Joseph Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo
President; army officer
Born Joseph Kabila in either Tanzania or in eastern Congo, between 1968 and 1972; children: Josephine.
Education: Received basic military training in Rwanda, 1995; attended university in Uganda, 1996.
Military/Wartime Service: Trained in China, 1997.
Major-general in DRC army and army chief of staff, 1997-2001; installed as president of Democratic Republic of Congo, 2001; appointed as interim president, 2003–.
After three decades of corrupt government and three years of civil and foreign war, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), or Congo, was in dire need of peace. DRC’s president, Laurent Kabila, spoke of peace, but was unable–or unwilling–to forge it. After Kabila was murdered in January 2001, his son, Joseph Kabila, was named president. Reluctant to be president, Joseph Kabila had no political experience and little military experience. The Congolese knew little about him and feared he would be as difficult and corrupt as his father. But Joseph Kabila used the first months of his presidency to restructure DRC government and to visit with heads of Europe and the United States, promoting his willingness to work for peace in Congo.
Kabila’s early life is hazy. He was born either in eastern Congo, where his father headed a Marxist and Pan-Africanist political party, or in Tanzania, where his father was a reputed ivory and diamond trafficker. The year of his birth is also in question: some reports say 1968, while others say 1972. Joseph was Laurent Kabila’s eldest son with one of his three wives, Mrs. Sifa Maanya. There is some controversy about Maanya’s origins: though the DRC government maintains she was from the Bango-Bango tribe, there were rumors that she was a Rwandan Tutsi. After her husband’s death, Maanya continued to reside in the official palace but she never spoke publicly. Joseph Kabila had a twin sister, Jane, and one blood brother, Saide. He attended primary and secondary school in Tanzania and received his basic military training in Rwanda in 1995.
The DRC is the third-largest African nation–about the size of Western Europe–and is for natural resources one of the richest lands in the world. The country abounds with diamonds, copper, uranium, oil, timber, and coffee. Decades of corrupt government weakened the country’s infrastructure. Taking advantage, six of DRC’s neighboring countries–Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Angola–and several rebel groups put military troops on DRC soil, fighting for a piece of the wealth, and in the process ravaging the country. In the confusion, many Congolese became impoverished. Food and gas prices skyrocketed. The inflation rate was the highest in the world, at 500 percent. The food markets in the nation’s capital, Kinshasa, were half empty. Orphans and the destitute roamed the streets, and some families ate whatever they could find–cooked cow skin, bats, caterpillars.
As he was preparing to begin university in Uganda in 1996, Joseph Kabila was called back by his father to help him overthrow DRC’s dictatorship of then-President Mobutu Sese Seko. Kabila’s rebel takeover of DRC was made with promises of change for the nation, but his reign turned out to be just as corrupt as Seko’s. Joseph Kabila then went to China for more military training and returned in 1997, when he was promoted to the rank of major-general and his father named him chief of the armed forces.
Became a Reluctant President
On January 16, 2001, Laurent Kabila was murdered in his palace by a guard. Though conspiracy theories abounded–many believe the Angolans were responsible–the official position was that the assassination was personal. Soon after the murder, the DRC’s top military and political advisors sat down to choose his replacement. “Joseph was the best man, as he is accepted by all sides,” DRC Justice Minister Mwenze Kongolo told the Christian Science Monitor. The general belief was that Joseph would be more interested in resolving the war than his hard-line father was.
In the days before he became president, Kabila moved from the modest military villa, where he lived with his girlfriend Olive and their young daughter Josephine, to live in the official palaces. He spent the days after his father’s murder in private meetings with foreign diplomats and representatives of various Congolese religious, social, and commercial groups. January 27, 2001–eleven days after his father’s death–Kabila became president of DRC and the youngest head of state in the world.
The Congolese did not know what to expect from their new president. They did not know if he was strong enough to hold the country together or whether he would pursue war or peace. Many were unhappy with the way he had come to power. Many Congolese objected to the fact that he was chosen secretly and automatically. Congolese government sources and Western diplomats said that Kabila did not want to become president, only that he did so at the insistence of his father’s Cabinet ministers. Others disapproved of the choice because they were unhappy with his father. Many believed the son was easily influenced and a puppet to his father’s advisors.
New President Was a Mystery
The people of DRC were not confident that Kabila was capable of being president, and there was immense pressure on him to move quickly. He had no political experience and little military experience. Though fluent in English and Swahili, Kabila was not fluent in French, the official language of DRC, or Lingala, the tribal language spoken by most Congolese.
Kabila did not smoke, drink, like to dine out, or dress lavishly. He was by all accounts a shy, down-to-earth man who had few good friends. He read the Bible and enjoyed sports and computer games.
The new president spent his first three months in office “cleaning house.” He removed extremists and ineffective old-timers. He restructured the government and promised to “democratize the political process and liberalize the economy,” according to the Christian Science Monitor. “We are trying to change a whole system of misery, give the Congolese people breathing space, and start with programs of recovery,” he was quoted as saying in the same article. Many worried that his promises needed to be fulfilled quickly for the Congolese to be satisfied. “I always back my words with action,” Kabila responded in the Christian Science Monitor. “When I promise something I have to do it. That is what dignity is all about.”
Made Promises of Peace, Progress
Kabila’s first goal was peace. He traveled to the United States, France, Belgium, the Nordic countries, and Britain, to talk with heads of state, and push his message of peace. He reopened talks with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. He appeared willing to cooperate with the United Nations in following the Lusaka accord, which outlined a withdrawal of foreign armies from Congo and an end to Congo’s war, and which his father had reluctantly signed in 1999 but made no attempt to implement.
Three months into his presidency, the Economist reported that, despite the positive steps Kabila appeared to have taken, he lacked “legitimacy and power” and “the authority and the political skill” to keep DRC together. By May 2001, however, the Economist reported that Kabila had “been more flexible, thus winning the authority and status his father lacked… . [Compared to his father, he was] cleverer and more statesmanlike.”
Kabila felt progress was being made. He allowed UN monitors and guards to enter the country to help facilitate peace and the withdrawal of military troops. “As far as I’m concerned,” he told the Christian Science Monitor, “the peace process is on track.” David Meyer, chief of staff for the UN observer force in the DRC agreed. “It is going pretty well,” he said in the Christian Science Monitor, “broadly speaking we are on track and we are pleased.”
Kabila won allies in the West by agreeing to economic reform. He believed that, within a year’s time, the DRC would have a different look, a different feel–that the fuel problems would be solved, roads would be built. “There are plans, there are visions, there are expectations,” he told the Christian Science Monitor.
In 2002, Kabila signed a deal to end the civil war in DRC in which hundreds of thousands had died and in which much of Africa had been enveloped for years. The peace, brokered by the South African government and called the Pretoria Accord, was signed in December 2002 and created an interim government comprised of seven ministries. Additionally, four vice-presidents representing various rebel factions and the opposition party were installed, with the DRC’s first free elections scheduled tentatively for June 2005. Kabila retained the presidency in the interim government, established officially in the summer of 2003.
The accord notwithstanding, tensions simmered. On March 28, 2004, Kabila’s forces foiled an attempted coup attack on his residence. Undeterred, in October 2004 he visited the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo for the first time since taking office, although the area, which had been held by insurgents during the civil war of the prior year, remained unstable.
Isidore Mvouba, Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo
Isidore Mvouba (born 1954) is the current Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo since January 7, 2005. Mvouba was born in Kindamba near the capital, Brazzaville. He is a member of the Congolese Labour Party (PCT, or Parti Congolais du Travail), and is a close confidant of long-time president Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who ruled from 1979 to 1992 and was elected in 2002. He declined an invitation from president Pascal Lissouba to become Minister of Trade when Lissouba became president in 1992. Mvouba has served in Sassou-Nguesso’s regime in various ways since the president came back to power in 1997. He has also been secretary of the PCT, of the Union of Congolese Socialist Youth (UJSC, Union de la jeunesse socialiste congolaise). His appointment to the position of Prime Minister was criticized because the president did not have the constitutional right to appoint anyone to the position, and the position had been vacant since October of 1997.