- In-Country Power
- International Power
- Military Strength
- Special Skill: Congo Bongo
- Official Title: President
- Government: Newly established democracy
- Years Left in Office: To 2011; re-election possible
- Political Classification: Center-left
- Education: Perhaps middle school?
- Age: 48 (born June 4, 1971)
Joseph Kabila Facts and Information
- Joseph Kabila is in his second elected term as the President of the DRC
- Kabila took over as the head of state after his father was assassinated in 2001
- The DRC is one of the largest and most populous states of Africa, and the world, with huge reserves of economically vital natural resources
- The DRC has been plagued with despotic rule, civil war, international war, endemic poverty and corruption since its independence in 1960
- The DRC has been the scene of two international major wars that have caused over 5 millions deaths, and currently hosts the largest UN peace-keeping force ever
- The DRC will likely see more conflict as competing neighboring states and warlords fight to control eastern Congo and its strategic economic resourc
Wow…where do we even start with this mess? What mess? The convoluted, chaotic, corrupted and conflict-riddled mess that is the Congo, of course! The Democratic Republic of Congo or DRC to be precise…although even that ‘democratic’ label is questionable given that the country has actually only ever held two elections, after decades of disastrous dictatorial rule, and those elections are largely thought to be a sham too. The result of both votes put this dude Joseph Kabila into the Presidential palace, initially making him the youngest leader of any state in the world at the time! He must have just been awesomely fitted for the position and beloved by the people, right? Ummm…not. He had inherited the position from his father even before the first election itself. Inherited? Huh?
That’s not all: in the most recent election, another politician is claiming to have won and is asking the military to recognize him as the true President. And there are multiple local, powerful warlords who actually control various areas of the country and couldn’t care less who claims to be in charge of the state. And there are military troops and gangs from other countries that maraude/raid/plunder/battle in the DRC territory as well. And there is the largest UN peace-keeping force ever deployed hanging out here, to prevent the continuation of the “African World War” which has claimed more than 5 million lives…
Yeah, I know: you ain’t never heard of any of this stuff. This DRCongo country is such a total and absolute confusing conundrum, to insiders and outsiders alike, that it is hard to decipher exactly who is in charge of anything right now…be it the Kabila clan or anyone else. But as the internationally ‘officially’ recognized leader of the DRC, it is my duty to give you the low-down on this Kabila cat. But to do that, I am going to have to give a a brief country bio so that you can put the current President’s life and times into the the correct chaotic perspective. Ok, let’s start unraveling this DRC madness…
The Congo Hizzle
DRCongo is home to over 70 million peeps in a gi-normous country that is roughly two-thirds the size of Western Europe and would cover the entire eastern half of the United States, from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean. Hugeness! On top of that, the place is extremely rich in metals and minerals: it has more than 70% of the world’s coltan (vital for components of cell phones and laptops), 30% of the planet’s diamond reserves, and vast deposits of cobalt, copper and bauxite. Money! So they should be rich, right?
Ummm….just the inverse. The entire country is wildly under-developed: electricity and running water are sketch, few roads are even paved, train lines are in disrepair, waterways are clogged and inefficient, and the place has more plane wrecks than any other nation on earth…basically, their infrastructure totally sucks. And all that natural resource wealth has mostly attracted looters from surrounding countries and fueled the country’s civil wars between ethnic groups/tribes vying for control of all these goodies. Decades of corruption, thievery, mismanagement and conflict have made the DRC’s living standards to be the overall lowest in the entire world! What happened to this place?
As brief as I can make it: the place has been screwed since its inception in the modern era, with a solid 50 years straight of suffering since independence. During the colonial era, this vast land was considered the personal property of Belgian king Leopold II…and for 80 years of brutal, degrading rule by the Belgians, the peoples of the Congo were considered (and treated) as less than sub-human cattle by “a regime of injustice, oppression and exploitation.” This was bad, bad stuff. And then it got worse…
The Congolese independence movement led by an awesome patriot and nationalist named Patrice Lumumba finally achieved it’s goal on the 30 June 1960 when the Belgians were forced to leave their colonial playground, and Lumumba himself became the first legally elected Prime Minister of the fledgling democracy. But the sweet taste of a united and free DRC was short-lived, as just 3 months later Lumumba and his crew were ousted in an internal coup initiated by secessionist forces within the country…but also sponsored in part by the Belgians (for spite) and the US (who feared Lumumba was going to side with the commies in the Cold War.) He was then summarily imprisoned and executed, and the reigns of power were seized by one of the biggest bastards of the 20th century: Joseph Mobutu.
Mobutu himself had originally fought on the side of Lumumba in the independence movement and was appointed Chief of Staff of the Army, but quickly sold out his fellow countrymen (and his own soul) to gain political power by assisting with the military coup which put himself in control of the country. He became a stooge and puppet to Western forces, gaining material support from them by maintaining an anti-communist stance. (BTW, he was such a scumbag, that he likely was taking money from the commies on the side too.)
But that’s just the tip of the icky iceberg for this jerk: as President of Congo from 1965 to 1997, he changed the name of the country to ‘Zaire’, banned political opposition, formed an authoritarian regime, and amassed vast personal wealth by robbing his country blind…to the tune of over $5 billion in assets hidden around the world’s banks by the time of his death in 1997. Over 3 decades of decadent despotic rule by this Mobutu devil, all while life of for the average Congolese citizen became horrifically worse. Mobutu also dressed like an African pimp from the 1970’s who was trying to be a Batman villian…seriously, go google his whack leopard-print wardrobe if you think I’m jiving.
So how does all this history play into the story of the current President Joseph Kabila? Ah yes! Back to the Kabila clan! See, current President Joseph Kabila was not yet even born when all of this independence/military coup action was unfolding…but his father Lauren Kabila was! And his father played a crucial hand in all of this, and later became President himself! Ha! See? Told you it was all part of a single saga…and you thought I was just ranting!
Laurent-Désiré Kabila was also part of the Congolese independence movement, was a follower of Lumumba, and became a respected figure in the country and had credibility because he had been a longtime political opponent of leopard-clad dictator Mobutu. In fact, during the entire Mobutu rule, Laurent Kabila waged armed rebellion against the corrupt regime across large fringe areas of eastern Congo. Laurent was supported and encouraged in his efforts by neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
Wait a minute…Rwanda?....you know about Rwanda because of that genocide thing that happened there in 1994, made famous by the ever-awesome Don Cheadle in the movie Hotel Rwanda. Yes! Good call! That Rwandan Genocide is related to this mess too! Say what?
Yep. See, Rwanda’s government was increasingly worried about groups of Hutu militia that were hanging out in eastern Congo gearing up for an invasion of Rwanda. These Hutu extremists groups were the ones that carried out that Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi minority in Rwanda in 1994, and later fled to the untamed jungles of Congo to hide and and re-group, and by 1996 were carrying out cross-border raids as well. In response, the Rwandans started arming Tutsi groups across eastern Congo to counter the Hutus, since they knew the corrupt and crumbling Mobutu regime could not control the situation. For good measure, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola and various other actors also supported Laurent Kabila’s bid to overthrow Mobutu altogether. Add in a few other local ethnic tensions and resource-exploiting forces, light a match, and you now have the “First Congo War.”
With all of this support from surrounding countries, along with the fact that everyone (even the US) had abandoned support of the decayed and despicable Mobuto regime, the rebel leader Laurent Kabila easily marched his Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (the bulk of which were Tutsi allies) across the Congo and ejected Mobutu from power in May 1997. It should be noted that the part of the army he led were the ‘kadogos’ or children soldiers, led by his very own son Joseph Kabila! More on him in a minute. Laurent then claimed the Presidency for himself, suspended the Constitution, and immediately imposed a violent crackdown to restore order to the floundering basket-case of a country named Congo. So all is well that ends well, yes? Not.
While some in the West hailed Kabila as representing a “new breed” of African leadership, most found that his policies differed little from Mobutu’s, and Kabila’s leadership was marked by authoritarianism, corruption, human rights abuses, and a forced ‘cult of personality’ to make him seem larger than life. His former allies of Rwanda and Uganda turned against him, and backed yet another rebel faction fighting to have Laurent thrown from power. Why?
Because in the power void and chaos, both countries were sending in covert troops and also funding local Tutsi peeps to ‘take over‘ resource-rich areas of eastern Congo to exploit for themselves…and Rwanda went as far to make an informal claim to a chunk of Congo territory! As a counter-move, Kabila employed Hutu militants in eastern Congo and began to agitate public opinion against the Tutsis..which of course fueled the fire even more, causing Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi to ratchet up the violence from their side as well…and war once again broke out. However, Kabila the elder found allies in the governments of Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe who backed his regime.
And here we go again: this power-struggle all went down from 1998-2003 in what is now referred to as the “Second Congo War” aka “Great War of Africa” aka “Africa’s World War,” so named because it directly involved 8 eight African states, as well as 25 or so armed groups, fighting for the soul and control of Congo. It also happens to be Africa’s deadliest war, as by 2008 the direct fighting and its aftermath had killed 5.4 million people, mostly from disease and starvation, with millions more displaced as refugees. Oh, and one of the dead was Laurent Kabila himself, who was shot by one of his bodyguards in January 2001, probably as part of a botched coup attempt. Oh wow! We’ve done it! We have finally gotten to the man this page is supposed to be all about! Enter Kabila Jr.!
And that gets us back on track to the present, and quite frankly the easiest part of the story. Kabila the Younger, aka Joseph Kabila is the guy currently trying to control this catastrophe we call Congo. He was born in a rebel camp in the mountain forests of eastern Congo in 1971…but of course you knew that already, since that is where Papa was leading those rebel forces from for all those years…and eastern Congo is still where he has the strongest base of support. He may have spent much of his childhood in neighboring Tanzania, out of the fray of the violence, and some of his opponents actually claim that he is not from Congo at all, but is Rwandan-born (I guess that must be the local Congo ‘birther’ movement.)
As alluded to earlier, Joseph joined back up wit Papa when the First Congo War broke out, and led the child soldier division of the Mobutu overthrow…wow, how many of us can put that on our resume? He went overseas to CHina for more military school training after the war, and at the time of his father’s assassination in 2001, Joseph had been working his way up the ranks and was a low-profile military commander and had attained the titles of Deputy Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces in 1998, and by 2000 was appointed Chief of Staff of the Land Forces. He was also an instrumental military commander for the then unfolding Second Congo War.
Post-assassination, Joseph was instantly handpicked by the presidential inner circle to lead DRCongo as it was at that time being torn apart by half a dozen warring armies…remember, 2001 is smack in the middle of the Second Congo War, which is why the regime would have pushed so hard to get a quick, reliable front man in place so as not to further de-stabilize the situation. Thus, Joseph Kabila “inherited” the leadership of this much troubled state from his father, at the ripe old age of 30. What? Damn! Straight up, man. He was the youngest active head of any state in the world at that time.
So they put a kid in charge of the biggest disaster in Africa? Sure! I mean, why not? Okay, to be fair, Joseph Kabila ain’t no fool: he did attend universities and received mostly military training and he is fluent in Swahili, and English, and also had to learn French and Lingala on the job. He also can be credited, at least superficially, with getting the peace accord of 2002 pushed through to end the destructive conflict of the Second Congo War…although the country is far from stable, and lower-level conflict plagues virtually all corners of the Congo still, which is shy there are 20,000 UN peace keepers there, mostly twiddling their thumbs of course.
Lastly, he does at least espouse to be a proponent of democracy, and has overseen two elections…both of which he has won, of course. But the were the first elections actually held in the place for 40 years! To legitimize his rule, he did hold the first election in 2006 which he won handily with 58% of the vote, albeit amid some charges of corruption and fraud. In 2012, he won a second 5 year term in the Presidency, with even more complaints of electoral fraud and mismanagement of the country in general.
These days, however, Kabila is facing fewer fraud charges and more outcries against rape and torture, be they against the rebels that are always fighting in eastern Congo or against his own armed forces. His government has taken some small actions against the crimes committed by members of their own military. However, tackling the entire problem within his army and with the rebels is simply beyond the resources of the Congo. Even with the help of the U.N., the Congo is a vast and poorly connected nation. Kabila himself may have said it best while campaigning for his election: “… just imagine for a moment a country as large as all of Western Europe with few roads and little infrastructure. It’s a difficult terrain to police and Congo doesn’t have an effective policing system.”
My instinct is that Joseph Kabila is probably an okay dude that is really stuck in incredibly—nay impossibly—challenging circumstances in a disintegrating country…both politically and economically disintegrating, that is. He leads a country that has been in a near constant state of civil war AND international war since independence in 1960. The lack of economic progress due to exploitation and the lack of infrastructure, largely due to lack of economy, has effectively crippled much of what Kabila may have wanted to do, for personal gain or the good of his country. Conditions in much of Congo can hardly get worse, so it is difficult to tell if Kabila is actively abusing his power and making conditions worse, or if he is simply overwhelmed by the problems that plague his country.
Sorry for the long-winded explanation of this one dude, but this is a circumstance in which you can’t possibly understand the significance of the man’s situation without placing it in the overall context of the country’s situation. Please give me a shout out if after reading this, you understand Congo and central Africa a little bit better, or if you have any questions.
2012 UPDATE: Kabila was recently re-elected to a second term as president of the DRC. The opposing candidate, Etienne Tshisekedi has declared the election as a fraud and there have been discussions of him setting up his own government in opposition to Kabila’s. Many of the country’s large churches as well as the UN and other international organizations have denounced the elections as fraudulent based on reports from Western observers. There is a strong possibility that Congo could be living under two regimes for the near future.
Furthering complicating the situation are scattered reports escaping the country of violence in the wake of the elections. Some of it has been attributed to tribal warfare incited by the election. The most disturbing reports, however, speak of death squads targeting citizens in provinces that did not support Kabila. These reports have also suggested that people are being told that Kabila is missing and possibly already dead. Others believe these are false reports being propagated by Kabila in order to distance himself from the killings perpetrated by his government.
Great. Happy new year to Congo, an nation crippled by endemic poverty, corruption and ethnic/tribal/civil strife which may eventually lead to a breaking down of this huge territory into smaller, more manageable units. But if/when that happens, it won’t be without even more bloodshed. Good luck to Kabila and his crew to hold this place together for a few more years…cuz the Plaid Avenger thinks that that’s about all they got: a few more years until implosion.
Posted: Jan 2012
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