Critical Issues in DRC’s Failed Coup: Beyond  Africans Killing Africa softly and by Manu Militari

Bola A. Akinterinwa 

Africa is terra cognita for positive and negative things in international politics. It is well known as reservoir of strategic raw materials and platform for competitive international politics. Former President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing of France suggested a trilateral collaboration among Europe, America, and Africa. Europe and America were to fund and provide equipment. Africa was to enable the exploitation of its natural resources. Africa being a major concern of Nigeria’s foreign policy, as cornerstone and then as centrepiece as from 1976, Dr Okoi Arikpo, Nigeria’s Commissioner for External Affairs under General Yakubu Gowon, adopted the policy of non-acceptance of the exploitation and use of Africa’s raw materials only for the development of Europe, but to the detriment of development in Africa. When Nigeria made the exploitation of Africa’s mineral resources a major foreign policy issue in Africa, France explained that she was in Africa on the kind invitation of other sovereign states like Nigeria. In other words, it is not the foreign interventionists that should be blamed. Very good and logical self-defence. And true, if African leaders allow the exploitation of their resources to the detriment of their own future development, why should any other country be blamed for Africa’s policy remissness? Africa is a very critical problem unto itself. It is against this background that the many problems of non-development in Africa, and particularly, the recidivist coups d’état in Africa should be explained and understood.

Apart from the issue of Africa’s non-development, there is the question of growing insecurity in many regions of Africa. In the Sahel sub-region of West African region, the insurrection and thuggery of the Touaregs, terrorism of the Al Qaeda-supported ISIS, etc. is inflicted on the peoples, and must be addressed. It is because most Francophone countries rely heavily on France’s help to contain terrorist challenges, but to no avail, that a situation of mésentente has developed. In fact, the misunderstanding led to the declaration of the French ambassador to Mali a persona non grata and, fortunately and unfortunately, to the withdrawal of French and US troops from Niger Republic. In light of this, can African leaders really govern themselves well? Has Africa any good development future in spite of its Agenda 2063?

Issues in DRC’s Failed Coup 

Since King Leopold II of Belgium acquired rights over the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo), at the 1885 Berlin Conference that partitioned Africa on paper into European zones of influence, the DRC, variously referred to as Zaire under Joseph Seseko Mobutu’s policy of authenticity and as Congo-Kinshasa, to differentiate it from Congo Leopoldville, cannot be said to have known enduring peace. Belgian colonisation was very brutal and brutish in administration, very inhuman in focus, and most barbaric in strategic focus. This factor has hardly been duly investigated to explain why the DRC has remained a victim of its own making in the post-independence era.

First is the exploitative foundation of the country. King Leopold II made the DRC a private property, meaning that the governance of the country was largely dictated by the whims and caprices of the Belgian king. Secondly, he named the country ‘Congo Free State.’ In the words of the Wikipedia, ‘in the Free State, colonists coerced the local population into producing rubber, for which the spread of automobiles and development of rubber tires created a growing international market.’ Perhaps more importantly, Wikipedia also has it that ‘rubber sales made a fortune for Leopold, who built several buildings in Brussels and Ostend to honour himself and his country. To enforce the rubber quotas, the Force Publique (Public force) was called in and made the practice of cutting off the limbs of the natives a matter of policy.’ In fact, ‘during 1885-1908, millions of Congolese died as a consequence of exploitation and disease. In some areas, the population declined dramatically…’ The point being made here is that the foundation of political governance in the Congo-Kinshasa was that of bitterness-driven exploitation of the people on which growth and development has been predicated since then. 

And true enough again, the annexation of the Congo Free State, on October 18, 1908, thanks to the Belgian parliament which voted for it to become a Belgian colony, only served further as a catalytic legitimation of the exploitation. In this regard, why is it difficult for the Congolese to sit back and reflect on the foundations of their political history, in order to stop self-killing, and to reject being used to kill themselves? Why should the conflict in eastern Congo be allowed to trend for too long? Why should there be no regional good neighbourliness? Congo’s relationships with Rwanda and Uganda are not good and are therefore impediments to AU’s continental objectives of integration, sustainable growth and development, as well as peaceful co-existence. If Belgium laid an exploitative foundation, must the Congolese also continue to sustain such a foundation?

In a review of The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding, published on November 1, 2010, Nicholas van de Walle says that ‘the internal culture of the United Nations and the socialisation of its diplomats have blinded the MONUC from properly emphasizing the local causes for the conflict in eastern Congo.’ More importantly, he said that ‘favouring a top-down approach – the kind for which diplomats are trained – the international community has focused on national agreements and processes such as elections, ignoring the peace-building efforts that are necessary at the local level to mediate the festering conflicts over identity and land.’ 

The MONUC is the UNO Mission in Democratic Republic in the Congo, which was put in place after the signing of the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement by the DRC and five other regional States (Angola, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe) in July 1999. The MONUC was changed on 1st July 2010 to MONUSCO on the basis of UNSC resolution 1925 of 28 May, 2010 in order to assist the Congolese government in its efforts at political stabilisation and peace consolidation efforts.

With the objectives of the MONUSCO, rather than uniting to address the conflicts militating against growth and development in the DRC, Congolese politicians have been unnecessarily engaging in squabbles over power. And the United Nations, as revealed by de Walle, has not helped matters. Who will now really bring help to the DRC if the people of the DRC refuse to help themselves?

Secondly, the May 19, 2024, failed coup, led by Christian Malanga Musumani, a Congolese-American politician and businessman, generally referred to as Christian Malanga,  raises several issues at the organisational level, international law level, and at the level of the self-adopted policy zero tolerance for unconstitutional changes of government in Africa. As regards the level of organisation, Michelle Gavin of the Council on Foreign Relations raised three questions in her write-up, “A Puzzling Attempted Coup in the DRC,” that are very thought-provoking: who convinced Christian Malanga, the leader of the coup plotters that this effort would succeed? How did the amateurish putchists manage to access the presidential palace? Whose agenda was advanced by this spectacle? The questions ought to be answered.

On who might have convinced the chief coup plotter, the answer cannot be far-fetched: it is himself à priori. He must have strongly believed in the success himself without qualms. There would not have been any good reason for him to know, on the one hand, that the mission is a failure ab initio and still accept, on the other hand, to give it a trial. Giving it a trial cannot but carry capital punishment if he fails. He must have factored this into the risks of trial. Since it also takes two to tangle, Malanga cannot but have relied heavily on domestic support, especially on his acquaintances. Additionally, Christian Malanga is a Congolese by ius sanguinis in origin and American either by ius soli, naturalisation, or otherwise. All in all, engaging in coup that fails has the potential of death penalty either after court trial or during the exchange of fires. Malanga already lost his dear political and business life to nothingness.

There cannot be any disputing the likely roles of the neighbours of the DRC and the United States ambassador to Kinshasa, Lucy Tamlyn in the coup saga: the DRC (FDLR: Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda) has been in tension since March 27, 2022 with the Rwanda March 23 Movement which enjoys a controversial support from Uganda, but which is flatly denied by Uganda. If there is any actor fighting the DRC government, it cannot but be in the interest of both Uganda and Rwanda.

And true enough again, the Congolese conflict dates back to 1996 when the Zairean leader then, Seseko Mobutu, was accused by Rwanda of hosting the Hutu perpetrators of genocidal crimes, as well as arming the Rwandan rebels. The first Congo War began on October 24, 1996 when ‘the Tutsi-dominated AFDL (Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire in Kivu and troops of the Rwandan army launched offensives in eastern DRC.’ The acronym, AFDL, also refers to the coalition of Rwandan, Ugandan, Burudian, and Congolese dissidents, disgruntled minority groups that brought Laurent-Désire Kabila to replace Mobutu Seseko). But Kabila never accepted to be controlled by foreign backers, hence the coalition fell apart and the 2nd Congo war began in 1998. 

Consequently, one cannot rule out help coming from the neighbourhood. If there is no help from the neighbourhood and also from within, from where came the weapons used? Could they have been imported by air or by sea without the government discovering them at the ports of entry? Were the weapons used imported through diplomatic bags? Did Malanga get them as an American or as a Congolese? Was Malanga living in the United States or in the DRC few months before the coup attempt? He was born in Kinshasa on 2nd January, 1984, in other words, he was about 41 years old before he was killed in the coup attempt. Besides, he founded the United Congolese Party (UCP) in 2012 to serve as a platform for independent opposition candidates, and the Congolese in the Diaspora. In 2012, he was only about 28 years. Where did he get the funding for the establishment of a UCP, a centre-right political party in exile? What could have been the nature of agreement between Christian Malanga and his other host country, the United States, in terms of support for coup against the Tshekedi government in the DRC?

Beyond the Coup: Killing Africa Softly 

Global attention is already focusing on the coup from different dimensions. It is useful to first investigate the easiness with which the coupists had access to the presidential palace. Without any whiff of doubt, the input of an insider cannot at all be ruled out. The mere fact that the coupists met a stiff resistance can only suggest a division amongst the presidential guards. If support for the coup had a military support, as it was in the case of the Tchiani coup in Niger, the coup would have been a success and the story would have been a fait accompli and different.

On the easiness with which the coupists had access to the presidential palace, the input of an insider cannot also be ruled out. The history of coups-making in Africa has always shown the factor of aiding and abetting. In many cases, the complicity or involvement of the presidential guards is always a major factor of analysis. When General Yakubu Gowon was on official trip to the OAU meeting in Uganda, it was the head of the Brigade of Guards in Dodan Baracks, Colonel Joe Garba, the author of Diplomatic Soldiering, who spearheaded the coup. More recently in Niger Republic, the incumbent Head of Government, or the President of the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland of Niger, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, was similarly the head of the presidential guards. 

Put differently, it is precisely those mandated to protect the President that have always ended up toppling the president and his government. The critical issue to address here is how to enable a more committed loyalty or unflinching patriotic presidential guards. Subordinates are also generally ambitious like their bosses. Unless the conditions for accession to power are redefined at the constitutional level, in such a way that under no circumstance should electoral laws be manipulated and under no conditions should there be change of government without the people’s consent, coups making may not be easily thrown into the garbage of history. 

And lastly on whose interest is being advanced by the failed coup, there is no disputing the issue of self-serving interests and particularly the interests of Malanga’s supporters. It should be remembered that what is generally referred to as the first Congo war was between the DRC and Rwanda. The second Congo war is the one between the DRC and Uganda in which 2,000 Ugandans were killed in Kisangani and 4000 rebel casualties in Kinshasa alone. It should also not be forgotten that Rwanda and Uganda fought a short war over a Congolese territory in June 2000, meaning that there are several vested interests in the DRC. These vested interests remain factors to be reckoned with in understanding the nature of the coup.           

As noted above, the May 19, 2024 failed coup raises many questions of international law and Africa’s policy of zero tolerance for unconstitutional changes of government. First at the level of international law, can it be rightly argued that there has been any foreign intervention in the failed coup? In other words, do the coupists have the support of any foreign country? Christian Malanga is Congolese and also an American. Did he have the support of the United States? If Malanga is fighting the government in Kinshasa, is he doing so as a Congolese or as an American? If the United States gives support to him, is the support an act of interference or an intervention? Intervention is what is prohibited under international law because it involves the threat and use of force. Interference is not prohibited because it is simply about poke-nosing without visible threats and use of force. But when countries aid and abet the use of force against sovereign states, without necessarily engaging directly in it, is there any case of intervention?  

Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter prohibits the threats or use of force in inter-state relations and demands that all Member States of the international community to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of other sovereign states. It is useful to note here that eligibility criteria to be a member of the United Nations include being a peace-loving state and readiness to accept to implement the obligations provided for in the Charter. This is clearly stated in Article 4 of the UN Charter. In this case of failed coup, did any of the DRC’s neighbours, like Rwanda and Uganda, violate the rule of non-intervention in the Congolese saga? 

If anyone of them did, could the intervention be justified under Article 51 of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter? In fact, it is made crystal clear in the Preamble to the Charter that signatories to the Charter shall ‘practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours.’ The Preamble also stipulates that ‘force shall not be used save in the common interest.’ When is the interest really common? Which country of the world is truly adhering to the UN Charter in good faith? The Charter, we strongly contend here, is respected only to the extent of convenience by the major powers and the so-called free-willing states. Only the weak countries take the megaphones to preach the sermon of rule of law, but which is at best meaningless to the Permanent Members of the UNSC.

The provisions of the Charter apply to the Member signatories and not to non-signatories to the Charter. The Congolese or American coupists are not state actors. However, if the coup plotters are acting on behalf of state actors, state responsibility can still make the state actors liable internationally. The United States and DRC’s immediate neighbours can have their international responsibility called to question. The problem, however, is that the DRC has qualms with both Rwanda and Uganda in the same way Rwanda has problems with Uganda. It cannot but remain difficult to know who to hold responsible. This does not mean that they will still not all need to convince the whole world of their innocence. The United States is particularly being fingered to have had hands in the coup which can be true and may not be true. The truism is that it is increasingly becoming shameful for African leaders to be barking like a toothless dog. The changing of Africa’s status from a poverty-stricken continent to that of a coup-driven, poverty-struck, and handicapped-developing continent needs review at the level of strategic computations.

And perhaps most disturbingly, it is now a truism that the policy of zero tolerance for unconstitutional changes of government in Africa is more of sloganeering than a policy for action. One major reason for this is the dualist attitudinal disposition of the AU to it. When the constitutional provision in Chad required the President of the National Assembly in Chad to succeed the president in the event of his death or incapacity or unavailability and to organise election within 60 days, the AU kept quiet and allowed the Chadian military to install the son of the late President Idris Derby. Democracy only grows in the absence of double standard. Double standard is chicanery. It is recklessness in attitude, self-mockery in image, and self-defeatist in outcome. It is a mockery of democracy. This is why coup-making has become recidivist and why the people unknowingly also support coupists. Consequently, there should be greater caution in the election of leaders in Africa. In other words, any African with a foreign nationality should not be eligible to contest in presidential elections. In the context of Malanga’s US and DRC nationalities, which of the nationalities is most effective for purposes of juridical and analytical evaluation? Whatever is the case, the conflicts in the DRC and its region are nothing more than self-destruction and one way of killing Africa softly, in terms of destruction of continental unity, continental integration, and continental cooperation.

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