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KABILA II: Unravelling the enigma.

Despite all the publicity surrounding Joseph Kabila, perhaps the most unexpected leader in Africa s modern history, very little is still known about him. His past, including his parentage, is clouded in thick layers of doubt. With uncertainty about who the real power behind the throne is, no one has any idea how this shy and retiring young man will fare when the heat is turned up. Fran ois Misser set out to look for some answers to the Kabila enigma.

Joseph-Desire Kabila is an enigma. For starters, there are different versions about his parents' identity, his real age and his birthplace. According to the official version, Joseph Kabila was born on the December 4 1971, at Hewa Bora, the headquarters of Laurent Kabila's guerrilla movement in the Fizi territory of South-Kivu. But other sources say he was born in 1968.

In the context of ethnic hatred created by his late father -- who claimed, among other things that the Ugandan and Rwandan armies were deliberately sending "HIV-infected soldiers to rape Congolese women" - one of this shy and polite young man's first challenges will be to convince sceptics that he is genuinely Congolese and that Laurent Kabila was his real father

Justice Minister Mwenze Kongolo claims that the woman presented as his mother, Sifa Mahanya - one of the late Kabila's three wives, was of the Bangubangu tribe of the Maniema province of Eastern Congo. But the Panafrican News Agency reported that his mother was another woman, called Sissa Mahenge.

Jeune Afrique reports that his real father is a Rwandan called Kanombe and his mother a Rwandan Tutsi called Marcelline, who later became one of Laurent Kabila's many wives

To compound the confusion, a former DRC Home Affairs Minister told African Business that when Joseph Kabila first arrived in Kinshasa with his father in May 1997, the then Congolese army chief of staff, James Kabarehe (who is now the Rwandan army's assistant chief of staff) and the DRC Foreign Minister, Bizima Karaha (now one of the leaders of the Rwandan-backed rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy), described Joseph as Laurent Kabila's adopted child.

Since Joseph Kabila has had Tutsi girl-friends, and did everything he could to save Tutsis in Kinshasa during the August 1998 pogrom, (a fact confirmed by Rwandan officials to African Business) some Congolese suspect that he might be a Tutsi himself.

"When I saw him first in Kisangani in March 1997, he was Commander James Kabarehe's driver, and was presented as the commander's nephew", a former companion of Laurent Kabila told African Business.

The question marks do not end with the circumstances of his birth. According to the RTNC state-owned radio and television, he received his primary and secondary education at a French-language school in Tanzania. He then studied at the Makerere University in Uganda before his father called him to join the rebellion against Mobutu Sese Seko in 1996. He is also reported to have undergone a three month training course at a military academy in China.

But the official biography fails to note that Kabila Junior served at least one year in the Rwandan army in 1995. Several witnesses also stress the indisputable fact that Kabila II is fluent in kinyarwanda, the lingua franca of Rwanda.

Some Congolese opponents are even calling for DNA tests in order to find out exactly Kabila junior's exact lineage.

To outsiders, the lineage issue may seem a lot of fuss about nothing, but given the highly charged ethnic nature of Congolese politics, it is of prime importance. It is important enough for the government to deem it necessary to strenuously deny suggestions that Kabila Junior is not a genuine Congolese. It went even as far as orchestrating a demonstration by inhabitants of Maniema to loudly denounce 'manouevers' to "tarnish the new head of state's origin". Rumour, fuelled by contradictory accounts can have a significant effect in a country where people's belief is often more important than actual facts. And the belief of many Congolese is that Joseph Kabila, who does not speak lingala, is almost a stranger in the capital.

Whatever his origins, it is an open secret that the young man was not well prepared for the job he has so suddenly inherited. The feeling is that he has been picked as a stop gap, to avoid infighting among the late Kabila's entourage.

The key question is to what degree he will receive support, if at all, from the army, the government and powerful allies. His prestige and charisma among the soldiers is not considerable, to say the least. Just before his father was assassinated, Kabila Junior, who was then commander of the land forces, had suffered a major defeat on the Katanga front, losing the town of Pweto to the Rwandans and Congolese Rally for Democracy rebels.

In addition, if he really played an important part during the 1996-1997 "liberation war", (during which Laurent Kabila made him commander of the Northern front Kisangani), he could be answerable along with his then allies - the Rwandan army commanders - for the massacres and the disappearances of thousands of Hutu refugees in the forests of the Province Orientale.

In any case, Kabila II's first task will be to restore discipline and morale in an army in which the Congolese government has lost confidence.

The man described officially as his father's murderer, a young soldier (kadogo) from Kabila's Kivu region, was one of Laurent Kabila's own bodyguards. His motive, apparently, was that he had been outraged by the execution of his brother and the disappearance of several officers from the same region, under the orders of the late President.

Further evidence of this distrust came with the high command's decision to disarm the Congolese troops in Kinshasa immediately after the assassination. The Angolan and Zimbabwean armies have sent reinforcements to the capital and have taken charge of security in the capital since the assassination.

Thus the new President is surrounded by people who suspect each other of having plotted the assassination. Conspiracy theories have thickened and a dragnet has hauled in a number of additional suspects. A 75year old General, Sylvain Lwesha, was submitted to an arduous interrogation on January 19, apparently simply because he, like the alleged killer, comes from Kivu. The late President's aide de camp, Colonel Eddy Kapend, considered as pro-Angolan, is also under suspicion as he was the head of the Presidential Guard in charge of Laurent Kabila's security. The Angolan President, Dos Santos added to a general climate of suspicion by saying that Kabila's death had been caused by the Congolese security services which had been corrupted by unspecified "foreign forces".

The young Kabila could also find himself being used as a pawn by the former President's inner circle. The Kinshasa daily "Le Potentiel" believes that the Joseph Kabila could be held 'hostage' by those who appointed him as President. The list includes the cabinet, divided along pro-Zimbabwean or pro-Angolan lines, Katanguese and non-Katanguese, liberal and Marxist.

There are likely to be upheavals among the 300 member Constitutional and Legislative Assembly. All members, were appointed in mid-2000 by only two people: Laurent Kabila and his cousin, the dreaded Interior Minister Gaetan Kakudji.

U- turn on the economy

Those divisions were reflected in Joseph Kabila's maiden speech on January 26. In contrast to his father's bullying stance towards the business class, Kabila Junior offered them an olive branch. He proposed to set up an appropriate framework for a "frank and sincere dialogue".

Joseph Kabila also announced his intention to liberalise the economy. He promised to authorise the free circulation of foreign currencies and to promulgate new investment and mining codes. He has committed himself to protect property and restore judicial independence.

Again in contrast to his father's confrontational attitude, he expressed the with to improve links with the European Union and to heal 'wounds' caused by 'some misunderstandings'. He paid special tribute to France, because of its commitment to seeking "peaceful solutions to the crisis" within the UN Security Council. He also expressed a wish to develop friendly relations with Belgium and to "normalise bilateral links" with the new US administration.

Overall, business circles welcomed young Kabila's speech which was perhaps inspired by liberals such as the Central Bank's governor, Jean-Claude Masangu. "We applaud the liberalisation measures", said a representative of the Congolese Federation of Entrepreneurs. The managing director of the country's main private airline, Hewa Bora Airways, Stavros Papaioannu, added that the speech had fulfiled the expectations of the economic players.

Such positive signs are particularly welcome as the Congolese economy is going through the worst crisis in its history. In 2000, inflation soared to 520%, while the GDP fell by 11.3%, following a 10.3% decrease in 1999. Meanwhile, despite a decline in the production of the main staples, food imports fell by 50% last year, indicating an alarming humanitarian crisis.

Other factors which have battered the economy include the the war, erratic policies, such as the ban on foreign currencies imposed in 1999 and the artificially high fixed exchange rate of the Congolese franc. Importers who increased their prices in order to counter the rapid depreciation of the Congolese franc were forced to sell at a loss or face jail - further discouraging supplies to the capital.

The shortage of foreign currencies also had a dramatic impact on the imports of fertilisers, seeds and pesticides. This, combined with the degradation of cassava plantations in the Bandundu and Lower-Congo regions, provoked a dramatic fall in production and a spectacular rise malnutrition both in the capital and the countryside. As a result, the food supply deficit reached a record 1m tons by the end of 2000, as against 954,000tons in 1999.

The deterioration of the road network, and the constant harassment by customs officers, policemen and soldiers of peasants and traders transporting food to the capital, also sharply reduced normal food supplies to Kinshasa. By mid-January, on the 500km route between Bandundu and Kinshasa, there was at least one roadblock every five kilometers and at every one of them there were 'officials' determined to milk as much out of truck drivers as they could.

To make matters worse, the Israeli company, Idi-Diamonds, which had been given the monopoly to buy and export all diamonds produced in the country, found itself short of cash with which to purchase the gems from artisanal miners. These account for at least 75% of the country's production. The result was a dramatic fall in the volume of diamonds coming to the market.

Diamond exports account for nearly 60% of the country's foreign exchange revenues. Further, the mess simply encouraged producers to smuggle gems out of the country. When the new leader declared that the trade would be liberalised, there was considerable rejoicing among the members of the Congolese Federation of Diamond Dealers.

Call for unity

What is beyond doubt is that the situation will not improve significantly unless the war comes to an end and Kabila embarks on a democratisation process. Encouragingly, the tone of the young Kabila's speech was less aggressive than his father's usual rhetoric.

He called for unity and reconciliation and pledged to revive a peace deal to end the war, but the Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy (CRD) stated that Joseph Kabila's call for an "immediate and unconditional withdrawal" by "foreign aggressors," was contrary to the Lusaka Peace Agreement. That agreement had advocated a series of steps by both sides before foreign troops pull out.

Nor did he mention that according to the Lusaka plan, all the so-called "negative forces", (in other words the ex-Rwandan Armed Forces and all the guerrilla groups from Burundi, Uganda and Angola), had to be neutralised before the foreign African armies were to withdraw. It was the presence of these guerrilla groups that had dragged several African states into the DRC conflict.

Before he was killed, Laurent Kabila had agreed to set up an 'inter-Congolese' conference to bring together the Kinshasa government, the rebels, the opposition and civil society to work towards an interim administration so that a new constitution could be drawn up. The conference was to be chaired by the former President of Botswana, Sir Kitumile Masire.

Not prepared to share the cake

However, in his maiden speech, Joseph Kabila made no reference to the Masire conference; instead he spoke of the Libreville process - an attempt by his father to meet opponents in the Gabonese capital outside the framework of the Lusaka Plan.

The only conclusion to be drawn from this is that hardliners around him are simply not prepared to share the cake. This would be a recipe for disaster for the DRC's new President.

Joseph Kabila has been catapulted into the Presidency of one of the most volatile and politically complex countries in the world. The situation in the DRC today would severely tax a Machiavelli: what a politically naive, inexperienced young man will make of the situation is beyond anybody's power to predict.

He can perhaps draw some comfort from the thought that, three decades ago, another young man took the hot seat. He was not expected to last more than two or three weeks; but history recalls he ended up as one of Africa's longest serving heads of state.

His name? - Mobutu Sese Seko!


The mystery over who really killed Laurent Kabila took another turn as we were going to press. According to the French newspaper, La Monde, his killer was one of the boy soldiers who had marched with him from eastern Congo four years ago. The paper says the assassin and his accomplices got away.

Kabila's increasingly cavalier attitude towards them turned into terror when he began executing soldiers he suspected of planning to oust him. One day before his assassination, he witnessed the execution of 45 young soldiers.

One of the conspirators, identified by La Monde only as 'A.L.' recounted the events that led to the death of corpulent Congolese killer.

The unnamed killer entered the President's office while Kabila was in a conference with an economics advisor about an important forthcoming summit with France.

The teenager bent over the former leader who leaned towards him to hear what he thought he had to say. Instead the soldier produced a pistol and shot Kabila four times, at point blank range.

According to 'A.L.', six teenage soldiers were involved in the plot. Two went inside the office and four hid themselves to give covering fire.

All, except for 'Rashidi', who was giving cover fire, escaped from the building and took-off in individual get-away vehicles. 'Rashidi' was fatally wounded.

This report strongly contradicts the official version given by Mwenza Kongolo. He stated that Kabila had been killed by Rashidi Kasereka, a Presidential bodyguard who had then been shot dead by security officers.

The plot, according to La Monde, was hatched in January when a dissident group of Kadogos (Swahili for little ones - the term used to denote child soldiers) drew up a document setting out Operation Mbongo (Swahili for buffalo - a reference to Kabila) Zero - i.e. the elimination of Kabila.

The soldiers, who had remained loyal to Kabila, calling him 'our father' since he had started his campaign four years ago, said they felt rejected and marginalised by the increasingly paranoid Kabila. "He treated us badly," said one of them, "we had no salaries. All the money came from him. We were like beggars."

When he started executing them, they decided his time was up.
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Title Annotation:Joseph Kabila
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:6ZAIR
Date:Mar 1, 2001
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Next Article:Keep faith with the dollar.

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