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What we know about the failed coup attempt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Questions are mounting about a failed coup attempt in the Democratic Republic of Congo over the weekend. It involved several U.S. citizens, as Kate Bartlett reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Felix Tshisekedi...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: You're out. They're coming for you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: You're done.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: They're coming for you.

KATE BARTLETT, BYLINE: In the early hours of Sunday morning, a rag-tag group of about 50 men, dressed in camouflage gear and carrying automatic weapons, broke into the presidential palace in DRC's capital, Kinshasa. By the time the sun was up, the leader of the would-be coup, a little-known Congolese opposition politician named Christian Malanga was dead. And his U.S.-born son, Marcel and two other American citizens were in handcuffs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SYLVAIN EKENGE: (Speaking French).

BARTLETT: DRC army spokesman, Sylvain Ekenge, quickly went on television announcing the attempted coup had been foiled. Malanga, who was based in the U.S., and several other assailants were killed. The rest of the group were arrested, including a U.S. national named Benjamin Zalman-Polun. The 36-year-old from Maryland is described as a cannabis entrepreneur, who was allegedly involved in mining interests with Malanga.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Speaking French).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Speaking French).

BARTLETT: The instigators streamed the attempted coup live on Facebook. They declared it was the end of the Democratic government of President Felix Tshisekedi. They hoisted the old flag of Zaire, as DRC was known until 1997 when U.S.-backed dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, was ousted. As well as entering the presidential palace, they launched an unsuccessful attack on the home of a high-ranking politician where two guards were killed.

DINO MAHTANI: Malanga was a fringe personality in Congo's political spectrum.

BARTLETT: That's Dino Mahtani, a former political adviser to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo. He says it is unlikely that Malanga acted alone.

MAHTANI: He had weird and wonderful connections developed during his time in the diaspora - was known to be a sort of eccentric gun-slinging type, all the while developing this narrative around how he was going to bring order and progress to Congo.

BARTLETT: The U.S. ambassador to DRC, Lucy Tamlyn, expressed shock at the apparent involvement of U.S. citizens. The bizarre events of Sunday morning come as mineral-rich but chronically unstable DRC is fighting a rebellion in the east, and with Tshisekedi still unable to form a government five months after elections. It also comes amid growing anti-Western sentiment in the country, rising Russian influence and the gradual withdrawal of U.N. troops in the region. For NPR News, I'm Kate Bartlett in Johannesburg.

(SOUNDBITE OF NAV AND DON TOLIVER SONG, "ONE TIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kate Bartlett
[Copyright 2024 NPR]