Daily News  :: Central Africa

DRC to swear in Africa's youngest leader

Published: 05-DEC-06

Kinshasa - Joseph Kabila would be sworn in on Wednesday as the first democratically elected president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a nation wracked by decades of turmoil but bursting with natural resource and the potential for economic growth.

Kabila was first appointed to the presidency early in 2001 after his father, Laurent Kabila, was assassinated and Kinshasa politicians looked to the son, then army chief in a country at war, to take the helm.

Last week the final obstacle to Kabila taking office was removed when the Supreme Court rejected a legal challenge by his rival, businessman and former rebel-leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, to the outcome of a run-off election in late October.

He would be 35 when he is sworn in on Wednesday, and was only 29 when he first stepped into office.

His first years as president were a baptism by fire, with the DRC engulfed in a civil and regional war that claimed millions of lives - through conflict, disease and hunger - and ruined the country's already meagre infrastructure.

Following a peace agreement brokered by South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, Kabila was installed at the head of a transitional government leading up to this year's elections.

In the United Nations-supervised vote, three years after the withdrawal of the foreign troops, Kabila ran on a platform of peace and reconstruction.

Kabila pledged to be "president of all the people, without exception" and urged his compatriots to show "brotherhood and tolerance" in the aftermath of a campaign that erupted into bloodshed more than once.

His political machine, the Alliance of the Presidential Majority (AMP), won more than 200 of 500 seats in the new parliament, and sources in his entourage said that Kabila was holding talks about potential government posts.

Born on June 4 1961 in the Sud-Kivu province of eastern DRC, Kabila was schooled in Sud-Kivu and then in English-speaking Tanzania, where he grew up and underwent military training.

In 1996, he began law studies in the Ugandan capital Kampala, but that same year his father launched a rebel war to oust Mobutu Sese Seko in what was then Zaire. Kabila joined his father, who presented the young officer as his advisor.

Joseph pursued his military career in the shadow of James Kabarebe, a Rwandan army officer who became army chief to the elder Kabila when he toppled the Mobutu regime and took power.

Already promoted general, Kabila was sent to China for further military training, but his studies came to an abrupt end when an insurgency broke out against his father on August 2 1998.

Kabila senior's erstwhile allies Rwanda and Uganda were now backing rebel forces in the far east of a country the size of Western Europe.

After the murder of his father - who had secured military support from Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe - Kabila sued for peace with Rwanda and Uganda and the DRC war began to end with the signing of a global peace pact in Pretoria, South Africa, on December 17 2002.

The young soldier made a rapid and seamless transition into politics, and was named under the accord to head a government including former armed foes like Bemba, whose rebels had enjoyed Ugandan support.

Though his detractors play up Kabila's years in exile and his poor command of Lingala, a main language in the west, he faced down allegations that he was directly involved in the allocation of lucrative mining contracts to foreign companies to the detriment of his plundered nation.

Kabila has often said that he acts for the good of the DRC, and that the people would judge his record at the polls. An austere non-drinker and non-smoker, he in June married Marie Olive Lembe di Sita, 27, with whom he has one daughter. Sapa-AFP

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