Was there a coup attempt in the DRC this weekend?

Armed men attacked the residence of Democratic Republic of the Congo President Joseph Kabila on Sunday – but that's about all anyone can agree on.

By , Guest blogger

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    In this June 30, 2010 file photo, the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila arrives for the yearly national parade in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Armed gunmen with machetes attacked Congo's presidential residence Sunday, and at least nine people were killed during nearly an hour of gunfire, a witness said. The president and his wife were not home at the time of the attack.
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Two groups of men armed with machetes and machine guns attacked the Kokolo military camp and the residence of President Joseph Kabila on early Sunday afternoon in Kinshasa. According to reports, at least six soldiers had been killed, including several in the Congolese army. Up to eight of the attackers have been captured, and two are currently being interrogated at a DEMIAP (military intelligence) camp in the capital. The situation in Kinshasa is now calm.

The minister of information is currently calling the incident a coup attempt. Was it? The situation is fluid and information is still coming in, but we know that the attackers were coordinated enough to pull off two simultaneous attacks, to enter into the presidential compound and to kill several guards. On the other hand, it was a pretty ramshackle group of soldiers: many of them were only armed with machetes – could there be a serious coup attempt carried out by people with a few guns and machetes?

It is too early to say for sure, but I doubt this was a coup attempt, which would have required the defection of a large part of the military command. At most, this was an assassination attempt against Joseph Kabila – I don't think several dozens soldiers could have taken over the state apparatus.

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It does seem possible that this was an attempt on the president's life. Over the past week, there have been reports from people in the opposition and government that a small group of men has been organizing to launch an attack. A source within the national security service said that people and guns had been coming across the Congo river, including former members of Mobutu's army and of the Enyele militia.

A leading MLC member told me that his party had been contacted by state officials this week, who accused former soldiers in Jean-Pierre Bemba's bodyguard of preparing a rebellion in Kinshasa. When the MLC official I spoke with looked into it, it turned out that some youths and former MLC soldiers had indeed been organizing, buying machetes and plotting an attack, but that it was small group of perhaps 40 to 60 people and was allegedly unconnected to the MLC political leadership. According to this source, before the MLC could do anything about it, the attack was launched.

The whole thing does smack somewhat of amateurism. If there really was a high-level conspiracy to kill the president or to even take over the state, wouldn't it have been better organized? There are, expectedly, conjectures that this incident was staged in order to justify a crack-down on the opposition. After all, this is the second time in as many weeks after the attack on Lubumbashi's airport that a state installation has been attacked. The MLC official I spoke with said: "The security services told us that they had infiltrated this group and knew that it included ex-MLC soldiers. If this is true, why didn't they just shut this operation down before it got this far?"

But if it really was a fake attempt, would they have gone so far as to kill soldiers and attack Kabila's house?

In any case, more questions than answers for now.

Jason Stearns blogs about the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region at Congo Siasa.

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