After he overthrew despot Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, Laurent-Desire Kabila wanted to restore order in the Democratic Republic of Congo after years of plunder by the former leader.
His plan involved creating a government that included members affiliated to the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire- the outfit that overthrew Sese Seko- and opponents of the Kabila regime. He also stated that he will not contest for the presidency once the country was liberated.
He, immediately after taking power, postponed the elections to give him time to bring back order in the country. This peaceful reign was short-lived as many people – locals and foreigners, started complaining of his authoritarian rule, even equating him to the dictator he deposed.
Soon after, opinion polls started indicating that his opponent, Etienne Tshisekedi, was more popular than him. Kabila also had to deal with foreign forces that had helped him overthrow Sese Seko, including Rwanda and Uganda, who felt betrayed by his dismissal of their soldiers from the DRC. Against this background, the country descended into civil war in August 1998 when rebels under the Congolese Rally for Democracy began a campaign against Kabila.
Over the next years, the country received intervention from the Southern African Development Community, Uganda and later the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most of these efforts were fruitless as the country continued facing clashes until 2003.
Such was the atmosphere of the nation when Kabila was killed on this day in 2001 in Kinshasa.
According to reports, a teenage soldier got into the president’s office in the Marble Palace, where Kabila – then paranoid, suspicious and isolated- was in discussions with an economic advisor about an upcoming summit in France. The soldier bent over the president, who leaned towards him thinking that the teen was talking to him, only for the latter to shoot him four times at close range before escaping with other conspirators as the palace was pelted with gunshots.
The government immediately tried to claim that the president was injured and had been flown to Zimbabwe for further treatment. They, however, reported his passing two days later, even though reports suggested that Kabila had died immediately.
Quite a number of conspiracies arose over Kabila’s death. Many claimed the involvement of foreign powers as well as the rebels bent on taking the east. One Rashidi Kasereka was named the assassin but reports from Le Monde at the time dispelled this, claiming that the 18-year-old was killed by Kabila’s bodyguards while the real killer escaped.
Just days before he was killed, Kabila had apparently overseen the execution of 47 kadogos – the child soldiers who worked for him – who he believed had been plotting against him.
An investigation was launched in March 2002 with about 115 defendants suspected of being involved in the conspiracy including Kabila’s cousin Eddy Kapend and Rashidi’s wife Fono Onokoko. Eventually, 26 people were sentenced to death for the murder of Kabila in 2003 in a trial that was marred with secrecy and incompetency.
At this time, 30-year old Joseph Kabila, Laurent’s son had taken over the leadership in a reign that would come with its own ups and down until he relinquished power in 2018.