Laurant-Désiré Kabila's Profile

Panafrican News Agency, 17 January 2001

Dakar, Senegal—The pressumed assassinated military leader and president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo had ruled his country only for three years (since 1997), but he managed to remain in the news all through for most of that period: first, as a leader the west could count on, and then as a dictator, seriously criticised both by the government of the U.S and those of European Union.

Kabila was born into the Luba ethnic group in the mineral- rich province of Katanga in 1939. Little else is known about his childhood, except that he attended university in France, where he studied political philosophy and became a Marxist, and in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where he befriended Yoweri Museveni, the future president of Uganda.

The late president of DR Congo first received international attention in 1997 when he led a seven-month rebellion in Zaire (which he later changed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo) that toppled Mobutu Sese Seko, the longtime autocratic leader of Zaire; following nearly three decades of opposition.

When he first returned to the Belgian Congo shortly before it achieved independence (as the Congo) in 1960, Kabila became a member of the North Katanga Assembly and a staunch supporter of Congo's first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba.

After Lumumba's murder in 1961, Kabila and other Lumumba supporters fled to the Congolese borderlands, where they began organizing against the government.

In 1964 Kabila's rebel group received financial backing from Russia, China, and Cuba and staged an insurrection in the eastern provinces of the Congo. The rebellion briefly established a separatist state near Kisangani.

In early 1965 Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara came to assist the rebellion, but quickly became frustrated with Kabila's leadership and left. Later that year, the Congolese army, led by Joseph Mobutu (later Mobutu Sese Seko), ended the rebellion and took control of the Congo in late 1965.

In 1967 Kabila cofounded the People's Revolutionary Party (PRP), a leftist rebel group that launched sporadic attacks against Mobutu and his regime. The group received funding from China and also supported itself by exporting gold and ivory.

Three years later, In the 1970s the PRP established a small socialist state in the South Kivu Province of Congo (by then renamed Zaire) near Lake Tanganyika.

In 1975 Kabila and the PRP gained international notoriety when the group kidnapped three American students and a Dutch researcher from the nearby Gombe Stream Research Center founded by Jane Goodall.

The PRP held the hostages for 67 days but released them unharmed after the PRP received an unspecified ransom. Two years later, Mobutu's troops finally forced the PRP to abandon their mountain stronghold, and the rebel group fled into nearby Tanzania.

Kabila spent much of the 1980s in Tanzania, where he lived in relative obscurity. He sold gold mined in eastern Zaire in Dar es Salaam. At some point between 1980 and 1996 he developed ties with Museveni, president of Uganda, and Paul Kagame, Rwandan leader. Kabila disappeared in 1988, and many of his associates believed him dead.

Kabila returned to public view in 1996, after Mobutu's government attempted to expel hundreds of Banyamulenge rebels (closely related to the Tutsi of neighboring Burundi and Rwanda).

The rebels resisted, and Kagame recruited Kabila to lead a rebellion against Mobutu's regime.

Later that year, Kabila united Banyamulenge and other guerrilla groups into the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL) united around a common dtermination to overthrow Mobutu. The group enjoyed instant support among the disillusioned and impoverished Zairean population and, in town after town, Kabila's troops easily defeated Mobutu's army.

In May 1997 Kabila and his army approached Kinshasa, the country's capital. The cancer-stricken Mobutu fled, and Kabila's troops marched triumphantly into the city, where he renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo and declared himself president on May 17.

Since taking power in the Congo, Kabila had a mixed record. At first, Kabila was extremely popular among the Congolese, who applauded his promises to rebuild and revitalize the Congo and to end the rampant corruption that terrorized the citizenry and contributed to the country's decay.

When he imposed restrictions on civil liberties and political activity, however, he lost much of his initial popularity both within the country and among western democracies.

Citizens complained that they had more freedom during the last years of Mobutu's regime and accuse Kabila of nepotism and promoting only his own ethnic group, the Luba.

Kabila faced international criticism as well for failing to hold democratic elections, for limiting free speech, and for arresting and threatening opposition groups. Kabila was also criticized for thwarting a United Nations investigation into the disappearance of more than 100,000 Rwandan Hutu refugees, who may have been massacred by Kabila's largely Banyamulenge troops.

Consequently, the DR Congo lost millions of dollars of foreign aid that he had once hoped would help him rebuild the Congo. In response, Kabila accused Western officials of hypocrisy for funding the brutal and autocratic Mobutu but refusing to support his regime, even though he had promised to hold democratic elections—a promise he never redeemed until his assassination Tuesday.