Where Kabila Went Wrong. (Cover Story/Congo)

By Rake, Alan | New African, March 2001 | Go to article overview

Where Kabila Went Wrong. (Cover Story/Congo)


Rake, Alan, New African


Throughout his career, Laurent Kabila had been at the mercy of unpredictable forces larger than himself. Always there were others, pursuing their own agendas and breathing down his neck. Alan Rake looks back on Kabila's life.

It was a sudden and violent death for a man who had never seemed to be in charge of his own destiny. Few think that Kabila's assassination was just the random act of a crazed bodyguard. Everyone assumes that there were powerful forces behind the killing, but if so, they appear to have achieved nothing.

Kabila's son, Joseph, 31, (see story on p18) has filled the vacuum, and is equally susceptible to pressure by the forces that want to control his country. He could prove even more malleable a pawn than his father before him. And his father was an experienced dealmaker and survivor before that bullet struck.

Laurent Kabila was horn on 11 November 1939, in Jadotville (now Likasi), into the Luba tribe who live in northern Shaba (formerly Katanga) far upstream on the river Congo. Little is known about his early beginnings but after a basic local education, he went to study philosophy in France, continuing his education in East Germany.

He returned home in the heady days of Congo's independence in 1960 and became a member of the North Katanga Assembly where he supported the parry of the first Congolese Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, and his minister of education, Pierre Mulele. After the murder of Lumumba, Congo was riven by secessionist movements and Kabila followed the Mulele faction.

Later, Kabila joined another revolutionary leader, Antoine Gizenga, in the rebellions in Stanleyville in the east of the country.

In 1964, the 25-year-old Kabila broke away from the Lubumbists to form his own Parti Revolutionnaire du Peuple (PRP). Another Marxist, Gaston Soumialot, joined him and launched the Simba (Lion) rebellion in the forests of South Kivu and the Mitumba mountains.

In February 1965, Kabila met his hero Che Guevara in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Che was on his way to Congo with a force of Cuban guerrillas to assist Kabila's forces. But Che didn't like what he saw when he finally arrived in Kabila's territory.

"I had not informed any Congolese of my decision to fight in their country nor did I now of my presence there," Che wrote in his diaries kept secret by the Cubans and only published last year under the tide, The African Dream -- The Diaries of the Revolutionary War in the Congo.

Che continued: "I had not mentioned it in my first conversation with Kabila [in Dar es Salaam], because I had not yet made up my mind; and once the plan had been approved, it would have been dangerous to reveal it until my journey through a lot of hostile territory had been completed. I therefore decided to present my arrival as a fait accompli and to go on from there according to how they reacted."

To his great disappointment, Che discovered that Kabila was totally unfit for the job of a revolutionary leader. "Right from the start," Che wrote, "we came face to face with a reality that would pursue us through the struggle: the lack of organisation."

Che and his Cuban fighters landed on Congolese soil on 24 April 1965. Kabila was away in Cairo, attending a conference. Che wrote in his dairies: "A delegation set off to Cairo to tell Kabila and his comrades that the Cubans had arrived (but not that I was there), while we waited for the first of our contingents...

"Kabila was expected to be two more weeks in Cairo, so that, unable to discuss with him my own involvement, I had to press on incognito and even to refrain from announcing myself to the Tanzanian government and requesting its acquiescence...

"During this time, news also arrived from the conference in Cairo... The outcome had been a complete triumph for the revolutionary line. Kabila would stay for a while to make sure that the agreement was implemented, then he would go somewhere else to have an operation on a cyst (not very serious but a nuisance), and this would delay him a little. …

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