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Tuesday, 23 January, 2001, 13:26 GMT
Kabila's last interview
President Kabila and Tido Mhando
President Kabila was shot dead in this room say officials
By the BBC Swahili Service's Tido Mhando

When I arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo capital, Kinshasa, in early December I was anxious to meet the man who nearly four years earlier had ousted the late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.


Little did I know that I was to be the last journalist to interview him, or that I had set foot in the lounge where aides say he was assassinated just a few weeks later.

President Laurent Desire Kabila seldom if ever gave interviews to journalists and I had received a special personal invitation.

But getting that interview turned into a nightmare.

First I was informed that he was preoccupied with other engagements.

And I worried even more after talking diplomats told me there was no chance of getting to meet him.

"Many high-ranked officials from foreign governments arrive in Kinshasa and leave with nothing, not even a glance at him, despite earlier confirmations," one diplomat told me.

The following morning, President Kabila held a long meeting with various political leaders at a place called OAU City.

Busy

It is a pretty village-style venue built in 1967, when Kinshasa hosted the Organisation of African Unity summit.

Coffin
Speculation is rife over who could be behind Kabila's death
That was the day that I first met President Kabila after getting lucky.

I had his mobile phone number and rang him soon after the meeting ended. To my surprise, Mr Kabila himself answered and asked me to meet him that afternoon.

While I was waiting in the lounge, I noticed that beside the usual presidential security guards at the gates, there was a group of younger soldiers smartly dressed in army attire.

The president's men

They appeared full of themselves and were the only ones I noticed who were free to come and go into the buildings as they pleased.

Strolling with weapons tied around their waists they were identified to me as the president's own special security guards.

Later one of them ushered me into the inner lounge to meet President Kabila.


By now I was beginning to lose hope and feared I would leave Kinshasa empty-handed.

I found him all alone sitting on a settee in an opulently decorated lounge, with a smile on his face. He looked at me apologetically and speaking with humility told me that he could not do the interview because he had other commitments.

He explained his tight schedule and said that if I did not mind he would see me the following day.

I noticed that although ministers and officials were unusually heavily guarded, they were not allowed to go with their weapons anywhere near the president.

Still busy

The following day I again met President Kabila briefly and once again he apologised for not fulfilling his promise saying he had an urgent economic meeting.

By now I was beginning to lose hope and feared I would leave Kinshasa empty-handed.

On my last night in Kinshasa I was in my hotel bedroom with everything ready for the flight back to London.

When the phone rang I looked at my watch. It was almost 2230.

When I picked up the receiver, it was the voice of President Kabila.

Third time lucky

He was apologetic and told me that he was ready to see me. This time I was taken to the Marble Palace.

interview
He told me he did not worry about assassination
I was told that this magnificent palace was built during Mobutu's era as a special place for the president to receive famous visitors.

On that Sunday night, Mr Kabila was extraordinarily cheerful. We talked for about two hours about different topics.

He told me that he was very bitter with Uganda and Rwanda for invading his country and killing his innocent people.

He expressed his anger towards international community for failing to stop what he called the invasion by Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi.

He said that peace was not possible with the presence of enemy foreign forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Having achieved my interview I left that night a happy man. But in hindsight my most memorable question was whether he feared assassination.

Click here to hear the interview in Swahili

He told me he knew of the dangers and was ready to die for his country.

Little did I know that I was to be the last journalist to interview him, or that I had set foot in the lounge where aides say he was assassinated just a few weeks later.

And in a bitter twist it appears to have been one of his very own trusted guards who ended the life of one of the most feared and most protected men in Africa.

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See also:

19 Jan 01 | Africa
Mugabe attends Kabila memorial
22 Jan 01 | Africa
Massacres in eastern Congo
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