What is Happening in the DRC?

Foiled coup in the DRC May 20th, 2024: Updates and Implications


In the early hours of Sunday, the 19th of May, gunfire was heard in one of the most secure areas of Kinshasa. Although post-election disagreements between the opposition and the government had sparked some protests earlier in the year, the situation had significantly subsided in recent weeks. The Constitutional Court has endorsed Felix Tshisekedi's victory, and a new government is expected to be formed under the leadership of the first female Prime Minister of the Central African country.

As it turned out, the gunmen were a group of militants suspected of being led by Christian Malanga—a political actor known to be based in the United States. He attempted another coup in 2017. A spokesperson for the Congolese military said Malanga was killed along with a couple of other US citizens who were involved in the putsch. Several dozen suspected conspirators have been captured. The military also mentioned that the coupists had targeted the presidency, the home of a legislator tipped to be the next speaker of Parliament, the Minister of Defense, and the newly appointed Prime Minister. According to reports, the Minister of Defense was not home at the time.

The coup and the response it elicited affected the neighboring Republic of Congo, where shells fired from Kinshasa landed and injured some people. The government of Brazzaville issued a statement in response. The coup makers burned DRC national flags and hoisted that of the erstwhile Zaire. The name of the country was changed from Congo to Zaire by the longtime ruler, Mobutu Sese Seko.

Currently, calm has returned to Kinshasa, with significant security alerts in place across the capital and other major cities in the west of the country. The President has not been seen in public since the failed attempt to oust him and his government from office.


With the recent spate of coups in the region and beyond, Sunday's event has seen local, regional and international actors express worry. Last year, Gabon experienced its first successful coup since independence. Before that, there had been coups d'état in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Niger. The African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) have expressed concerns about the series of coups, which continue unabated in the face of faltering sanctions. International actors like the United States and the European Union have found themselves in a difficult situation, as the causes of these takeovers stem from complex backgrounds.

While some of these coups have been attributed to insecurity and extremism, especially in the western Sahel, others have resulted from civilian governments' unwillingness to relinquish power when their tenures expire. In Guinea and Gabon, the latter category applies. Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Niger have largely attributed military takeovers to insecurity.

Additionally, the already complex security situation in the DRC makes the latest developments problematic. For the past few years, the country has been grappling with a brutal rebellion suspected of being backed by Rwanda. The threat posed by the M23 rebels has put significant pressure on the country's security forces. Dissatisfied with regional and international forces, Kinshasa has largely relied on its own forces to combat the rebels and secure important settlements in the East. Days ago, the rebels took the important coltan mining town of Rubaya and its surrounding settlements. Heavily dependent on its natural resources, the new strategy by the rebels further pressures the government as its forces are going to be stretched thin.

Another well-known problem faced by the people of the DRC, which should not be compounded, is the protracted inter-ethnic clashes in the country. This is particularly the case in the northeast, where agriculturalists and pastoralists have been engaged in decades of escalating clashes. The Hema-Lendu frictions have claimed many lives and contributed to the insecurity in the region. This has led to macabre vigilante activities and concomitant massacres. It has also significantly affected local and national politics in many ways.

Despite some negotiated agreements concerning the longstanding secessionist movement in Katanga in recent years, other regional agitations are still occurring in the country. This means that the President has to walk a delicate path to keep the country together while simultaneously managing a plethora of socio-economic challenges that beset it.

Generally, the DRC is confronted by the largely incessant interests of powerful neighbors. Despite its significantly larger territory, the DRC has, over the decades, faced substantial interference from its smaller but militarily powerful neighbors. Rwanda and Uganda have been particularly pronounced in this respect. This is facilitated by inter- and intra-ethnic intricacies that can be traced back to colonial-era divide-and-rule politics.

Despite these challenges, the country has shown some promise with a degree of electoral democracy in the past five years. For the first time, a civilian government peacefully transferred power to another civilian government after a disputed process in 2018. The rise of Felix Tshisekedi—a local politician with a strong political family background—was seen as a turning point in an otherwise tumultuous political landscape. Although last year's election was also disputed and marked by protests, the situation has subsided over time.

The current coup is, therefore, an unnecessary addition to the already challenging political and security atmosphere in the DRC. It contributes to insecurity and creates uncertainty for investors eager to engage with the country’s economy. With significant hydrocarbon discoveries and other known mineral resources, the country needs stability to harness these assets for its long-awaited development.

Likely reactions

After failed coups, surviving governments naturally react by beefing up security and becoming increasingly sensitive to actions that undermine their authority. Security planners in Kinshasa are likely to reconsider the distribution of security forces across the country. The government may prioritize its survival vis-à-vis the security of the East. More security equipment could be purchased to protect Kinshasa and its leadership. While a balance between securing the capital and meeting other security requirements is possible, there is the danger of an overemphasis on the former after this putsch.

More problematically, the government could embark on a widespread crackdown on dissent, potentially affecting innocent and genuine opposition figures. This occurred in Turkey after the failed coup in 2016. The emphasis on the claim that some of the coup plotters were American nationals could also become a propaganda tool for anti-West information peddlers.

So far, the US Embassy has addressed the coup. It mentioned that it is willing to cooperate with the authorities to address the problem while unequivocally condemning the coup attempt. Given the current state of affairs in Africa, the US will have to do more than that to limit the impact of misinformation regarding the issue.


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