The Joseph of Kinshasa: Will He Last the Course? or Better Put, Will He Be Allowed to Last the Course? Francois Misser Looks at the Permutations. (Cover Story/Kabila)

By Misser, Francois | New African, March 2001 | Go to article overview

The Joseph of Kinshasa: Will He Last the Course? or Better Put, Will He Be Allowed to Last the Course? Francois Misser Looks at the Permutations. (Cover Story/Kabila)


Misser, Francois, New African


There is no doubt that Joseph Kabila, (aged between 29 and 32, according to which side you are on), was caught by surprise in Lubumbashi by the announcement of his father's sudden death and his own appointment as successor.

His father's closest collaborators -- the justice minister Mwenze Kongolo, the aide-de-camp Eddy Kapend, and the former minister of oil Victor M'Poyo -- made sure that young Joseph, commander of Congo's land forces, became the first son in African politics to succeed his father.

Obviously, Joseph was nor prepared for the new job. When the announcement came, he was trying to re-organise the Katanga front after the defeat inflicted there last December by the Rwandan army and their Congolese Rally for Democracy (CRD) allies.

From his father's point of view, Joseph was not always "politically correct". He is reported to have spent a few days in jail in 1998 because Kabila the Elder didn't like the Son to socialise with children of Mobutu's former loyalists.

During the pogroms against the Tutsis that followed the attack by Rwandan, Ugandan and Congolese rebels in August 1998, Joseph was reported to have saved the lives of some Tutsis from government soldiers. Now, because of this generous act, some Congolese are saying he is Tutsi himself and are challenging the official biography put out by the government he now heads.

According to the official version, Joseph was born in the Fizi territory of South-Kivu. But the Doubting Thomases say the woman said to be his mother, Sifa Mahanya, one of the three wives of Kabila the Elder, does nor belong to the Bangubangu tribe of the Maniema province of Eastern Congo as the official version claims.

They claim that Joseph is a relative of the Rwandan army chief of staff, Commander James Kabarehe, who held the same position in Kabila's army until August 1998. Joseph is also said to be fluent in Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda.

The very fact that these harmful rumours is circulating in a country at war with Rwanda, is also an indication that very little was known about Joseph by his compatriots before his appointment. To compound their problem, the young man speaks very little. During his recent European and North American visit, he declined to answer questions about himself.

His official curriculum only mentions that he attended secondary school in Tanzania and that he was registered as a student at Uganda's Makerere University when his father called him to join the "liberation war" in 1996.

The CV, however, fails to mention that Joseph also followed a one-year military training course in Rwanda in 1995, and two years later became the commander of the northern front of the rebel coalition that brought his father to power. He had actually been recalled from a one-month military training course in China.

The people who were really in charge of the ADFL's military operations were Ugandans and Rwandans, and since Joseph was promoted Major General by his father on account of the ADFL victory over Mobutu, it can safely be said that he owes his pegs to the "enemies" he now faces across the border.

A compromise candidate?

The question on everybody's lips is why the unprepared Joseph was appointed successor to his father?

From outside the ring, it looks like he was a compromise (if not, stopgap) candidate chosen by both the hawks and doves in his father's regime -- the pro-Angolan and the pro-Zimbabwe sides, the Katangese and non-Katangese, the liberals and the Marxists.

This was clearly reflected in his maiden speech that combined a commitment to re-launch the Lusaka Peace Agreement and a re-start of the inter-Congolese dialogue to set the rules for the transition expected to involve all the interested parties in the country. He also used the speech to call for the immediate withdrawal of the Rwandan, Burundian and Ugandan "aggressors" from Congolese soil. …

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