Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo was born in 1962 in Bokada, province of Ecuador, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In the 1990s, Bemba, close to Mobuto, was a successful contractor who took over the running of the family business and created new industries, in the telecommunication, aviation and audio-visual fields.
Bemba went into exile in 1997 following the seizure of power by the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDLC) led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila.
A year later, with the help and the support of Uganda, he established the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) and its military branch, the Armée de Libération du Congo (ALC). The group became one of the major politico-military actors in the country.
The MLC operated in the DRC between 1998 and 2003. However, it was for its involvement in the Central African Republic (CAR) between 2002 and 2003 that Bemba would ultimately be condemned by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In 2002, the then president of the CAR, Ange-Félix Patassé, faced a rebellion led by François Bozizé. In order to protect his regime and defeat the coup, Patassé called on Bemba for his support. The MLC thus engaged in the civil war in CAR which would see Bozizé take office after a successful putsch in 2003.
It is during this period that the MLC allegedly committed torture, rape, and attacks on human dignity such as humiliating and degrading treatment. They also allegedly took part in looting, particularly in the cities of Mongoumba and Bossangoa.
Bemba, as the president and commander in chief of the MLC, was allegedly the architect of any political and military decisions related to the actions of the group in CAR, and was aware of the crimes committed by his troops.
In June 2003, Bemba became one of the four vice-presidents of the transitional government in the DRC following the peace process and the power-sharing deal between belligerents.
Three years later, in October 2006, Bemba ran for President in the DRC. He gathered 20% of the votes at the first-round ballot and lost the second round against Joseph Kabila with only 42% of the votes at the national level (with 70% in Kinshasa, the capital). Bemba contested the results and petitions the Supreme Court on multiple occasions, but without success.
Bemba then refused to integrate his personal guard with the DRC national army, and openly positioned himself against the government of Kabila. Heavy clashes took place between the army and Bemba’s personal guard, resulting in the death of hundreds of civilians in Kinshasa.