Kabila, Laurent-Désiré

Kabila, Laurent-Désiré

Kabila, Laurent-Désiré, 1939-2001, Congolese political and rebel leader. He studied at universities in France and Tanzania. returning home in 1960. He supported Patrice Lumumba, established (1967) a Marxist party, and led a group of rebels that opposed Joseph Mobutu (later Mobutu Sese Seko). Spending most of the 1980s in Tanzania, Kabila resurfaced in Zaïre in the 1990s, again becoming the leader of a rebel army. In 1997, while Mobutu was in Europe, Kabila led his forces (which were supported by Uganda and Rwanda) into Kinshasa and 12 days later was sworn in as president; he soon changed the country's name back to Congo. In 1998 he established two national assemblies, but any movement toward democracy soon ended when he banned all political opposition and proceeded to establish a repressive regime. In mid-1998 a rebellion broke out among Tutsis in E Congo, supported by Kabila's former allies Uganda and Rwanda. A ceasefire was reached in 1999, but the rebellion grew and sporadic fighting continued. In 2001 Kabila was assassinated, apparently by one of his bodyguards, and his son, Joseph Kabila, succeeded him as president.

Laurent-Désiré Kabila (November 27, 1939January 16, 2001) was President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from May 1997, when he overthrew longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko after 32 years of ruling Zaire, until his assassination in January 2001. He was succeeded by his son Joseph.

Early life

Kabila was born and raised to a member of the Luba tribe in Jadotville (present-day Likasi) in the Belgian Congo, Katanga province. His father was Luba, while his mother was Lunda. He studied political philosophy in France and attended the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Congo Crisis

When the Congo gained independence in 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. Lumumba was overthrown by Joseph Mobutu within months, and by 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 has set up a cross-border rebel operation from Kigoma, Tanzania, across Lake Tanganyika.

During the Mobutu dictatorship

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, with Kabila being one who was more interested in consuming alcohol and bedding women. 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 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. While in Kampala, he reportedly met Yoweri Museveni, the future leader 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. The PRP state came to an end in 1988 and Kabila disappeared and was widely believed to be dead.

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 Burundi, Uganda and the Rwandan Tutsi government, 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 and following failed peace talks in May 1997, Mobutu fled the country, and Kabila declared victory from Lubumbashi on May 17, suspending the Constitution and changing the name of the country from Zaire to Democratic Republic of Congo. He later made his grand entry into Kinshasa on May 20 to effectively commence his tenure 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). Kabila found new allies in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola and managed to hold on in the south and west of the country and in July 1999 peace talks led to the withdrawal of most foreign forces.


However, the rebellion continued and Kabila was shot during the afternoon of January 16, 2001 by one of his own staff, Rashidi Kasereka, who was also killed. The assassination was part of a failed coup attempt which was crushed and Kabila, who may have been still alive, was flown to Zimbabwe for medical treatment. 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 ten days later.

The investigation into the 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. Of the other defendants 64 were jailed, with sentences from six months to life, and 45 were exonerated.

Notes and references

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