On May 17, 1997, with the clandestine support of Rwanda, Uganda, and the United States, Laurent Kabila toppled President Mobutu. Mobutu had been at the helm of the Congo for more than 3 decades. For the most part, Zairians (as the Congolese were then called) welcomed Kabila and even embraced the idea of renaming Zaire the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Even so, peace in the Congo was fleeting.
Kabila imposed rule by decree. All governmental powers were vested in the executive branch, which even had the power to appoint and to dismiss members of the judiciary. Not surprisingly, Kabila filled his 26-member cabinet with loyalists from his political party, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL). By Kabila's decree, the AFDL was the only political party that could engage in political activities.
At the inception of his rule, Kabila lowered the inflation rate and improved internal security. However, some armed groups remained beyond his control, including the Hutu/Interahamwe, Mai-Mai soldiers, and the Tutsi Banyamulenge. Upon taking command, Kabila promised reform. At first, Kabila claimed that his government was one of transition and would lead to a new constitution and elections by 1999. During his tenure in power, however, elections were never held and a 1998 constitution was not finalized. Although Kabila's stated aim in toppling the Mobutu regime was restoring democracy to the Congo, his rule resembled that of his predecessor more so than a democracy. When Kabila banned every political party save his own, protests grew both domestically and internationally.
In the summer of 1998, Kabila attempted to gain autonomy from Rwanda and Uganda, which led to war. Kabila's first move was to expel the Rwandan and Ugandan troops that helped him topple the Mobutu regime. This war eventually embroiled the rest of the countries in the region. On the one side fighting against the Kabila government were the Rally for Congolese Democracy and the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo, which are supported by Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi. Fighting on the side of the Kabila government were Angola, Namibia, Chad, Zimbabwe, the Congolese army, and the Interhamwe (the former Rwandan-Hutu army exiled in the Congo). All the belligerents in this war had their own separate reasons for intervening. Rwanda, Uganda, and Angola wanted to protect their borders. Zimbabwe wanted to maintain the balance of power in the region. But all of them wished to participate in the bounty of the Congo's vast riches.
The warring parties reached a cease-fire in Lusaka, Zambia, in July 1999. The parties memorialized the terms of their cease fire in the Lusaka Peace Accord, which called for a cessation of war, a peacekeeping force comprised of international troops mostly from Africa, and the commencement of a "national dialogue" on the Congo's future. Unfortunately, the Peace Accord was not implemented and only lip-service was devoted to the national dialogue.
President Laurent Kabila was assassinated on January 16, 2001, in Kinshasa by one of his own soldiers. His son, Major General Joseph Kabila, was appointed as interim president on January 26, 2001. At the beginning of his rule, Joseph Kabila made valiant efforts to rekindle the Lusaka Peace Accord, and Rwanda and Uganda have begun removing their troops from the Congo. In March 2001, the UN inserted peacekeeping troops in areas where Rwandan and Ugandan forces had withdrawn. It remains to be seen, however, if peace will come to the Congo and if Joseph Kabila will engage the country in a national dialogue.
During the rule of Laurent Kabila, U.S.-Congolese relations soured. In fact, the United States and other western nations largely blamed Kabila for the perpetuation of the war. However, relations between the Congo and the United States seem to be improving since Joseph Kabila has come to power, as demonstrated by the meeting between Joseph Kabila and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell early in the new Bush administration.
The government collects taxes primarily from businesses. Tax collection is arbitrary and many charge that harassment from tax authorities has lately reached unprecedented levels. Moreover, taxes have served to enrich corrupt government officials.