DR Congo Coup Attempt: Unstable Army or Election Apprehension?

Unrest in the army and changes to electoral law are potential sources of instability.

The events of an attempted ‘coup’ on February 27 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are still shrouded in mystery. What is known is that a group of men armed with light weapons – rocket-propelled grenades and machetes – attacked the Kinshasa residence of President Kabila before being repelled by the Presidential Guard.
They then attacked an army base close by before order was eventually restored. Official reports have suggested that there were about 60 people involved in the attack, while a UN source has been quoted by the AFP agency as suggesting that the number was closer to 100. After this the details become a lot more uncertain. In particular, the motives behind the attack are still unknown.
The Information Minister, Lambert Mende, gave an interview shortly after the attack claiming that some of the attackers appeared to have had military training, before quickly denying that the attack came from members of the Presidential Guard unhappy with living conditions.
Even if concern over living conditions is not the cause, there are several other possible explanations. The involvement of foreign powers appears credible at first as all the major developments in the ongoing regional conflict have involved one or more of the DRC’s neighbours. However, since the agreement in November 2008 (the details of which remain secret) between Kabila and his enemy during the war, Paul Kagame, the likelihood of external powers tampering with Kinshasa has somewhat diminished.
The elections scheduled for November provides another possible explanation for the attack. The last election in 2006 prompted an upsurge in violence in Kinshasa which required a European Union peacekeeping force to quell it. Kinshasa was also an opposition stronghold, with Kabila’s rival Jean-Pierre Bemba receiving a greater share of the Presidential first round vote than Kabila did.
If the election was a factor in the coup, Bemba’s direct involvement can then probably be ruled out – he is currently in The Hague being tried for two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes for which he is pleading not guilty.
A particular election-related grievance occured just over a month before the attempted coup, when a change in the constitution saw the scrapping of the run-off for the Presidential election if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote. Opposition parties have been outraged by the move. Given the seemingly poor organisation of this coup, the hand of a united opposition in guiding it seems unlikely; however, the possibility that opposition elements were involved cannot be ruled out.
Despite this possibility the most likely cause rests in the army. Even with the training of units by foreign forces and the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country, MONUSCO, the national army (FARDC) remains ill-disciplined and has been accused of human rights violationsand exploiting mineral resources for personnel gain.
The army has also received members of former rebel groups – such as the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) – responsible for a rebellion led by Laurent Nkunda in 2008. With soldiers and rebels now in the same army the risk of ill-discipline has grown. Either former rebels harbouring a grudge against the government or soldiers unhappy with the new favouritism shown to the CNDP could well be behind the attempted coup. The suggested military training of some of the men involved is a real indicator that former-rebels or disgruntled soldiers were part of the group that attempted the coup.
Whatever the reason, the government is keeping likely motivations a secret for now. Its response of over 100 arrests suggests that the government is keen to stop any threat in their tracks, particularly as tension in the country increases with the elections drawing nearer. It may have succeeded in quelling this mysterious coup attempt but time will tell if it can handle the ill-discipline of the FARDC and the opposition of political rivals in Kinshasa.

Deal between Kinshasa and the FDLR? – Siasa

On March 14, President Joseph Kabila presided over a
state security
in Kinshasa, at the end
of which he reported that a peace deal with the FDLR was in the offing.

According to UN officials, talks have been ongoing between the FDLR and the
Congolese government for several months now, with the involvement of a European
government as sometimes-facilitator. The deal would reportedly involve the
transfer of FDLR headquarters from the border of Masisi-Walikale (North Kivu
province) to Maniema province. Up to 1,500 soldiers would be concerned, which
could be between 25-35% of their forces. The rest of their troops would be likely
to  hold their current positions, but would maintain a ceasefire.

According to one UN official Congo Siasa spoke with, the deal could involve the
disarmament of the FDLR forces concerned. This would be surprising, given that
the deal involved Gen. Mudacumura, the FDLR overall commander, who was part of
an FDLR disarmament deal in Kamina in 2002 that ended in bloodshed when
Congolese troops – led by the current head of Congolese military intelligence –
attacked the FDLR, who had refused to return to Rwanda and had begun to arm

There has been no official indication of where in Maniema the troops would be
moved. The province is large, roughly the size of of the state of Florida.

For President Kabila, these talks are part of a large pre-electoral push to
pacify the Kivus. His commanders have concluded at least four integration deals
with different armed groups in past months, including FRF and Mai-Mai Kapopo.
According to officials who have followed these deals closely, they usually
involve large sums of money as incentives to the rebel commanders. Kabila will
be announcing as part of his election campaign that he has been gotten rid of
most armed groups in the Kivus.

For the FDLR, the peace deal could buy some respite from the battering they
have received at the hands of the Congolese army over the past two years.

Re-location of the FDLR has long been mooted as part of the solution to the
violence in the eastern Congo and was included (in a temporary fashion) in the
November 2007 deal between Rwanda and the Congo regarding the FDLR in Nairobi.
It is unlikely, however, Rwanda will be happy with such an arrangement of so
many FDLR combatants, especially if they include he FDLR high command.

It is too early and too few details have leaked out to pass a verdict on these

Who Tried to Kill Congo’s President? – The Atlantic

A failed coup in the Democratic Republic of Congo raises serious concerns about the country’s uncertain future – By Laura Seay

As the Democratic Republic of Congo’s fledgling democracy prepares for its second-ever set of presidential elections this November, an attempted assassination — or possibly coup — has brought instability to the capital city and heightened concerns about the fragility of the state and of its leader’s grasp on power. Though the attack failed, it has raised questions about how long President Joseph Kabila can hang on.

On Sunday afternoon, gunshots were heard in Kinshasa’s exclusive Gombe neighborhood. At least 14 men attempted to take control of the presidential palace there; others possibly attacked the nearby Kokolo military camp, although it’s still not clear what happened there. Congolese Minister of Information and Media Lambert Mende told UN-backed Radio Okapi that a “heavily armed group” had infiltrated the palace but was stopped after a shoot-out with Republican Guard members. “Six of the assailants fell, some were arrested, another group fled and was pursued by police and Republican Guard.” He added, “There is really no reason to panic.”

Though this could have been a coup attempt, it more closely resembles a failed assassination. Jason Stearns, author of a forthcoming book on the DRC wars, wrote on his blog, “I doubt this was a coup attempt, which would have required the defection of a large part of the military command.” A coup requires planning who will take over, but, as Stearns notes,. -” I don’t think several dozens [of] soldiers could have taken over the state apparatus.”

But whatever the attackers’ goal, the larger question — who sent them and why – remains a mystery. Kabila has no shortage of enemies and the Democratic Republic of Congo remains a turbulent place. Here are some of the theories that have been floated of who was behind the attack. Some of more plausible than others, but, taken together, their sheer number carries a worrying message about the instability of DRC politics and of Kabila’s rule.

Anti-Government Militias Stearns writes that, for the past week, he has heard reports from opposition members and government officials that a small group of men was organizing to launch an attack. A source within the national security service told him that people and guns had been coming across the Congo River. These fighters are said to have included former troops in the army of Mobutu Sese Seko, the long-deposed president of Zaire, as well as members of the anti-government Enyele militia, based in the country’s west.

The Movement for the Liberation of Congo The attack may have been organized by rogue elements within this political party, which has a history of violent opposition. In 2007, fighting broke out between the Congolese army and MLC members furious over their leader’s loss in the 2006 presidential election. An MLC official tells Stearns that a few dozen members may have been arming themselves just prior to the attack.

A leading MLC member told me that his party had been contacted by state officials this week, who accused former soldiers in [former MLC leader] 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.

Political Opponents Since winning the young country’s first election in 2006, Kabila’s support has dropped precipitously. The country’s east, which overwhelmingly supported his 2006 campaign as the “architect of peace,” has largely dropped its support for Kabila after years of continued, endemic violence. So when he pushed parliament to loosen election law, allowing presidential candidates to win with only a plurality of votes rather than the old requirement of a majority, it looked to many like Kabila was trying to finesse his way to another five-year term that he would not have otherwise won.

Kabila faces a divided opposition. Former National Assembly President Vital Kamerhe, though popular, has thus far failed to unite opposition parties. Perennial opposition figure Eugene Tshisekedi told Reuters that he will run independently. If these two candidates both run, they will likely split the vote and Kabila will almost certainly win. But if Kabila had been killed, either Kamerhe or Tshisekedi might have had a chance at winning. It’s extremely unlikely that either of these two men was involved; neither seems like the type to plot an assassination, nor would their supporters. But the tenuous three-way near-stalemate means that Kabila’s sudden death would have thrown the country’s political order into chaos.

Kabil Himself Rumors are already flying on Kinshasa’s Radio Troittoir (“Sidewalk Radio,” the Kinois means of spreading gossip) that the Kabila regime staged Sunday’s violence as an excuse to crack down on the opposition. This seems unlikely — after all, a number of the attackers died, which is a big sacrifice for a publicity stunt — but the fact that people seem willing to consider it as a possibility is significant.

Whether the perpetrator was one of the above or someone totally different, it bodes ill for the country’s weak democratic institutions and uncertain path towards stable, legitimate democratic rule. But, on the bright side, whatever the attacks’ aim, it failed. As local newspaper Le Potential put it, “It is intolerable that at this time when the people are about to elect new leadership that attempts to destabilize the institutions established by law occur.” The paper explained, “Taking power by force would only bring the Congo back to the drawing board and reopen a Pandora’s box regarding legitimacy of power. Fifty years after independence, Congo does not need a coup.”

Congo: les assaillants contre J. Kabila étaient une centaine

 Une centaine d’hommes, dont dix ont été tués et une trentaine
arrêtés, ont attaqué simultanément dimanche à Kinshasa la résidence du
président congolais Joseph Kabila et un camp de l’armée, a-t-on appris
lundi de source onusienne.

Une centaine d’hommes” ont participé à “deux attaques simultanées
contre la résidence du président Kabila et le camp militaire logistique
de Kokolo, dimanche en début d’après-midi dans la capitale de la
République démocratique du Congo, a déclaré une source onusienne citant
des responsables congolais de la sécurité.
Dix assaillants
ont été tués au total par la Garde républicaine (ex-garde
présidentielle) et une trentaine ont été arrêtés, a ajouté cette source,
précisant que cinq militaires congolais ont aussi été tués lors de
l’attaque du camp.
De son côté, le porte-parole du
gouvernement congolais, Lambert Mende, a donné lundi un bilan de sept
assaillants tués et “plus d’une trentaine” de personnes arrêtées “dont 16 dimanche et plus dans la nuit de dimanche à lundi“. Il n’a pas confirmé la mort de cinq militaires du camp.
Il avait fait état dimanche de 6 assaillants tués lors de
l’attaque manquée vers 13H30 de la résidence présidentielle au bord du
fleuve Congo, dans le quartier chic de la Gombe, au nord de Kinshasa. Le
camp Kokolo est situé plus au sud, dans le quartier Lingwala.
Lambert Mende a précisé que les assaillants étaient armés de fusils
kalachnikov, de lances-roquettes RPG 7 mais aussi de machettes et de
Des hommes de la Garde républicaine, postés depuis
dimanche à des carrefours dans les environs de la résidence
présidentielle, ont quitté les lieux tôt lundi matin où la vie a repris
son cours normal.

Will Hillary speak out over mass rape in Congo?

As Congo’s rape crisis spirals out of control, Hillary Clinton’s visit must help urge the international community to rethink its support for an offensive that has forced more than 800,000 people to flee their homes, reports Oxfam’s Marcel Stoessel. 

This afternoon I’m supposed to be attending a meeting with the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who flew into Congo last night. She’s here to meet victims of sexual violence from the conflict in the east of the country, and to work towards solutions for ending Congo’s rape crisis. She couldn’t have picked a more appropriate time. Rape is widespread here, and cases have increased dramatically in the past few months.

I remember a woman I met in the remote Lubero territory of North Kivu Province. She told me she witnessed a gang rape of another woman by three armed men. It is almost impossible to describe the scenes she told me, but she was so brutally raped that she later died of internal bleeding. The witness, the woman I talked to, fled the area in terror. So did thousands of other unnamed victims in the past few months.

This terrible story happened in a very remote area of eastern Congo, an area Hillary Clinton will not visit today, and an area where UN-backed military operations are ongoing. The perpetrators are often part of an illegal armed group, but equally often they are part of the Congolese army, supported by the UN, which is in turn supported by the US government. They are likely never to be punished. I wish I would be able to relay that story directly to Hillary today, and I am sure she would be as revolted as I was and think the same as I do: that men who commit such abuses, whether they are the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels or members of the Congolese army, should not get away with it. They must know that one day they will be punished and that justice will come to Congo.

Oxfam staff recently conducted a survey of almost 600 civilians in North and South Kivu Provinces. Every single community we spoke to was terrified, and more than half said rape has increased since January, when new military operations began. Thousands of women have been raped since, civilians told us.

The recent phase of these operations, known as “Kimia II”, is now being supported by the UN Security Council and MONUC, the peacekeeping force, which is deployed to protect civilians. Kimia II was supposed to target the FDLR rebel group – which has been responsible for horrific attacks on civilians – and make life better for these communities. But so far, the offensive has had the contrary effect, and rape has surged as a result. Villagers have told Oxfam staff of children as young as four, and even men, also being raped. Many of these rapes are committed by the FDLR, but more than half of the rapes reported in North Kivu were attributed to elements of the Congolese army.

If Hillary Clinton asks me what she can do to reduce rape in eastern Congo, I will tell her first of all that the US government, and the rest of the international community, needs to urgently rethink its support for an offensive that has – according to UN figures – forced more than 800,000 people to flee their homes, and has resulted in rape cases spiralling out of control. The military option must not be the only strategy. It is always the civilians – the women, children and men of Eastern Congo – who pay the highest price for any military operation.

But ultimately, the thousands of rape cases in Congo are symptomatic of wider problems: years of conflict; an undisciplined national army which has not been paid for months; and rampant impunity which sees rapists and attackers rarely if ever brought to justice. The US and others must help establish a political process to address the root causes of the conflict. They must also pressure and support the Congolese government to comprehensively reform its army, police and judicial institutions.

I had the privilege to meet the DRC President, HE President Kabila, in March. He was very open to hear the stories of ordinary civilians, stories that are possibly not always reported to him through his own channels. The President seemed thoroughly committed to ending impunity in his security forces. He told our delegation about the new “zero tolerance” policy for any kind of sexual violence in the ranks of the security forces. Hundreds of thousands of people hope that this policy will turn into reality, although so far only a handful of perpetrators have been arrested. But a long way starts always with the first steps.

I hope that Secretary Clinton will support President Kabila in the implementation of this policy. I hope she will also make sure that the UN Security Council, of which the United States is an important member, will not endorse any support to military operations, which make things worse rather than better for the women and girls of eastern Congo. High-level politicians told me in recent months that “things have to get worse before they get better” in Congo, that the humanitarian fallout of the current operations is the “price for peace” to be paid. Nothing is further from the truth.

The ordinary civilians in these remote and forgotten areas tell us that things have indeed got much worse, but they have little or no hope that they will get any better. The “price for peace”, as the international community seems to want to call it, is too high for them.