Congo-Kinshasa: DRC - Questions Abound After Thwarted Coup

Democratic Republic of Congo.

Amid a backdrop of political tension and protracted conflict in the country's east, the foiled coup attempt in the DRC raises more questions than it provides answers.

In the wake of a thwarted coup attempt in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) over the weekend, Congolese and foreign observers alike are expressing uncertainty about the future.

On Sunday, the Congolese army announced that it had foiled a coup attempt in Kinshasa involving both Congolese and foreign citizens -- including three US nationals and a naturalized British subject.

A group of approximately 50 men in camouflage had allegedly attacked the residences of the prime minister, the defense minister and the likely future President of the National Assembly, Vital Kamerhe.

They later breached the Palais de la Nation in central Kinshasa, which houses the office of President Felix Tshisekedi.

The ringleader of the group, Christian Malanga, was shot dead after security forces moved in, along with three other assailants.

Who was the ringleader?

In a video widely circulated online, Malanga is seen speaking at the Palais de la Nation in Kinshasa shortly before soldiers storm the building, explaining in the Lingala language the reasons for the group's actions.

"My brothers, we're tired. We soldiers can't take it anymore, we're tired. If we've come to stand up like this, it's because we can't take it anymore. We can't be governed by people like (Vital) Kamerhe, people like Felix (Tshisekedi). They've done a lot to harm our country."

Born in 1983 in Kinshasa, Malanga referred to himself as the "President of New Zaire" on his website and the head of a government in exile. The website did not mention plans to seize power by force but had outlines his vision for the country under his leadership.

On the website, Malanga, 41, claimed to have settled in the United States as a child refugee before returning to DRC to serve as an officer in the country's east fighting against rebel forces.

Later, he began campaigning against the Congolese political class on alleged grounds of corruption and mismanagement, forming the United Congolese Party in 2010.

According to army spokesperson Sylvain Ekenge, Malanga aborted his first coup attempt in 2017.

What was the motive?

Congolese political scientist Jean-Clause Mputu told DW that the exact motive behind the attack and the coup attempt is still unclear.

"These people had an agenda that remains a mystery to me, and I hope with all my heart that in the days to come, justice will do its job, that the intelligence services will do the necessary work. And that the countries whose nationals are involved will work to give the Congolese people the whole truth, because the nation needs to know what happened."

The US State Department in Washington meanwhile said it could not confirm the purported US citizenship of two assailants who currently are being held in custody in connection with the events due to privacy laws. It said, however, it had no record of Malanga being a US citizen.

Malanga's son was reported to be among the alleged US citizens in custody after the coup attempt.

The US said it would "cooperate to the fullest extent possible" in the investigation and condemned the coup attempt.

How did the assailants get so far?

How the assailants managed to break into the capital's most secure area -- and why -- is another question yet to be addressed.

According to Bienvenu Matimo, an activist with the non-partisan youth civil society movement LUCHA, it is clear to conclude is that the intelligence services in DRC must be "porous," as he explained to DW:

"How can we explain that the intelligence services did not see this blow coming? How did these young people leave the United States to arrive in Kinshasa with ammunition and weapons? Either there is a form of complicity or there is a total failure of the intelligence services. And this should worry us -- first and foremost, the institutions and also the President of the Republic."

As well as being DRC's seat of power, the area in Kinshasa were the attacks occurred is also home to several foreign embassies and other strategic institutions.

The Palais de la Nation is empty at night and protected by elements of the Republican Guard.

Instability in the heart of Kinshasa

Reagan Miviri, a researcher at the independent institute Ebuteli, told DW that the security situation is unsettling, whatever the truth behind the thwarted coup attempt might be.

"It's the district where the office of the head of state is located, it's the district where the great personalities of this nation reside. In my opinion, there are two hypotheses: Either the place isn't as secure as it's supposed to be, or they've benefiting from international complicity. Both hypotheses are worrying."

Political scientist Christian Moleka meanwhile believes that the security forces in DRC mirror the country's unstable political institutions.

"There's a real question mark hanging over the country's security architecture, particularly around the president. During the past mandate, the security apparatus was very unstable. We didn't have security officers in key positions who lasted an entire legislature."

"There was a lot of movement at the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) and the National Security Council, to the extent that we have had four General Administrators of the ANR in five years. Security institutions have been as unstable as political ones."

What happens next?

Devos Kitoko, Secretary General of Martin Fayulu's opposition Engagement for Citizenship and Development party, called on the United Nations MONUSCO peacekeeping force to protect Fayulu, fearing that the authorities were now even more likely to target critical voices in the wake of the attack.

Political scientist Jean-Claude Mputu says this concern is not unfounded.

"My fear is that the law will be flouted more and more, that repression will intensify in order to establish an increasingly authoritarian regime, which is just not acceptable. It is therefore necessary for the political authorities -- for the President of the Republic -- to convene the nation for a moment of discussion, of truth, because today the nation needs unity in the face of this double aggression: Internal and external."

Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi was re-elected in December 2023 with more than 70% of the vote in the first round of elections, which the opposition labelled a "farce."

He first took office in 2019 after promising to improve living conditions in the central African nation and to put an end to ongoing conflict in eastern DRC.

But many say he is yet to deliver on those pledges, as the DRC appears to dive deeper into a persistent statee of instability.

Wendy Bashi contributed to this article

Edited by: Sertan Sanderson

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