Joseph Kabila (born 1971) became the president of the Congo in 2001 when he was only 29 years old. He was put into the position after his father, Laurent Kabila, president at the time, was assassinated. Striving to end the atrocities that had taken place in his country to that point, Kabila worked to make treaties with Congo's neighbors and fought to remove foreign forces from his lands. In 2006 Kabila won a democratic election to win the presidency.
Kabila was born around June 4, 1971, in Ankoro—a small town on the banks of the Congo River—in North Katanga, in the Congo, although his birth year has been given as anywhere from 1968 to 1972, and there has been some debate as to the location. There are also some reports that instead he was born December 4, 1971, at Hewa Bora, Kabila's father's guerrilla headquarters in the Fizi territory of South-Kivu. He was the oldest of 10 children. His father, Laurent Kabila, is said to have been involved in politics early on, although there have been some rumors that he was an ivory and diamond trafficker. Kabila had a twin sister, Jane, and one full blood brother, Saide. His mother was one of Laurent Kabila's three wives, Sifa Maanya. She was a member of the Bangubangu tribe in the Maniema province of eastern Congo, although some have claimed that she was a Tutsi from Rwanda. Whatever the case, Kabila went to school in Tanzania, attending schools based on the British school system where Kabila learned to speak English at a young age. He was also fluent in Swahili, although not in Lingala, which is the language spoken in Congo's capital. While at school he also studied French. After school he trained in the Rwandan military for three years before he went on to continue his education. He went to Makarere University in 1995.
Before he could begin taking classes in 1996, Kabila's father, head at that time of a guerilla force that opposed the government, asked him to join him in a fight to overthrow then-president Mobutu Sese Seko. Kabila's father sent him to China to further his military training, and six months later they led the revolt that overthrew the Congolese government and put Laurent Kabila into the office of president. Kabila's father appointed him to the position of major-general and he was put in charge of the armed forces. When taking over the presidency Kabila's father promised that he would change the corruption and bad politics that had plagued the government for the past 40 years. Unfortunately, his rule was just as corrupt.
In 1998, still in charge of the armed forces, Kabila led a fight against Rwanda and Uganda, both of whom had invaded the Congo and had control over portions of it. The operation was still underway when Kabila returned home. At this time Kabila lived in a military housing unit with his girlfriend, Olive, and their daughter, Josephine, but this life was not to last. Kabila's father was assassinated by one of his own bodyguards, Rashisi Kassereka, in 2001. Kassereka was shot dead on the spot after the murder. After Kabila's father died, Kabila's mother continued to live at the palace, away from the public eye. And Kabila himself became the next president of the Congo at the young age of 29 years old.
After his father was murdered, Kabila met with foreign diplomats and representatives from different Congolese groups from the religious, social, and commercial sectors. It was not really known how Kabila succeeded his father as president, but most believe it was because he was the least controversial choice at the time, not really belonging to any of the factions that were vying for power across the country. Whatever the case, three days after Kimbala took over control of the country troops were sent from Angola, Zimbabwe, and Namibia after their leaders had met together, to help secure Kabila his office and keep the peace around the country. Kabila's father's Parliament unanimously voted Kabila into office on January 27, 2001, only 11 days after Kabila's father was murdered. It made him the youngest leader of any country in the world at that time.
Nobody knew what kind of leader Kabila would be. In his personal life, Kabila neither drank nor smoked. He did not eat at fancy restaurants or like expensive clothing. He was shy and quiet and apparently down to earth and serious. He was a Christian who often read the Bible. He liked sports and computer games. He was young, so many assumed he would be weak. Many assumed he would be a dictator as his father had been. Some were suspicious of the way he had come to power, and some reports claimed that Kabila had been put into office as a puppet for a hidden regime. Kabila had much to face at the beginning of his tour as president of the Congo.
The whole country watched to see what Kabila would do first as he entered his reign as president. Kabila, however, would have none of it. The important thing, he said, was not what he did, but how the country fared.
Only a week after he was sworn in as president, George Bush invited Kabila to visit Washington. Kabila accepted the invitation and went there to meet with Colin Powell and Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda. Kabila discussed with the pair the fact that he wanted peace for his country. There had been much fighting between the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda in the past and Kabila wanted it stopped.
For the next three months of his presidency Kabila reorganized the government. He got rid of anyone too extreme and retired anyone who had been in the parliament so long that Kabila felt that they assumed that their positions were secure and therefore they did not really need to do anything anymore. He wanted only honest, hard-working people in his administration. He made promises to turn Congo's government into a democracy and to improve the economy. According to the AFROL website, Kabila said, "At the moment the social conditions here are catastrophic. The humanitarian situation is also catastrophic. It's these issues that require our attention and resources."
In 2003 Kabila ended the war that had started when his father fought with their neighbors Rwanda and Uganda. Since then they had been occupying parts of the eastern Congo. It has been estimated that over four million people were killed in the conflict, but due mainly to Kabila's diplomatic skills and his meetings with officials of the other countries, there was an end to the killing.
On June 16, 2006, Kabila married his girlfriend, Olive Lembe. Later that year elections were held to elect a president in a fair, democratic election. The two main candidates were Kabila and Jean Pierre Bemba, a well-educated millionaire businessman. He had also led one of the militia groups that fought on the border of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Congo during the war that Kabila ended in 2003. His group had been accused of numerous horrible acts such as killing and raping. Because of this Kabila declared that he could not see the country go to Bemba.
One of the problems that Kimbala faced during elections was the fact that he did not speak Lingala, the main language spoken in Kinshasa, the capital of the Congo. For that reason he was seen as an outsider there. The eastern Congo, on the other hand, favored him because he had stopped the war that raged in that part of the country. On the contrary Bemba did speak the language. Kimbala, for this reason, needed help to gain support form western Congo if he was going to win the election. His need for help was so great, in fact, that he went so far as to ask for help campaigning from the son of the dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, that Kabila's father threw out of office years before. He made a deal with Francois Joseph Mobutu Nzanga for help gain votes from the west where Nzanga is from.
When the votes were tallied on October 29, 2006, Kabila had won 58.05 per cent of the vote to Bemba's 41.95 per cent. London's Independent reported on the election results, quoting Jacqueline Chenard, the UN spokeswoman in Goma, North Kivu. "People are very cheerful. There is a lot of marching and chanting—it is a good atmosphere. People are happy that the Congo now has a president that has been elected by them, the people, for the first time in their lives." As was predicted, a great majority of the people who supported Kabila came from the east where they speak Kabila's native Swahili.
At the beginning of 2007 the Congo had only 300 miles of paved roads, something that needed to be rectified if it was to become a successfully commercial country. There was very little in the way of an infrastructure; there were barely any schools to be had and hospitals were overcrowded, dirty, and under-provisioned. There were also several militia groups still in existence, constantly threatening Congo's peace. If that were not enough, Bemba protested the election results, claiming that Kabila faked votes and miscounted in territories where Bemba was the chosen president. Only two weeks after elections the country was on the brink of war yet again.
Bemba had support from most of Congo's capital city as well as from the Catholic Church. In the Congo church leaders are quite often more successful at influencing their parishioners than politicians are at doing so with their countrymen. The archbishop in Congo urged the people of Congo to reject what he called a fraud. To prevent a civil war, the UN sent members on missions to negotiate an agreement between the two men. One solution suggested Bemba be in charge of the Senate while Kimbala remained president, but Bemba's side refused such a thing. As stated in the Christian Science Monitor , "'This is Africa, it's all or nothing,' says one African observer, working for an African embassy in Kinshasa. 'First place is the presidency. Second place is the grave.'" At the beginning of 2007 it was still not clear what would happen in the Congo or how Kabila would handle it. But many believe he will pull the country out of this problem, too.
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