Questions arise after foiled coup attempt in DR Congo

A day after the DR Congo army claimed to have thwarted a coup attempt involving several Americans and a British national, many in Kinshasa are questioning the attackers’ motives and their access to key government sites.

The coup attempt occurred early Sunday outside the residence of Economy Minister Vital Kamerhe in the northern Gombe area of the capital.

The group then moved to the Palais de la Nation, which houses President Felix Tshisekedi’s offices, waving flags of Zaire, the name of DR Congo under ex-dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who was overthrown in 1997. Shots were reportedly heard near the building.

An army spokesman later announced on national TV that defense and security forces had stopped “an attempted coup d’etat.” Kamerhe and his family were unharmed, but two security detail members were killed.

His team stated that the attack “aimed to assassinate” the minister, showing reporters bullet holes in vehicles, walls, and broken windows at his residence.

While daily activities resumed as normal in Gombe on Monday, questions remained. “The government is trying to divert our attention from social and security problems,” said Joel, a civil servant. “I don’t think that in the city center, attackers could storm a minister’s house or the Palais de la Nation without the authorities being informed.”

Army spokesman General Sylvain Ekenge said the group had also planned to attack the homes of new Prime Minister Judith Suminwa and Defense Minister Jean-Pierre Bemba, but failed to locate them, leading them to Kamerhe’s home and the Palais de la Nation.

The opposition ECiDe party, led by Martin Fayulu, expressed skepticism about the “alleged attempted coup d’etat,” questioning the official narrative. “Politicians, stop distracting us, life is already very hard in this country,” said Maman Ndosi, a bread and avocado seller in Gombe.

The plot was led by Christian Malanga, a Congolese man who was reportedly a naturalized American, and who was killed by security forces. Ekenge mentioned a naturalized British subject as the second-in-command. However, the U.S. State Department stated it had no record of Malanga being a U.S. citizen and could not confirm the citizenship of two purported Americans in custody due to privacy laws. The U.S. expressed willingness to cooperate fully in the investigation and condemned the coup attempt.

Ekenge stated that the attackers comprised “several nationalities,” with around 40 arrested and four, including Malanga, killed. Malanga’s son, Marcel Malanga, was also among the assailants.

The group’s exact motives remain unclear.

The DR Congo government condemned the “attempted destabilization of the institutions.” Both the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) condemned the coup attempt.

AU Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat expressed “great concern” over the events.

The coup attempt comes five months after President Tshisekedi was reelected with over 70 percent of the vote. He became president in 2019, promising to improve living conditions in the mineral-rich but impoverished nation and to end 25 years of bloodshed in the east.

Tshisekedi’s supporting parties won around 90 percent of seats in parliamentary elections held the same day, but he has yet to form a government.

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