Kabila Returns, In A Cloud Of Uncertainty


  • Thomas Turner


Since the 1960’s, Laurent Kabila had led a group of insurgents against the dictatorial Mobutu Sese Seko government in Kinshasa, operating along Zaire’s eastern border (1). Kabila’s group was one of the many rebel movements in the East that had arisen with the aim of furthering the political program of Congo’s first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, the popular and charismatic leader who was assassinated in 1961. The major Lumumbist insurgencies had been subdued by Mobutu using foreign mercenaries between 1965 and 1967. The small surviving groups such as that of Kabila posed no threat to the Mobutu regime. The 1994 Rwandan genocide changed all that. Approximately one million Rwanda Hutu refugees fled to eastern Zaire, which was already near the boiling point due to conflicts over land use and political representation. In an effort to break out of its diplomatic isolation, the Mobutu government provided backing to the Hutu, including army and militia elements, thereby earning the enmity of the Tutsi-dominated government in Rwanda. Tutsi of South Kivu, the so-called Banyamulenge, staged an uprising in the summer of 1996, with the support of the Rwanda government. By the second half of that year, the alliance of Banyamulenge, Tutsi of North Kivu, and Lumumbists and others, headed by Kabila, had taken over substantial parts of eastern Zaire, with the corrupt and demoralized Mobutu army disappearing in the face of their advance. After a short seven month campaign, Kabila and the new armed coalition entered Kinshasa as Mobutu fled into exile.