Democratic Republic of the Congo: rumours and very little facts as government speaks of attempted coup



Sunday’s attack on the residence of President Joseph Kabila and the Kokolo military base in the capital of Kinshasa has led to a maelstrom of rumours with very little answers to the facts of the case.

According to Lambert Mende, Congolese Minster of Information, over 30 persons were detained for their alleged involvement in the attack, which he described as an “attempted coup”. Over 60 armed men – other sources speak of one hundred – were pushed back as the Republican Guard repelled a simultaneous attack on the residence and the army base, killing ten assailants. The aim of the attack on the Kokolo base was possibly to obtain more and heavier weaponry.

However, given the fact that the men were scarcely armed – they wielded small firearms, machetes, knives, arrows and a few rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) - in order to stage a coup, it is more likely that the men were out on killing President Kabila. Indeed, voices within the opposition and the government recently spoke of a “small group” that was “plotting a coup”. According to the Congolese National Intelligence Service (ANR, Agence Nationale de Renseignement), the attackers consisted of former Mobutu soldiers and Enyele-rebels.

The pro-government newspaper L’Avenir reported in its Monday edition that “credible proof” exists that the attackers came from Brazzaville, capital of the neighbouring Republic of the Congo. A military map was said to have been found on one of the attackers, indicating that he was a former MLC (Mouvement de Libération Congolais or Movement for the Liberation of Congo) soldier. Moreover, the daily labelled Brazzaville as a “constant source of insecurity, as it harbours several former soldiers of the Mobutu regime and refuses to extradite these terrorists.”

MLC was a rebel group fighting the DRC government in the Second Congo War (1998-2003) and subsequently transformed in what currently is the main opposition party. However, the MLC rebukes these accusations as the government said that former bodyguards of Jean Pierre Bemba – 2006 presidential candidate for the MLC and now on trial at the ICC in The Hague for war crimes - were implicated in the plot. According to the MLC, they were unable to prevent the attack as the ones involved were former rebels without any ties to the political party.

However, the ANR reportedly infiltrated the group plotting the attack, which raises questions why there was no preventive action to prevent the attack. It is worthwhile reminding that the attack came three weeks after a group of armed men – labelled as “secessionists” by the government - attacked Luano airport of Lubumbashi, capital of the south-eastern Katanga province.

It is not to be ruled out that both incidents are linked in an attempt of the government to discredit or clamp down on the opposition – especially the MLC. A sentence in the L’Avenir daily could underscore this hypothesis, as an “anonymous U.N. official” said that “opponents will be rounded up in order to put it all on the behalf of the opposition”, on which the daily commented that “this irresponsible observation shows that the U.N. seems not to be concerned with the life of the Head of State.”  

These developments are likely linked with the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, in which President Kabila is seeking a new term. On January 15, the DRC’s Assembly and Senate passed eight constitutional amendments, approving the voting reforms proposed by Kabila. In a political move that could increase Kabila’s chances, the new president is to be elected by a simple majority rather than an absolute, eliminating any possible need for a second round especially given the division amidst the opposition. However, the latter contested this demarche, describing it as “fraud”, a reaction that could have set in motion a campaign of violence aimed the discredit the opposition.

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