in Tanzania.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7] Following failed peace talks held on board of the South African ship SAS Outeniqua, Mobutu fled into exile on 16 May.

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 20 May and was sworn in on 31 May, officially commencing his term as president.

Presidency (1997–2001)

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".[8]

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 dont 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.


Laurent-Désiré Kabila's son and successor, Joseph Kabila

In the afternoon of 16 January 2001 Kabila was shot by his bodyguard, Rashidi Muzele, who was killed as he attempted to flee the scene at Kabila's Palais de Marbre residence. According to a Rwandan former intelligence chief and allegations made by government 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 Kabila's assassination. The exact circumstances are still disputed. Kabila reportedly died on the spot, according to DRC's then health minister 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 18 January. 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 were to die in office.


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.[9][10]


  1. "IRIN - In Depth Reports". IRIN. Retrieved May 25, 2016.
  2. "L'obscur M. Kabila". L'Express. June 25, 1998.
  3. 1 2 Kevin C. Dunn, "A Survival Guide to Kinshasa: Lessons of the Father, Passed Down to the Son" in John F. Clark, ed., The African Stakes of the Congo War, Palgrave MacMillan: New York, 2004, ISBN 1-4039-6723-7, p. 54
  4. "Mfi Hebdo". July 6, 2009. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  5. "Laurent Kabila". The Economist. Retrieved May 25, 2016.
  6. Dunn, pg. 55
  7. Dickovick, J. Tyler (2008). The World Today Series: Africa 2012. Lanham, Maryland: Stryker-Post Publications. ISBN 978-1-61048-881-5.
  8. Edgerton, Robert. The Troubled Heart of Africa: A History of the Congo'.' St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-30486-2
  9. Special programme. "Murder in Kinshasa". Retrieved May 25, 2016.
  10. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 5, 2012. Retrieved May 7, 2012.

Further reading

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Political offices
Preceded by
Mobutu Sese Seko
President of Zaire
President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Succeeded by
Joseph Kabila
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