Who was behind the attempted coup in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Were the Americans involved? | Conflict news

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) army thwarted a coup against President Félix Tshisekedi’s government in the early hours of Sunday, country officials said.

At least three people were killed in the attacks in Kinshasa and several attackers, including “foreigners”, are currently detained.

Here’s what we know about what happened, who was behind the alleged coup attempt and the political turmoil in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the run-up to Sunday’s attack.

Road blocks in Kinshasa
The Congolese Republican Guard diverts traffic from the site of a coup attempt in Kinshasa on May 19, 2024 (Arsene Mpiana/AFP)

What happened?

Around 4 a.m. local time (03:00 GMT) on Sunday, dozens of men dressed in military uniforms and armed with submachine guns and rifles attacked the residence of Vital Kamerhe, a federal lawmaker allied with Tshisekedi and favorite to become president. . of the National Assembly.

The attackers also broke into the Palace of the Nation, the official residence and offices of the president, although Tshisekedi rarely uses the premises and was not present at the time. Both locations are about 2 kilometers (1.2 mi) apart in the Gombe area of ​​the city, which is also home to other government offices and embassies.

At least three people were killed in the ensuing gunfights, including two Congolese security officials and the attackers’ leader, Christian Malanga. About 50 people have been arrested, the Congolese military said, including three American citizens.

Munitions fired from the capital hit an area of ​​the city of Brazzaville, in the neighboring Republic of Congo, and injured several people. Both capitals are separated by the Congo River.

The attack lasted about three hours before being repelled.

Who is Christian Malanga and what was his goal?

Captain Christian Malanga Musumari, who is believed to have led Sunday’s attack, was a wealthy businessman, politician and former military captain in the Congolese army. He resided in the United States, where his family obtained political asylum when he was a child.

Although Malanga participated in the 2011 parliamentary elections, he was arrested and detained for several weeks under the leadership of former president Joseph Kabila. After his release, Malanga traveled to the United States, where he founded the opposition United Congolese Party (UCP). Over the years, Malanga campaigned for religious freedom in Africa and led anti-corruption training initiatives for young Africans in Europe.

Authorities said Malanga first attempted and aborted a coup in 2017, but did not provide further details. In a livestream posted on Facebook during Sunday’s attack, Malanga threatened the president and chanted “New Zaire!” The DRC was formerly called Zaire.

“We militants are tired,” Malanga told the camera, speaking in Lingala as his army occupied the president’s offices. “We can’t continue with Tshisekedi and Kamerhe, they have done too many stupid things in this country.”

Photos later published on social media showed Malanga’s body and that of another fighter. Authorities said he was killed after resisting arrest.

Analysts are not sure what to make of the seemingly amateurish attack by Malanga’s army, which ended in his death, and say he may have had internal sponsors who let him down.

“Instead of attacking strategic locations such as Kinshasa’s two airports, military camps and RTNC (national broadcasting), the Malanga commando operation targeted uninteresting targets to overthrow power,” said Albert Malukisa Nkuku, professor at the University Catholic. of the Congo, who noted that DRC presidents have rarely used the official residence for security reasons.

“Why start an attack on Vital Kamerhe’s residence and already lose a large amount of ammunition before ending up at the Palace of the Nation?”

Who were the Americans allegedly involved?

According to the military, at least three of those arrested Sunday were Americans, including Malanga’s young son.

Photos posted on social media show the seized passport of another US citizen, Benjamin Zalman-Polun, allegedly involved in Sunday’s attack. In a 2022 article in Africa Intelligence, Zalman-Polun was identified as a “cannabis entrepreneur” and business partner of Malanga.

Lucy Tamlyn, the US ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, expressed “shock and concern” over the attempted coup in a Sunday statement on as they investigate these criminal acts and hold accountable any American citizen involved in criminal acts,” he said.

What is the backdrop for Sunday’s attack?

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is very rich in mineral resources and is one of the world’s largest producers of cobalt and coltan used in the production of electronic products such as mobile phones. But the country has long been beset by crises.

The Congolese army is mired in fighting with the M23, a rebel group that has been advancing from the east of the country in a bid to take Goma, a strategic, mineral-rich city in North Kivu province. Thousands of people have been displaced and forced to flee the region, and many others have died in the intense fighting.

The M23 group is allegedly funded by Rwanda, although Kigali denies these allegations. United Nations and East African peacekeepers were recently expelled from the Democratic Republic of the Congo because the government accused them of being ineffective.

Separately, divisions within Tshisekedi’s ruling coalition over candidates for upcoming elections to some National Assembly seats forced the president to postpone an internal parliamentary vote scheduled for Saturday.

Tshisekedi was re-elected president in December after chaotic elections that opposition groups said lacked legitimacy. He has yet to form a government. Sunday’s coup attempt could give Tshisekedi a chance to consolidate his hold on the country, said Paul Nantulya, a researcher at the African Center for Strategic Studies.

“A coup, no matter how chaotic, disorganized and foolish, is a powerful weapon in the hands of a paranoid regime,” Nantulya said. “It gives you a blank check to activate all draconian laws and regulations, declare martial law, ban NGO and civil society activities, restrict movement and freedom of expression at will, sow fear in opponents and beat everyone to do the same. silence.

“This would not be the first nor the last in the Congo. This is the trite script of failed coups, if we can call it that.”

How have the DRC government and the African Union responded?

Tshisekedi has yet to comment publicly, even as questions mount over how Malanga fighters managed to breach the security of the presidential palace.

Nkuku, of the Catholic University of Congo, said the attacks revealed flaws in the DRC’s security formation that could have knock-on effects on the country’s numerous crises. “If Kinshasa had fallen, we could fear an intensification of fighting in the east,” he said.

“We can hope that the bad wind has passed in Kinshasa, but the government and the Congolese must learn from it.”

Meanwhile, the African Union on Sunday condemned the coup attempt and said it welcomed the military’s handling of the attacks. A sudden wave across the continent has left at least five countries, particularly in West Africa, under military rule since 2020.