Kabila's long struggle to liberate Congo

October 1, 1997

Kabila: The Revolutionary Revealed
Tuesday October 7, 8.30pm (8pm in SA)

Review by Norm Dixon

In spite of its title, don't expect this BBC report to shed new light on new Congo leader Laurent Kabila's background. Anybody who has followed the struggle that led to the overthrow of the western-backed Mobutu dictatorship in May will know much of the story outlined.

Kabila was 21 when Belgium relinquished control of the Congo in 1960. The young Kabila was an admirer of independent Congo's new radical leader, Patrice Lumumba. After Lumumba was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup, Kabila helped lead the a guerilla struggle to liberate Congo again.

Lightly armed, some only with bows and arrows, the Lumumbaist guerillas controlled the eastern half of Congo, establishing the capital of the liberated Democratic Republic of Congo in Stanleyville (now Kisangani). The US was extremely hostile, seeing them as "tools" of Moscow.

In November 1964 Belgian paratroopers and mercenaries, transported by US military planes, stormed the city. The rebels were decimated. Kabila led the remnants into the remotest parts of eastern Congo, from where he struggled for the next 32 years to overthrow Mobutu.

Despite reporter Robin Denselow's inane questions and superficial approach, what shines through is Kabila and his fighters' ceaseless determination to liberate their country in spite of the inevitable ups and downs of decades of struggle.

When the opening for revolution presented itself in 1996, Kabila and his comrades were ready. There is a fascinating interview with two guerilla veterans trained by Che Guevara who have lived to see the victory.

Denselow's rudimentary narration makes light of the complexities that confront the new government, but the footage that accompanies it brings to life the joy and relief the people of Congo felt with the departure of the dictator. The terrible state Congo was left in after Mobutu's brutal reign is starkly revealed.

There are tantalising snippets of packed political seminars, organised by the triumphant Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, where for six hours a day, for 10 days, ordinary Congolese discuss the lessons of previous failed rebellions, "class struggle" and the tasks of the liberation.

Another scene shows a meeting of the new system of popular democracy — called chembechembe — that is being instituted at the grassroots level.

As for the government's future policies and direction, the program can offer only hints based on the comments of some of the new ministers. On this Kabila is cagey, saying he has been called a neo-Marxist and an ex-Marxist. You'll just have to wait and see, the garrulous leader tells his interviewer.

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