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Last Updated: Monday, 30 October 2006, 10:21 GMT
DR Congo's Kabila and his kingdom
The BBC's Arnaud Zajtman profiles Joseph Kabila, the man most likely to become the Democratic Republic of Congo's first democratically elected leader since independence in 1960, in a piece published in the Focus on Africa magazine.

Joseph Kabila making a speech guarded by a soldier
Joseph Kabila (l) succeeded his assassinated father Laurent-Desire

Before campaigning began, Joseph Kabila, 35 had only given two news conferences in Kinshasa and has made very few speeches, despite being president for more than five years.

He became the world's youngest head of state in January 2001, after the assassination of his father Laurent-Desire Kabila.

"Kabila is not shy, he is reserved. This is part of his Swahili cultural background," explains Kabila's personal secretary, Kikaya Bin Karubi.

Indeed, this reservation is in contrast to the usual Congolese effusiveness.

'War bus'

Joseph Kabila was born in the mountains of Fizi, eastern DR Congo, the stronghold of his then-rebel father, but grew up in exile in Tanzania.

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.

Ruling party supporters in Bukavu (Copyright Jose Cendon)
Campaigners want to present their leader as genuinely Congolese
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 President Mobutu Sese Seko in May 1997.

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

The Kabila family lived in Dar es Salaam under the discreet protection of then-Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere - a man Joseph Kabila claims to be his "role model".

So as not to attract the attention of Mobutu's intelligence service, they pretended they were members of the Fipa people, a small ethnic group from south-west Tanzania.

This upbringing and the fact that Mr Kabila speaks French with an English accent and knows no Lingala ( western DR Congo's lingua franca) has fuelled his detractors' argument that he is in fact "a foreigner".

In the first round of voting, he swept the board in the Swahili-speaking east but was roundly defeated in the west.

Parallel government

The Union for Democracy and Social Progress - the opposition party of veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi - has spread the rumour that he is not Laurent Kabila's legitimate son, but is in fact of Rwandan origin - a strong accusation in a country that was invaded by the Rwandan army during a five-year war.

The Congolese know exactly where their interests are. There is a reason to hope
Kabila campaign poster

With elections coming up, his closest disciples "the Kabila boys" are trying hard to present their leader as genuinely Congolese.

During the February political rally, they introduced his mother, Sifa, and his brother and sister to the militants, while Vice-President Abdoullaye Yerodia insisted that he witnessed Mr Kabila's birth in Fizi.

Mr Bin Karubi adds that if Mr Kabila is not well known to the Congolese, it is mainly because he spends all week working hard in the office and some of his weekends cropping and doing motocross on his farm, Kingakati, on the outskirts of the capital.

Indeed, in spite of the 2002 power-sharing agreement that includes four vice-presidents from rebel groups who fought during the war, and a cabinet of more than 50 ministers in his interim administration, President Kabila still runs a staff of 200, described by the opposition as a "parallel government".

Shady deals

His experience as a general in the Congolese army also helps him to keep direct control over a 7,000-strong army unit known as the Republican Guard, which allegedly includes a few Zimbabwean commanders.

DR Congo's war led to shady business deals, but Mr Kabila has not been directly implicated in any.

The same cannot be said of "the Kabila boys". 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.

Yet, he remains close to the centre of power, acting as one of Mr Kabila's top advisers.

On his campaign posters, Mr Kabila says: "The Congolese know exactly where their interests are. There is a reason to hope."

The Congolese people will be hoping that Mr Kabila, the clear favourite to win the presidency, also knows where the genuine interests of DR Congo are, and that he will keep reminding his "boys" that they are in politics to serve the nation of 56 million.

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