Joseph Kabila: DR Congo's president in profile

A giant poster showing Democratic Republic of the Congo's President Joseph Kabila, 7 November 2011

Joseph Kabila campaigned for his second term in office as leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo with the slogan "for a united Congo".

But his victory, with 49% of the vote, underlies the tensions in the vast and chaotic country.

At 40, he is nearly half the age of his main rival Etienne Tshisekedi, who took 32% of the vote mainly in the west of country.

President Kabila enjoys most of his support in the east, where he was born in a rebel camp in the mountain forests where his father was leading the struggle against former strongman Mobutu Sese Seko.

He was a low-profile military commander when his father Laurent-Desire Kabila was assassinated in 2001, and was handpicked by the presidential inner circle to lead DR Congo as it was being torn apart by half a dozen warring armies.

Start Quote

Kabila is not shy, he is reserved”

End Quote Kikaya Bin Karubi Congolese ambassador to London

Many opposition activists accused him, without proof, of being a national of neighbouring Rwanda, which had twice invaded its much larger neighbour.

Mr Kabila spent his childhood in Tanzania and spoke better kiSwahili and English than the languages most spoken in Kinshasa - French and Lingala, which he had to learn on the job.

Winning DR Congo's first democratic elections in more than 40 years at the tender age of 35 gave him the legitimacy to stamp his authority on the country and move out of his father's shadow.

'Debt to pay'

But he tends to keep a low profile, shying away from public speaking.

Rebels pictured in eastern DR Congo in 2008 Armed men have for years terrorised the east of the country

"Kabila is not shy, he is reserved. This is part of his Swahili cultural background," said his one-time personal secretary, Kikaya Bin Karubi, who is now DR Congo's ambassador in the UK.

This reservation is in sharp contrast to the usual Congolese effusiveness.

His smiling face, however, has been seen all over the country in the last few weeks, beaming down from huge advertising hoardings.

His campaign has been built around what he has called the "five building sites of the republic": Infrastructure; health and education; water and electricity; housing and employment.

Eight years after the end of the war, many Congolese complain that the pace of social development is too slow.

Who is Joseph Kabila?

  • 40 years old
  • Born in a rebel camp in eastern DR Congo - where he enjoys most of his support
  • Spent his childhood in Tanzania
  • His father, Laurent Kabila, overthrew long-time ruler Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997
  • He first became president after his father's assassination in 2001
  • Oversaw the signing of a peace accord in 2002 to end a five-year conflict involving several other nations
  • Became DR Congo's first freely elected leader in 2006, winning a run-off poll with 58% of the vote
  • His campaign slogan was: "Five building sites of the republic"
  • Shies away from public speaking
  • Is married with one daughter and one son

His power base of eastern DR Congo bore the brunt of the fighting during the civil war, which drew in other countries including Uganda and Rwanda.

Rebels and militias still roam the area despite attempts by the UN and army to disarm them, earning money from the area's rich mineral wealth.

The army itself has been accused of human rights abuses and profiteering.

DR Congo holds more than half of the world's cobalt, 30% of all diamonds, 70% of coltan - a vital ingredient in mobile phones - as well as huge deposits of gold, copper and various other minerals.

However, this year's UN human development index placed DR Congo bottom of the 187 countries surveyed.

The president has acknowledged the shortcomings, saying on the campaign trial that he had a debt to settle with Congolese voters, so they should give him another term to let him repay it.

'War bus'

According to Mr Bin Karubi, Mr Kabila often relaxes at weekends on his farm on the outskirts of Kinshasa, where he enjoys motorcross.

Just before the 2006 elections, Mr Kabila married his long-time girlfriend Olive Lembe di Sita. The couple have a daughter, Sifa born in 2001, and a son, Laurent-Desire, named after Mr Kabila's mother and father respectively.

Start Quote

We didn't even know he was Congolese”

End Quote Former schoolmate

His schoolmates at the Zanaji secondary school in Dar es Salaam nicknamed him "War bus" because of his enjoyment of war films and martial arts.

Still, they were all surprised when they saw the first pictures of him and his father fighting a real war, which ended when they seized power in DR Congo (then Zaire) and overthrew Mobutu in May 1997.

Correspondents say in order to avoid the attentions of Mobutu's intelligence service, he grew up in Tanzania pretending to be a member of the country's Fipa ethnic group.

"We didn't even know he was Congolese," recalls one of his contemporaries, who did not want to be named.

With his father installed as DR Congo's leader, Joseph Kabila was sent to China for military training and became army chief of staff before inheriting the presidency.

His experience as a general in the Congolese army helps him to keep direct control over an estimated 7,000-strong army unit known as the Republican Guard.

Congolese women sell bread in the streets of Goma on 5 December 2011 DR Congo came last in the UN's index of human development

The five-year civil war led to shady business deals to mine its rich resources, but Mr Kabila has not been directly implicated in any.

The same cannot be said of "the Kabila boys", his close circle of advisers.

One of them, Katumba Mwanke, a minister at the presidency, was forced to resign because of accusations in a 2002 United Nations report that he was profiteering from the war through deals made with Zimbabwean officials.

With a second term in office, Mr Kabila has an opportunity to capitalise on cleaning up the mining sector.

He will also be keen to see the departure of the 19-000 strong UN mission in DR Congo, Monusco, within the next five years.

But his biggest challenge will be keeping a lid on the violence, with opposition supporters crying foul over the election results about allegations of vote-rigging.

Inside DR Congo
size map
The Democratic Republic of Congo covers 2,344,858 square km of land in the centre of Africa, making it the 12th largest country in the world.
size map
Eastern DR Congo is awash with a variety of different rebel groups – some have come from neighbouring countries, while others have formed as self-defence groups. Many are taking advantage of the lack of a strong state to seize control of the area's mineral riches.
mineral wealth map
DR Congo has abundant mineral wealth. It has more than 70% of the world's coltan, used to make vital components of mobile phones, 30% of the planet's diamond reserves and vast deposits of cobalt, copper and bauxite. This wealth however has attracted looters and fuelled the country's civil war.
transport map
Despite the country's size, transport infrastructure is very poor. Of 153,497km of roads, only 2,794km are paved. There are around 4,000 km of railways but much is narrow-gauge track and in poor condition. Waterways are vital to transport goods but journeys can take months to complete. Overcrowded boats frequently capsize, while DR Congo has more plane crashes than any other country.
population map
With an estimated population of 71 million, DR Congo is the fourth most populous country in Africa. Some 35% of the population live in cities and the capital Kinshasa is by far the largest, with more than 8 million inhabitants. DR Congo has around 200 ethnic identities with the majority of people belonging to the Kongo, Luba and Mongo groups.
demographic map
Given its size and resources DR Congo should be a prosperous country, but years of war, corruption and economic mismanagement have left it desperately poor. In 2011 it lags far behind in many key development indicators, with average life expectancy increasing by only 2 years since 1980, after a period when it actually fell during the mid 1990s.

More on This Story

DR Congo Seeks Democracy

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