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Date: Thu, 22 May 97 09:54:35 CDT
From: bin <bin@ursula.blythe.org>
Subject: Kabila: The Last of Lumumba's Forge/PL
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Article: 11376

Kabila: The Last of Lumumba's Forge/PL

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Kabila: The Last of Lumumba's Forge

Dihur Godefroid Tchamlesso, Prensa Latino (Havana), 10 May 1997

As a child, Laurent-Desire Kabila, the rebel leader from Congo-Zaire now on the threshold of becoming the president of his country, used to play soccer and although he was not a brilliant player he always wanted to be a forward and score goals.

Although he was strongly built, a small muscular problem in his right leg prevented him from standing out and achieving high performance in sports. but Kabila always did his best.

He liked to play baseball, which requires tall players. we used to say that if he had dedicated time to the practice of greco-roman wrestling, he would have won many medals and honors because of his massive build and height.

He was born in the northeastern part of the province of Katanga, known as Shaba today. during his childhood he lived in Kalemie, (former Albertville) and Manono, where his parents from the Baluba tribe settled and worked, to maintain the family.

Kabila's house may be described as comfortable enough to house an African family in the colonial times. his father was an "assimilated traditional chief." the term was used to referred to a congolese with certain level education working for the Belgian crown, the Congo's metropolis.

A strange fact: Kabila's best friends were older than him. he was always trying to show them that he was more mature. he did this gracefully, but his baby face sporting a precocious beard betrayed him. he only grew his beard fully when he led a guerrilla movement in the mid 60's.

I remember that Idelphonse Massengo, one of his closest comrades during the insurrection and a friend from his childhood, used to recall incidents in which Kabila claimed to be older than the rest. it seems he did this to impose himself on the others and prevail as group leader.

Still, Laurent-Desire Kabila is not an arrogant man and used to be anger by flattery. he showed some glimpses of his shyness, together with bursts of laughter he used to mix with jokes of good taste. He never reprimands in loud voice or shows his anger, although he knows how to nurse a grudge against someone. I know him since we were kids in Kalemie.

Since he was very young, Kabila was interested in politics. He joined the National Congolese Youth Movement led by Patrice Lumumba and rapidly became one of the most outstanding leaders of the organization in Katanga.

How did this fat young man manage to climb up so quickly and become a national figure?

From Kalemie to Manono and froy there to Elizabethville, capital of Katanga, which Mobutu Sese Seko renamed Lubumbashi in today's Shaba, also known as the "geological scandal" for its mineral riches, Kabila grew up and climbed the political ladder between 1960 and 1965.

His parents sent him to one of the best lyceums in Katanga and the young Kabila dedicated himself to studying "humanities" (philosophy and letters). he also studied French literary classics.

A real bookworm, Kabila used to devour novels, books about history, sociology and philosophy and almost became a self-taught university graduate. at that time, he drove a brand-new Volkswagen in which he used to take his lyceum friends to school without apparent selfishness.

We used to meet from time to time, mostly during holidays. Kabila was studying in the provincial capital and I was in Kalemie, an important city by the Tanganyika Lake. one of the best high schools in the country, the "Notre Dame de Lourdes d'Oostaker," run by Belgian and French nuns, was located in Kalemie.

After the assassination of prime minister Patrice Lumumba on January 18, 1961, seven months after the difficult independence struggle with Belgium, Kabila went underground to fight against the secession of Katanga.

Moises Tshombe, with the help of Brussels, London and Paris, had split the rich province and its fabulous copper, cobalt, manganese, uranium, tin, gold and zinc mines from the Congo on july 11, 1960, eleven days after independence.

The Baluba tribe, mostly affiliated with the national Congolese/ Lumumba movement, rose in arms against the secessionist attempts until 1963, when U.N. troops, helped by local rebels, defeated Tshombe's troops, which were made up of Katangan soldiers and mercenaries.

Kabila toured large territories of Katanga by car, train, and plane, and sometimes on foot, preaching and mobilizing young followers of Lumumba and Jason Sendwe, leader of the Balubakat party (Baluba from Katanga), for the armed struggle.

It was underground work that has to be carried out with the patience and methods of a conspirator. after this work, Kabila emerged as an outstanding figure and the future leader of a guerrilla movement that Cuba backed in April, 1965, with the presence of Ernesto "Che" Guevara de la Serna.

Guevara went to Congo at the request of the Congolese National Liberation Front. He entered the country through Tanzania with a column of over 100 men. This was the first Cuban internationalist mission south of the Sahara Desert.

The Cuban expeditionaries remained in eastern Congo for seven months. they stayed in a region called Kibamba by the Lake, near Uvira, Kivu, in front of the Bay of Kigoma, Tanzania.

In spite of the delay in entering into combat that marked the presence of the Cuban troops in Africa, the Cubans did fight several battles together with Kabila's rebels and Che himself was in the front line several times.

A lot has been written about that altruistic deed and solidary support by the revolution headed by Fidel Castro. that action started an era of active solidarity by the Havana government with Black Africa during its decolonization process.

Che dreamt of liberating the African continent, not only from the colonial yoke but from the neocolonial system the large western metropolises were trying to impose during the 60's and which are still in force under different disguises and forms.

The teachings of the internationalist expedition in Congo helped to improve the mechanisms for the Cuban aid to the new African states, which were under the threat of reconquest by the former western metropolis or by powerful neighbors like the racist South Africa in the 70's and the 80's.

Cuba helped Angola, which had been invaded by South African troops in 1975, when the Apartheid system was at its peak. Other Portuguese colonies like Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, Mozambique and Western Sahara also benefited from Havana's effective support.

The European and American media is now declassifying old files to explain the past. Many journalists are removing the ashes from a fire that extinguished a long time ago and call the readers' attention to events that took place three decades ago.

Kabila's past falls into this same context. His links to Che and Cuba and his progressive ideas are now being criticized. Some media in Europe and the United States go as far as to suggest "the possibility of Kabila returning to his authoritarian ideas."

Pierre Mulele, former education minister and one of Patrice Lumumba's most loyal followers, was the first to start the armed struggle in western Congo in the summer of 1963. Mulele, Leonard Mitudidi and Laurent Kabila had agreed to continue and revindicate the political heritage of Lumumba and to liberate Congo.

They founded the Congolese Liberation Front together with other patriots. some of them betrayed the group and joined Mobutu's regime, such as Christophe Gbenye, Gaston Soumialot, and others.

Mulele was mysteriously and cruelly murdered in 1968, after several years of guerrilla struggle in west Congo-Zaire. Mobutu, with the help of Brazzaville authorities, managed to deceive Mulele by promising him amnesty and later murdering him.

Kabila, warned by this example of betrayal very much in Mobutu's style, not only has rejected any deal with the murderer of Congo's most brilliant and popular statesman and politician, but he swore to avenge the crime.

"A revolutionary never dies in his bed," Kabila used to say in his resounding and touching monologue while we were in the mountains near Uvira, a rebel support base in 1965.

Has Kabila kept his word? More than 30 years involved in guerrilla struggles speaks for him and his loyalty to what he considers inviolable principles.

The Mobutu's ambassadors I have met at the United Nations, in New York, Ottawa and Washington told me that Kabila had made a very secret and underground work with the Zairean army for many year.

From his hideouts in the mountains of Kivu, near his native town of Kalemie (Shaba), the rebel with a cause, the last unsurrendering follower of Lumumba, used to make deals with officers from the Zairean armed forces.

Mobutu's soldiers, underpaid and lacking military training (they are trained only to repress people's demonstrations), were easy to bribe, leaving the field open to illegal arms trafficking and other irregular practices.

Kabila exploited these weaknesses for 30 years. He was never far away from the theater of operations where he failed to win in 1965 despite the support from abroad, particularly from Tanzania, Cuba and China.

Kabila started reorganizing his movement immediately after the rebellion was defeated in Kibamba, some 120 kilometers from Uvira.

He founded his own party: the People's Revolutionary Party, which joined the alliance of democratic forces for the liberation of Congo-Zaire under his command.

He also analyzed the causes of the defeats suffered between 1964 and 1965. the causes were: an urban uprising with different elements recruited too fast; occupation of large areas without having the right weapons or the necessary military training; rebels lacked political education, material resources, funds and a safe rear guard.

Kabila told foreign correspondents in goma, the rebels' general headquarters, that those factors caused the defeat of the guerrilla movement he led for 32 years. fortunately, this time he has managed to change course and the angle of elevation so as not to miss the target.

Despite being accused of trafficking in ivory, precious stones, diamonds and gold from Bujumbura, Burundi, with sporadic trips to Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, Laurent-Desire Kabila used the money from his alleged trade to finance his current war.

His men are at the outskirts of Kinshasa. they took Kikwit, located some 400 kilometers from the center of power, Kinshasa, where Mobuto Sese Seko, a powerless and uncultivated "monarch," who is also an expert in kleptocracy, is trying to reign.

The western powers (France, Belgium, England and the United States) claim that Kabila's ideological past is beginning to weigh him down.

"It is necessary to prevent him from entering into Kinshasa with his armed men." they claim this would set a bad precedent.

It seems Paris, Brussels, London, Washington and even Bonn share the opinion. They are sending dissuasive messages, veiled threats and intervention warnings from the near Congo-Brazzaville.

Thousands of troops from France, Belgium, the United States, and Portugal have been deployed in Brazzaville, only six kilometers away from Kinshasa. both capitals are separated by the Congo River, which can be crossed in a matter of minutes by amphibian vehicles. the maneuver has already been rehearsed.

The pretext is to evacuate foreign residents from Zaire's main city, which may be taken by Kabila's forces in a matter of days, unless both leaders agree a cease fire.

The western powers are set to frustrate the triumphant entrance of the rebel forces into the Zairean capital. Why? Because they do not want a strong man in such a large territory. Zaire is Africa's third largest country.

It has more than 2,345,000 square kilometers and about 50 million inhabitants. It also has an enormous economic potential: mines of minerals in great demand by the nuclear, space, electronic and other important industries.

Zaire also has large prairies suitable for agriculture and cattle raising and lakes and rivers for fishing and navigation. nature has been generous to Zaire.

In middle of this expanded field and complicated geography, Kabila rides alone towards the unknown. His solitude is stressed because his closest friends, his comrades, have been killed by Mobutu.


The author used to be Kabila's aide and the Dar-es-Salaam representative of the 1964-1965 guerrilla movement in charge of the military security and the training of cadres abroad. He currently lives in Cuba, working as a reporter for the Prensa Latina news agency.

[c] 1997. Latin American news agency Prensa Latina, s.a. (pl)
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