Laurent-Désiré Kabila (November 27, 1939 – January 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.
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.
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.
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.