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Congo coup failed, Malanga killed

By Naveed Aman Khan

May 27, 2024 12:53 PM


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The army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) thwarted a coup against the government of President Felix Tshisekedi.

Three people were killed in the attacks in Kinshasa, and several attackers, including foreigners are now in custody. Who was behind the alleged coup attempt and the political churn in the DRC in the lead-up attack. The Congolese Republican Guard diverted traffic from the scene of an attempted coup in Kinshasa on May 19, 2024.

The attackers were led by Christian Malanga, a politician and former military officer based in the US. The Congolese Republican Guard and police blocked a road around the scene of an attempted coup in Kinshasa on May 19, 2024

At about 4am dozens of men wearing military fatigues and armed with submachine guns and rifles attacked the residence of Vital Kamerhe, a federal legislator who is an ally of Tshisekedi and a favourite to become the speaker of the National Assembly. The attackers also breached the Palais de la Nation, the president’s official residence and offices – although Tshisekedi rarely uses the premises and was not present at the time. Both locations are about 2km apart in the Gombe area of the city, which is also home to several other government offices and embassies. Three people were killed in the shootouts that ensued, including two Congolese security officials, and the leader of the attackers, Christian Malanga. Some 50 people have been arrested, including three United States citizens.

Ammunition fired from the capital hit an area in the city of Brazzaville in the neighbouring Republic of the Congo, injuring several people. Both capitals are separated by the Congo River. The attack lasted about three hours before it was repelled. Captain Christian Malanga Musumari, who is believed to have led attack, was a wealthy businessman, politician and one-time military captain in the Congolese army. He was a resident of the US where his family secured political asylum when he was a child.

Malanga contested parliamentary elections in 2011, he was arrested and detained for several weeks under the leadership of former President Joseph Kabila. Upon his release, Malanga went to the US where he founded the opposition United Congolese Party (UCP). Over the years, Malanga campaigned for religious freedom in Africa and led anticorruption training initiatives for young Africans in Europe.

Malanga first attempted and aborted a coup in 2017. Malanga threatened the president and chanted “New Zaire!” The DRC was formerly called Zaire.  Malanga was killed after resisting arrest. An amateur attack by Malanga’s army, ended in his death. He may have had internal backers who disappointed him. Instead of attacking strategic sites like the two airports in Kinshasa, the military camps and the RTNC (national broadcaster), the Malanga commando operation headed towards targets without stakes to overthrow the power. The DRC presidents have rarely used the official residence because of security concerns. Three of those arrested were American, including Malanga’s young son, according to the military. The seized passport of another US national, Benjamin Zalman-Polun, who was allegedly involved in the attack. Zalman-Polun was identified as a cannabis entrepreneur and a business associate of Malanga.

The DRC is highly rich in mineral resources and is one of the world’s largest producers of cobalt and coltan used in producing electronics like mobile phones. But the country has long been beset with 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 attempts to take Goma, a strategic, mineral-rich town in the North Kivu province. Thousands of people have been displaced and forced to flee the region, and numerous others have died in the heavy fighting. The M23 group is allegedly funded by Rwanda, although Kigali denies these accusations. United Nations and East African peacekeepers were recently expelled from the DRC as the government accused them of being ineffective.

Divisions within Tshisekedi’s ruling coalition over candidates for upcoming elections to some seats in the National Assembly forced the president to postpone an internal parliament vote. Tshisekedi was re-elected as President in December, following a chaotic poll that opposition groups say lacked legitimacy. He is yet to form a government. The coup attempt could give Tshisekedi a chance to consolidate his hold on the country.

A coup – no matter how shambolic, disorganised and silly – is a powerful weapon in the hands of a paranoid regime. It gives a blank check to switch on all the draconian pieces of legislation and law, to declare martial law, to ban NGO and civil society activity, curtail movement and free speech at whim, sow fear in opponents, and beat everyone into silence. This would not be the first, or the last in Congo. This is the well-worn script of failed coups.

Tshisekedi is yet to comment publicly, even as questions mount over how Malanga’s fighters managed to breach the security of the presidential palace. The attacks revealed lapses in the DRC’s security formation that could have ripple effects on the country’s many crises. If Kinshasa had fallen, the intensification of clashes in the east could have been feared. Hope the bad wind has passed in Kinshasa, but the government and the Congolese must learn lessons from it.

The African Union has seriously condemned the recent Congo coup attempt. The military’s handling of the attacks is broadly lauded. A wave of coups across the continent has seen at least five countries. West Africa has come under military rule since 2020. Abdul Fatah Alsisi's coup in Egypt is still on the neck of the Egyptians. Coups have long been an issue in African countries like Nigeria, Mauritania, Sudan, Egypt and Congo. African oil and gas power Nigeria has long history of bloody coups.


Naveed Aman Khan

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The writer is editor, book ambassador, geo political scientist and author of several books on media and international affairs based in Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected] and X@AmanNaveed11


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