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Was it murder by order?: Several versions of how and why Kabila was murdered circulated after the assassination. Francois Misser discusses the different theories. (Cover Story/Kabila).

According to the official version provided four days after Kabila's death by Congo's minister of information, Dominique Sakombi Inongo, at 1.45 pm on 16 January, one of Kabila's bodyguards, Rachidi Kasereka, walked into the president's office and shot him in the presence of his economic adviser, Emile Mota. Kabila was hit in the stomach and neck.

Mota immediately called the guards and several ministers who were nearby, including the health minister, Mashako Mamba, who was the next person waiting to see Kabila.

Kabila was rushed by helicopter to the Ngaliema Clinic in Kinshasa, while the other bodyguards ran after the murderer who had managed to escape from the room. He was eventually shot dead.

According to Inongo, Kabila died at 10 am on 18 January in Harare, Zimbabwe, where he had been flown for treatment.

However, the accuracy of this official version is contradicted by another "official" statement made by Kabila's former comrade in the bush, Godefroid Tchamlesso, who, as assistant minister of defence, claimed to have had privileged access to information.

On 17 January, Tchamlesso said Kabila had died two hours after being transported to the Ngaliema Clinic, confirming an earlier claim by the Belgian foreign minister, Louis Michel, on 16 January that Kabila had died in Kinshasa.

Tchamlesso made his claim on the same 17 January that Zimbabwean official sources said Kabila had died on the plane taking him to Harare, after being hit by five bullets. Since the Zimbabwean government was Kabila's most faithful ally, a reasonable assumption could be made that the Kinshasa authorities were trying to buy time in order to find a replacement for the murdered president. Congo does not have a working constitution at the moment and Kabila had not left instructions about who should succeed him.

Thus, the uncertainty created a climate for all sorts of rumours. The information minister dismissed the Belgian foreign minister's version that Kabila was assassinated at a meeting with several generals.

This version is no longer supported even by foreign diplomats, but it has some plausibility. Kabila's murder followed the heels of his forces losing the town of Pweto in northern Katanga to the Rwandan army and their Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) rebel allies.

At least, all Congolese officials now agree on one point -- the identity of the murderer, Corporal Rachidi Kasereka, a "kadogo" (young boy) from northern Kivu. He joined the then Kabila-led Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) from the beginning in 1996. After the ADFL won power from Mobutu, Rachidi stayed on and became one of Kabila's trusted bodyguards. But since Rachidi was shot himself, he would never be able to tell why he shot Kabila. An official enquiry has been ordered, but its conclusions are yet to be made public.

Kivu connections

However, people from the Kivu region are convinced that Rachidi's murderous act was connected with the arrest and the execution of fellow comrades from his home area shortly before he assassinated Kabila.

One source told New African that Rachidi resented the fact that Kabila did not intervene to stop the execution of Rachidi's brother for attempted robbery, though Rachidi had pleaded with the president to step in. This version, however, is yet to be confirmed. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that in the weeks before the murder, people from the Kivu area were targeted by Kabila's security services.

Amnesty International released several communiques in early January, expressing fears of torture, disappearance and execution of Commander Anselme Masasu Nindaga and 100 others from the Kivu region, including soldiers, policemen and civilians.

Masasu was a key figure in the ADFL. He was the man who recruited the "kadogos" such as Rachidi into the ADFL in 1996. He was also the leader of one of the four political groups that formed the ADFL.

Masasu was first arrested in November 1997, accused of plotting a coup with Tutsi officers. He was detained in the underground prison of Bulowo in Katanga until last April when he was released under a presidential amnesty.

He was arrested again in November last year and charged, again, with plotting with others to overthrow Kabila. After that, according to the Congolese ASADHO human rights organisation, he was transported to a prison in Katanga and held incommunicado, and possibly executed in early November with six other military officers from Kivu.

There is in fact another Kivu connection. Five days after Kabila's death, a group known as the "Soldiers of Kisase Ngandu" claimed in a communique sent to the Paris headquarters of the Agence France Presse that it killed Kabila as a result of "a decision to end the bloody Kabila adventure".

Andre Kisase Ngandu was another important figure in the ADFL. He was the leader of the Ugandan-backed "Counseil National de la Revolution". Unlike Kabila, Ngandu was considered as a genuine Lumumbist by the different factions of the Mouvement National Congolais-Lumumba (MNC-L). He was particularly popular among Richidi Kasereka's Nande tribe, based in northern Kivu.

According to MNC-L sources, Ngandu was killed under Kabila's orders in early January 1997, somewhere in the Virunga National Park to the north of Goma. According to the communique, the decision to kill Kabila was made after 47 "young patriots" had been executed in Kabila's presence. Sources in Kivu are however sceptical about this claim because it came very late and only after the Brussels daily, La Libre Belgique, had revealed the murderer's identity.

Who shot the killer?

Many questions remain unanswered. Did Rachidi act alone or was he the face of a plot hatched by others? Apparently he had at least one accomplice who was waiting outside in a car.

But who shot the killer? The official version is that Rachidi was killed by fellow bodyguards outside Kabila's office. But the Brussels daily, Le Soir, says he was shot by the president's aide-de-camp, Col Eddy Kapend, the same man who appeared on Congolese TV three hours after Kabila had been shot, to order the military to stay calm. Some sources say Rachidi had already been wounded and that Kapend only fired the last shot.

If that was the case, why did Kapend execute the murderer instead of keeping him alive for investigation purposes? Le Soir says Rachidi was shot because he was walking towards the president's private apartments and could have endangered the life of Kabila's relatives. This version is yet to be confirmed or denied by Kapend himself.

It is likely that Kapend reacted in panic. Congolese sources in Kinshasa claim that it was Kapend who, a day after Kabila's death, proposed during a meeting of the government and the military hierarchy that Kabila's son, Joseph, succeed his father. This, they claim, was done by Kapend to defuse suspicions about his alleged role in the assassination.

According to this version, Kapend had known of Rachidi's plans, yet he allowed him to execute the plan only to shoot him afterwards in order to prevent him from speaking out.

Kapend was in charge of presidential security, and Rachidi was not even on duty on the fateful day. In any case, Rachidi should have been searched by the other guards before he entered the building, or at least the president's office. One of the doors to the office was not locked at the time. Was it done intentionally and by whom?

The bottom line of these suspicions is that Eddy Kapend is notoriously known as pro-Angolan. It is also an open secret that Angola was unhappy with Kabila's policies.

Angola particularly disapproved of Kabila's June offensive in Equator Province against the Movement for the Liberation of Congo that prompted the rebels to retaliate and threaten the strategic town of Mbandaka. This forced the Angolans to deploy more troops and MiG fighters in the area to defend Mbandaka.

Angola also did not want its troops to come into direct confrontation with the Rwandan and Angolan armies, especially after contacts had been made by Angolan officers with their Ugandan and Rwandan counterparts. The contacts had been encouraged by the governments of Angola, Rwanda and Uganda throughout the second half of last year.

According to a former assistant to the minister of interior and Kabila's cousin, Gaetan Kakudji, the Angolans were particularly outraged after a clash between Kakudji and his Angolan partners about an alleged plot by Angola against Kabila.

Both Unita and Congolese opposition sources have since told New African that beside the contacts between the Angolan army chief, Joao de Matos, and his Ugandan and Rwandan counterparts, there were also contacts between the Angolan foreign minister, Joao Miranda, and Jean Pierre Bemba, leader of the MLC rebel movement.

There were also contacts between Angolan diplomats and Congolese opponents, including former ministers of Mobutu.

Weeks before the assassination, a high-ranking Angolan official had in fact told a Congolese journalist based in Brussels that he did not expect Kabila to last beyond March this year.

There were also unconfirmed rumours of a coup being discussed by a private military outfit, whose clients included people based in Luanda and Congolese opponents in Brussels.

Too many enemies

The problem with all these versions is that Kapend who comes from Katanga's Lunda tribe is closely related to Kabila by marriage, but the security services that Kapend headed was pretty disorganised. On top of it, there was a multiplicity of security groups and it was common for a number of people to enter the president's office for one reason or another, say Congolese officials.

The Angolan president, Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, was certainly right when he declared that Kabila's death happened through the complicity of the security services and a lack of vigilance.

That said, the list of Kabila's enemies was quite impressive. Inside the country, it ranged from pro- and anti-Mobutu forces to Kabila's own fellow travellers, Masasu and Kisase. Even the "Mayi-Mayi" traditional warriors who are now fighting against the Rwandan and Ugandan occupation of Eastern Kivu, were unhappy because Kabila did not provide them with sufficient arms.

Outside the country, besides Rwanda and Uganda, Washington turned against Kabila in a profound way, despite the initial American support for him before and after Mobutu's overthrow.

No wonder that two days after the assassination, the British daily The Independent, reported that the Rwandan operation in Congo against Kabila was "secretly funded by the CIA". In fact in September last year, New African had reported about the American military base in the Bugesera district of Rwanda where the Americans are training Rwandan forces, ostensibly for the defence of Rwanda, but no one is being fooled.

Said Cynthia Mckinney, the outspoken African-American Congresswoman from Georgia, in an interview published by New African three weeks before Kabila's death: "The whole world knows that Uganda and Rwanda are allies of the United States and that they have been given a carte blanche for whatever reason to wreck havoc in the Congo."

Belgium too has come under fire, accused by Kabila's ministers of planning his murder. But they have no evidence to prove it. Also unsubstantiated are the accusations by Kabila's People's Power Committee that "whites" were behind his assassination, or that Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi plotted to kill him.

All said, the fatal blow appears to have come from within Kabila's own ranks. He had long ceased to trust his own army, and days before his death, had in fact taken away the weapons of his soldiers in the Kokolo and Tshatshi military barracks. Did Kabila suspect anything?

Time will tell.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Congo President Laurent Kabila
Author:Misser, Francois
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:6ZAIR
Date:Mar 1, 2001
Previous Article:Sorry you need a visa. (Around Africa - Kenya).
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