drc001 Congolese President Kabila killed in possible coup

Congo Kinshasa
Congolese President Kabila killed in possible coup

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afrol.com, 17 January - The Belgian and French Foreign Ministers have confirmed that President Laurent Kabila of Congo Kinshasa (DRC) was shot dead and killed yesterday evening. Kabila was reported killed by his own lifeguard in what might have been an attempted coup, after he had threatened to dismiss several generals.

According to Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, who was interviewed by Belgian radio this night, Laurent Kabila was hit by two bullets in the back and in the legs. He was immediately brought to hospital, but died quickly died from the damages. While two European foreign ministers and several foreign diplomats in Kinshasa have confirmed Kabila's death, Congolese authorities still have not confirmed it.

The Interior Minister, Gaetan Kakudjii, yesterday claimed that a curfew had been ordered by President Kabila himself - implying that the president was still in control despite rumours of his death, according to the BBC. Government officials further only confirmed that Kabila had been shot at. Congolese authorities immediately ordered the closure of sea, land and air routes into Kinshasa and the army took control of the capital's airports. 

Reports on the background for the assault on the President's life differ. Reports from news agencies indicated that Kabila had been killed during an intense 30-minute shooting at his palatial residence in the capital. Sources in the UN told CNN that the shooting were a coup attempt that was led by supporters of ex-president Mobutu who had been based in neighbouring Congo Brazzaville. 

Spokesmen of the seemingly well-informed Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs could however not confirm that there had been a coup attempt. Minister Michel has informed that the incident rather was produced by "a quarrel which developed into violence" as Kabila had threatened to dismiss several generals. The lethal shots were supposedly fired by Kabila's own lifeguard. 

Rumours already go in every direction, also implying the participation of foreign countries. Some media already have printed reports that army chief Silvestre Lecha was behind the shooting in an attempted coup d'état.

Chaotic situation
As the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) finds itself without a president, the country is falling apart. Kabila himself came into power in 1997, after leading a seven months' rebellion, backed by Rwanda and Congolese Tutsis, and overthrowing dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Kabila however quickly showed little will to democratise the DRC, and soon alienated his former allies, now demanding independence for the Tutsi-dominated east.

Congo Kinshasa is the scene of what has been called The first African War, where several rebel groups and seven countries are involved. The eastern rebels are backed by Kabila's former allies Rwanda and Uganda, deploying troops in support of the rebels. Fighting on the Congolese Government's side are Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola. While the Rwandan and Ugandan backed rebels seem to experience some gains in battle lately, Congo's main ally, Zimbabwe is slowly pulling out of the country.

Kabila's will to peace had very much been doubted by both his opponents and neutral powers. By clearly breaking the Lusaka Peace Agreement (although not as the only party), little faith remained in a negotiated solution.

A new Congolese President thus will have the possibility to start with a new assessment of the conflict situation. He will have to assess the possibility of negotiating a peace, and he will have more credibility in proposing a negotiated solution. It however remains to be seen if the new President, a still unknown identity, indeed goes for a peaceful solution. The first signals sent from a new Government in Kinshasa certainly will be subject to careful analysing in Kigali and Kampala. 

Laurent Desire Kabila
Mr Kabila named himself President of Congo Kinshasa on 17 May 1997, after leading a seven-month Tutsi rebellion to an overthrow of President Mobutu. He was born a Luba in former Belgian Congo in 1939, and studied political philosophy in France and Tanzania. There, he became friends with the later President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni.

As Belgian Congo gained independence in 1960, Laurent got into politics. He was the leader of one of the three rebellions against first President Patrice Lumumba. The rebellions were subdued, but finally lead to Joseph Desire Mobutu grasping power in 1965.

Thus, Kabila founded the People's Revolutionary Party (PRP) in 1967, which was to establish the tiny state of Southern Kivu. This revolutionary state was able to maintain itself until the finals of the 1980s, when it got dissolved. Kabila thus moved to Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), where he earned his living selling gold from the mines in his home country.

He returned to public attention in October 1996, leading a new rebellion of the Tutsi people of Southern Kivu. With the support of Ugandan President Museveni, he was able to start a large-scale rebellion against the Mobutu dictatorship, heading the so-called Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) army.

After having been a declared Marxist his entire adult life, Kabila suddenly spoke of multiparty democracy and market economy, curbing international action against him, at a stage where the Mobutu regime had been severely discredited in the international opinion. Kabila's liberation forces were welcomed as saviours from the poverty and corruption of the decades of dictatorship under Mobutu. On 17 May 1997, he was able to oust the Mobutu Government, only four months before Mobutu himself died of cancer in exile. 

Since Kabila came to power, however, instability and conflict has ruled in Congo Kinshasa. Kabila's undemocratic orientation soon became clear and he surrounded himself with friends and family members and became increasingly secretive. His former Tutsi allies turned against him in August 1998, gaining support from Uganda and Rwanda. The "First African War" broke out, still devastating the country and the entire region.

Sources: Based on news agencies and afrol archives

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