Laurent-Désiré Kabila (November 27, 1939 - January 16, 2001) was president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from May 1997 when he overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko until his assassination in January 2001 (his death was only confirmed on January 18). He was succeeeded by his son Joseph Kabila.
He was born a member of the Luba tribe in Jadotville (Likasi) in the Belgian Congo, Katanga province. He studied political philosophy in France and attended the University of Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania.
When the Congo gained independence in 1960, Kabila was a youth leader in a party allied to Patrice Lumumba. Lumumba was overthrown by Joseph Mobutu within months. Kabila and other supporters of Lumumba fled into the jungles of eastern Zaire. In 1964, Kabila helped organise a revolt in the Ruzizi region. Che Guevara assisted Kabila for a short time before declaring that "Nothing leads me to believe he is the man of the hour". The revolt was suppressed in 1965.
In 1967 Kabila founded the People's Revolutionary Party (PRP). With the support of the People's Republic of China the PRP created a sessionist Marxist state in South Kivu province, west of Lake Tanganyika. The PRP state came to an end in 1988 and Kabila was believed dead.
Kabila returned in October 1996, leading ethnic Tutsis from South Kivu in defence against Hutu forces. With support from Uganda and the Rwandan Tutsi government Kabila pushed his forces into a full-scale rebellion against Mobutu as the Alliance des Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Congo-Zaire (ADFL). BY mid-1997 the ADFL had made significant gains and following failed peace talks in May 1997, Mobutu fled the country, and Kabila entered Kinshasa on May 20. Kabila made himself head of state, created the Public Salvation Government and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kabila had been a committed Marxist but his policies were a confusing mix of capitalism and collectivism, all marked with a self-aggrandizing trend. However by 1998, Kabila's former allies in Uganda and Rwanda turned against him, they supported the Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo (MLC). Kabila found new allies in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola and managed to hold on in the south and west of the country and in July 1999 peace talks led to the withdrawal of most foreign forces. The native revolutionaries continued to fight and Kabila was assassinated in January 2001 by one of his own staff who was also killed.
The investigation into the assassination led to 135 people being tried before a special military tribunal. The alleged ringleader a cousin of Kabila, Colonel Eddy Kapend, and 25 others were sentenced to death in January 2003. Of the other defendants 64 were jailed, with sentences from six months to life, and 45 were exonerated.