Kinshasa on the verge of…what exactly?

Just a jot before a rather tumultuous but evenly promising 2013 should have ended in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a series of mysterious events shatter the country’s capital Kinshasa, as well as a few major cities across its provinces, including Lubumbashi, Kindu, and other places to be confirmed.

In Kinshasa, a lightly armed group of assailants stormed the RTNC building, the DRC’s state radio and TV centre, located close to Camp Kokolo and Avenue Shaumba, as well as the Parliament building. Separately (or not) skirmishes erupted at Camp Tshatshi, one of the capital’s most important military barracks and Kinshasa’s international airport Ndjili (not to be mixed up with the Ndjili borough which is between the city centre and the airport). Reports also indicated uprisings in  Ndjili and Limeté neighbourhoods as well as in places such as Huileries and Ozone in town. However, the proverbial Kinois ‘radio trottoir’ makes it hard to crosscheck each and every rumour. In a similar fashion, social media turned into sort of a ‘radio twittoir’ with comparable traits in terms of rumour dissemination.

Later on, sporadic upheaval happened in Lubumbashi (Katanga) and in the afternoon Kindu (Maniema) and Kisangani (Orientale) experienced an airport seizure and general trouble, respectively.

Overall, it is hard to give exact estimates on what happened and why and so far there is only a few very tentative approaches out there. One of them is Dominic Johnson’s reading (german language), to be taken with a pinch of salt as he states himself.

Putting things into context, it is the first maybe-coup-d’état in the DRC since early 2011, when on February 27 armed men attacked Joseph Kabila’s residence at the shores of the Congo river. This one has afterwards been identified as most probably an inside job and a staged coup serving the presidency and the government as a means to tighten their rule and crack down on a few competitive networks in Kinshasa.

This time, it is far less clear what happened. Most probably this is due to the fact that several dynamics might have played a role, either in convergence or coincidence. There is a number of explanations and it is still too soon to opt for either one or another, or even a combination.

1) The Mukugunbila story. A candidat malheureux, collecting way below 1% of presidential votes in 2006’s elections, set up a large-scale mobilisation centred in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi. Dedicated anti-Kabilist (and purporter of the so-called Hyppolite Kanambe saga, a modern scary-tale made up by radical Congolese in the diaspora, notably Honoré Ngbanda, a longtime Mobutu propagandist) and anti-rwandophone agitator, he is reported to have set up at least the RTNC incident. Meanwhile, his whereabouts are unclear with official information remaining scarce. If in the end, the racist-religious sectarian story would be at the heart of those multiple assaults on public authority, this would enter history as one of the weirdest coups.

2) The Numbi story. John Numbi, close aide to Kabila, used to be Inspector-General of the Police (PNC) until his alleged participation in the assassination of human rights advocate Floribert Chebeya led to a temporal suspension, now formalised through the appointment of Bisengimana. John Numbi co-ordinated the Umoja Wetu operations against FDLR rebels before, together with James Kabarebe of the Rwandan Defence Forces. After his suspension, he went back to Northern Katanga where he had been on a co-optation mission to decrease the threat level posed by Mayi Mayi Bakata Katanga and Katangan secession movement CORAK. Regular rumours indicated he might be building up an own power base from this area. Northern Katanga though, is home turf to Mukungubila and President Kabila as well.

3) The Tshisekedi story. A coup in Kinshasa is an easy thing. Weapons are available and targets easy to find (RTNC, airport, other government and power symbols, etc.). Tshisekedi, after having lost elections, may see this as the only opportunity to change anything right now, in Kinshasa and the wider DRC. Interestingly in turn, a Tshisekedi-led coup attempt would play cards well for the government too. So far there is little evidence about the implication of DRC’s longterm opposition leader and figurehead. This is why option four comes in.

4) The Inside story. As earlier mentioned, the current Congolese government has resorted to the coup-option before. At this point, it would be a bit mysterious to orchestrate upheaval in various parts of Kinshasa and elsewhere, but it should not be ruled out that the government was at least well informed about the proceedings. While the RTNC assault was less serious than estimated earlier, it appears somewhat logical that Congolese security forces were able to retake control quickly. Other part however were more risky. Camp Tshatshi host quite a number of uniformed and armed personnel. The relative ease of the government in regaining control and establishing order in such spots as well would be an indicator for the inside job assumption. The recent victory against M23 bounces against that. Kabila has long time not been as popular as now. However, rumours about government reshuffles and the more and less recent appointments in PNC and FARDC might still have brought sufficient tensions into the inner circles of rule.

There is a few other explanations making the round yesterday and today, but they are as much speculation as the four presented ones, so no need to reiterate them here. Important to notice, things remain very unclear and foggy. Remarkably, the Kabila government has been rather quick and efficient in restoring its authority, including in Maniema, but usually closed in providing a lot of information. A thorough and in-depth analysis of these events will have to wait until next year. That said, thanks to all the reader in 2013 and best wishes for a peaceful 2014.


One Response to “Kinshasa on the verge of…what exactly?”
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  1. […] conspiracy theories. Even before the incident was over, it had been called a coup attempt with much speculation about who exactly within the political or military elite was behind […]

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