Democratic Republic of the Congo Army Claims Coup Thwarted, Three Americans Arrested

Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) training at the Mubambiro cam
Arlette Bashizi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) said on Sunday that a coup attempt in the capital of Kinshasa was thwarted, and several “foreigners” were under arrest.

DRC Army spokesman Gen. Sylavin Ekenge said a coup effort involving about 50 people was thwarted in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Ekenge said the coup was led by a “naturalized American” named Christian Malanga, who was killed along with three co-conspirators. Most of the other would-be coup members were taken into custody, including three Americans and one British citizen.

According to Ekenge, the coup attacked both the residence of President Felix Tshisekedi in Kinshasa and the home of Economy Minister Vital Kamerhe. Two of Kamerhe’s guards were killed in a firefight with the attackers. Kamerhe appears to have been a primary target because he has been named as a candidate for president of the National Assembly.

The Congolese Republican Guard diverts traffic from the scene of an attempted Coup in Kinshasa on May 19, 2024. (ARSENE MPIANA/AFP via Getty Images)

The coup leaders had also plotted to attack the residences of Prime Minister Judith Suminwa and Defense Minister Jean-Pierre Bemba, but they reportedly had trouble finding Suminwa’s home, and Bemba was not present in his house when they came knocking. 

Eyewitnesses said the coup participants brandished the flag of Zaire when they attacked the Palais de la Nation, the presidential residence. Zaire was the name of the country now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo until 1997 when insurgent leader Laurent Kabila overthrew dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

Tshisekedi was elected president in 2019 and won a second four-year term in December 2023. The Congolese opposition says both of those elections were fraudulent, but the election commission refused their demands for a rerun. Other than naming Suminwa as prime minister, Tshisekedi has made little progress toward forming a government over the past six months.

President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Felix Tshisekedi (CHRISTOPHE ENA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

According to local media reports, the putschists were members of an organization called the New Zaire Movement.

Malanga, 41, styled himself as the “President of New Zaire” and leader of a government-in-exile. According to his self-approved biography, he obtained American citizenship as a child but returned to the DRC several times as an adult. He rose to the rank of captain in the DRC army and ran for parliament in 2011, only to be arrested by then-President Kabila. He returned to the United States upon his release and founded a new opposition party, the United Congolese Party (UCP), which seems to have gradually evolved into his “New Zaire” government-in-exile. 

One of the American citizens detained after the coup attempt was Malanga’s son, Marcel. Another was a medical marijuana entrepreneur named Benjamin Zalman-Polun, who was apparently Malanga’s business partner in Congolese mining ventures. Malanga founded several business ventures over the years in both the DRC and the United States, as well as non-profit groups called the Africa Helpline Society and Friends of America.

Malanga has issued several online threats to overthrow the Tshisekedi government, and, according to army spokesman Ekenge, he previously made one serious attempt to do so in 2017.

On Sunday, Malanga uploaded a video of himself and a group of his fighters seemingly in control of the Palais de la Nation. With Zaire flags waving behind him, Malanga declared, “Felix has fallen,” and “We are victorious.”

“We, the militants, are tired,” he said. “We cannot drag on with Tshisekedi and Kamerhe. They have done too many stupid things in this country.”

“Long live Zaire. Long live the children of Mobutu,” Malanga said in the video.

Security forces arrived soon thereafter, killed Malanga, and took his compatriots into custody. The insurgent teams that attacked both the Palais de la Nation and Kamerhe’s residence were heavily armed and put up an intense fight at the Kamerhe home. At least one shell from the fighting detonated in the nearby neighborhood of Brazzaville, causing several injuries.

The DRC Communications Ministry posted a video on Monday showing the detainees surrounded by armed guards, still wearing their camouflage uniforms and wearing Zaire flags over their shoulders. Two of the detainees looked like white men, both with visible bruises and bloody smears on their faces.

“He indicated he had the support of the Americans, but we realize that he didn’t really have any,” one of the detainees said of Malanga’s coup plot.

The ministry also released photos of Malanga’s bloody corpse lying on the grounds of the presidential palace and said he was shot while resisting arrest.

“I am shocked by the events of this morning and very concerned by reports of American citizens allegedly involved,” U.S. Ambassador to the DRC Lucy Tamlyn said on Sunday.

“Please be assured that we will cooperate with the DRC authorities to the fullest extent as they investigate these criminal acts and hold accountable any U.S. citizen involved in criminal acts,” Tamlyn said.

The Congolese Republican Guard and police block a road around the scene of an attempted Coup in Gombe, Kinshasa, on May 19, 2024. (ARSENE MPIANA/AFP via Getty Images)

Shyaka Kanuma, a columnist for the New Times of Rwanda, insinuated on Monday that the U.S. or any number of other foreign powers might be interested in destabilizing the DRC to grab more of its valuable minerals, including minerals required for electric vehicle production.

Kanuma wrote from the sarcastic perspective of a Rwandan who is tired of Rwanda getting blamed for every bit of bad news from the Congo. The DRC government, and many international observers, have accused Rwanda of supporting a savage insurgency called M23 in a bid to tear the Congo asunder and grab its valuable mining territory.

Kanuma accused Tshikesedi and his cronies of “ethnic cleansing, even outright genocide” in the eastern Congo, where the M23 insurgency is based, in order to retain control of the country’s mineral wealth so they can sell it off to American, Israeli, and other buyers. He railed against the U.S. for turning a “blind eye” to Tshikesedi’s alleged atrocities. 


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