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Why are Congolese attacking Western embassies in Kinshasa?

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People look inside a burnt UN mission in Congo Monusco vehicle after a protest in downtown Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo February 10, 2024.

Photo credit: Reuters

A section of angry youths attacked Western embassy assets in Kinshasa on Saturday, causing a security scare for diplomats. 

Vandalism began after they demonstrated outside the US and French embassies, which they accused of interfering in their country's political affairs and protecting enemies targeting the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Demonstrators attacked diplomats in traffic in Kinshasa. One diplomat travelling in a Norwegian-registered car escaped unhurt after his vehicle was badly damaged.

The Ivorian embassy wasn't spared either, as anger mounted over inaccurate reports that it had helped censor footage of Congolese protests at a stadium in the Ivory Coast, where fans were sending a message against the war in eastern DRC.

"At the moment, people are indiscriminately attacking the vehicles of embassies and international organisations accredited to the DRC. One of the vehicles belonging to the Ivory Coast embassy was seriously damaged at 1pm in the Gare Centrale area of Kinshasa," said the Ivory Coast embassy in the DRC. It cancelled a planned mass screening for its nationals of Sunday's final between Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria at the ongoing African Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Kinshasa.

They also directed their anger at vehicles belonging to the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo (Monusco). Monusco suffered the greatest loss as at least three of its vehicles were burnt.

Monusco, which has been in the DRC since 1999, first under a different mandate before being given stabilisation duties, is due to withdraw completely from the DRC by December this year.

But the blue helmets have been the target of public anger, especially in the east of the country, where violence has raged and armed groups roam despite the mission. Last year, a crowd attacked a Monusco camp, leading to a deadly standoff in Goma, the capital of the eastern province of North Kivu.

On Saturday, the demonstrators criticised France and the United States for "supporting those who are attacking Congo", according to their chants. They were referring to Rwanda, whose army is accused of supporting the M23 rebels. Kigali has often denied the accusation, instead accusing the DRC of harbouring remnants of the perpetrators of the genocide against the Tutsi, known by their French acronym, the FDLR.

Monusco vehicle

People drive past a burnt UN mission in Congo Monusco vehicle following a protest in downtown Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo February 10, 2024.

Photo credit: Reuters

The new anger comes amid worsening violence in North Kivu, where the Congolese army, the FARDC, is fighting the M23.

Meanwhile, the youth of Kinshasa have vowed to continue their demonstrations. In the wake of the attacks, the shops of the Canal + television distribution company were also vandalised. They accused the French TV distributor of knowingly censoring footage of fans during the Afcon semi-final between the DRC and Côte d'Ivoire, who were carrying placards and making signs with a message of support for the victims of the Congolese war.

Cable TV, however, only broadcasts footage it receives from producers through rights holders. And football's governing body, Fifa, often disapproves of political messages at its accredited tournaments, which may explain why footage of the stadium 'protest' may not have been broadcast.

 Peter Kazadi, the deputy prime minister in charge of the interior and security, and government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said that "the government strongly condemns these acts of violence".

Bintou Keita, the head of Monusco and representative of the UN Secretary-General in the DRC, condemned the series of attacks on UN personnel in Kinshasa and called on the Congolese judicial authorities to launch investigations with a view to prosecuting the perpetrators.

Threats and attacks against United Nations personnel and their families are unacceptable," he said.

 "These attacks have a negative impact on the implementation of the respective mandates of the agencies, funds and programmes of the United Nations system. As far as Monusco is concerned, these attacks hamper its support to the Congolese defence and security forces," she said.

 "Weakening Monusco means strengthening the negative forces it is fighting with its Congolese partners," she added. She went on to say that "violence against Monusco personnel may constitute a war crime".

Meanwhile, two Christian clerics in Kinshasa called for a 'patriotic awakening'. Pastor Paul Mukendi called for "the Americans and their embassies to be expelled from the DRC". Another preacher, Pascal Mukuna, called for demonstrations "against all Western embassies".

 "We are not fighting Rwanda, but against the United States, France, England and Belgium. These countries want to divide the DRC; they are using Rwanda. We are going to take to the streets, like our brothers in Mali and Niger, to put these countries out of action," Mukuna said.

The US and France haven't commented on the violence, but the US embassy last week called on Rwanda to "withdraw" its troops from DRC territory.