KABILA II: Unravelling the Enigma

African Business, March 2001 | Go to article overview

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. …

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