29th January 2005
In the early morning hours of Monday, residents of the DR Congo watching and listening to the state-run channels were treated to an intrusion by intruders described as having wielded machetes. The assailants burst in during a morning tv talk show as well as its radio counterpart, where upon they then declared that they were acting on behalf of their leader, Gideon Mukungubila, a religious figure in the country, to "free them from the slavery of Rwanda" and attacking President Kabila directly, referring to him as a Rwandan stooge- this referring to the way his father had overthrown Mobotu Sese Seko during the First Congo War when Rwanda led a force to invade what was then Zaire.
At first viewers thought a coup was underway, as seizure of media networks is usually among the first targets along with key infrastructure. The country is no stranger to this, having been hit with several during the 60s post-independence culminating in Mobutu Sese Seko's rise to power, Mobutu's subsequent overthrow by Laurent-Désiré Kabila. Kabila was in turn assassinated in a failed coup attempt in 2001, where upon his son Joseph Kabila took power and himself was the target of a coup attempt in 2004. On top of this political violence is still an issue (stemming from political corruption and such), with the most recent presidential elections which gave Kabila a second term being criticized as well as the country being wrecked by internal insurrections, most recently the M23 movement, and the fallout from the First and Second Congo War.
This was then followed up with attacks on the capital's airport and a military base, this time a mixture of gunmen and machete-wielding individuals. After the dust settled it was reported at least 40 people died, including a colonel in the armed forces. There were also reports that a confrontation broke out between the army and supporters of Gideon Mukungubila in the southern mining city of Lubumbashi, when the state forces attempted to move in on a Church run by his organization.
For those who've kept track of the Congo recently, it had just signed a peace agreement with the M23 rebels who've been waging a persistent rebellion for over a year (~April 2012 - November 2013) before it agreed to put down its arms. This recent disorder, while not obviously as big as M23, is not good for the government's appearance if it can't protect these institutions.
A soldier patrols at the offices of the Congolese state broadcaster: the attackers declared themselves loyal to a Christian evangelical prophet. Photograph: Wang Bo/Wang Bo/Xinhua Press/Corbis Congolese television viewers watched stunned on Monday as the presenter of a morning talkshow was cut off mid-sentence by armed intruders who stormed the studio and appeared to be staging a coup.
About 70 assailants wielding machetes and automatic weapons attacked the state broadcaster, airport and main military base in Kinshasa, the sprawling capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), before being repelled by the army, officials and witnesses said.
The surprise assault at the heart of sub-Saharan Africa's biggest and unwieldiest state highlighted the fragility of President Joseph Kabila's central government. The assailants declared themselves loyal to a Christian evangelical prophet.
Lambert Mende, a government spokesman, said about 40 people were killed in the exchange of fire on Monday morning, including 16 at the military base, 16 at the airport and eight at the TV station.
Six other people were captured, he added.
"These are terrorists, you can't call them anything else," Mende told the Associated Press.
The first most residents knew of the attack was during a programme on Radio Television Nationale Congolaise, the state broadcaster. The hosts of Le Panier, or The Breadbasket, talkshow were speaking when when attackers with knives burst in. Footage of the incident shows a young male and young female presenter sitting at a table with alarmed facial expressions, while a man in a blue T-shirt stands behind them.
Before transmission was shut down, two gunmen appeared on camera to deliver a political message against Kabila. "Gideon Mukungubila has come to free you from the slavery of the Rwandan," it said. A voice off camera could be heard to say in the Lingala language: "Kabila, it's finished for him from today. He will be mocked."
Gideon is the nickname used for Paul Joseph Mukungubila by his followers. Calling himself "The prophet of the Eternal", he ran unsuccessfully for the presidency against Kabila in 2006 and has built up a following with broadcasts on local TV and radio.
Mukungubila has been an outspoken critic of a peace deal signed this month with the M23 rebel group in eastern Congo,accusing Kabila's government of bowing to Tutsi interests and pressure from neighbouring Rwanda.
Kabila, derided by his opponents as being "Rwandan", came to power in 2001 after the assassination of his father, warlord Laurent Kabila, who had seized power in a coup with Rwandan backing.
Several journalists were reportedly held hostage at the state TV station. An employee who was inside the building at the time described scenes of confusion and terror.
"There were around 30 armed men who burst into the headquarters of the television station," the employee, who did not wish to be named, told AP. "They started firing, and we hid."
Between 7am and 8am, gunmen also attacked the international airport and the military camp in the capital housing the country's senior army leaders, officials said. An army colonel was killed.
In an emergency message, the US embassy said it had received reports of fighting throughout Kinshasa, as well as indications that numerous police and military checkpoints had been erected.
"The embassy urged all US citizens to stay in place and not travel around the city until further notice," it said.
Hours later the Congolese army also clashed with Mukungubila's followers in the eastern mining city of Lubumbashi. Witnesses said the clashes erupted after government troops attacked Mukungubila's church in the centre of Lubumbashi in the copper-rich Katanga province.
With a population of nearly 66 million, Congo spans a territory as large as western Europe. Millions of people have died in conflict over the past two decades. It has twice gone to war with its smaller neighbour to the east, Rwanda, which was accused of backing the M23 insurgents.
Kinshasa, in the west, witnessed an apparent coup bid in 2003, blamed by police on troops loyal to ousted dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. A second coup bid attributed to renegade forces in the presidential guard took place in June 2004, but was also swiftly put down.
Elections in 2011 gave Kabila a second term, but the vote was widely criticised as flawed.
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