Unidentified men with assault rifles, RPGs and machetes attacked the home of Congolese president Joseph Kabila in the capital Kinshasa on Sunday. In the ensuing hour-long gunfight in the posh Gombe neighbourhood at least six of the assailants were killed, according to a government spokesman.

This being an election year in which Kabila is facing a potentially serious challenge tensions are already rising in Congo yet it was an oddly inept attack launched at a time when Kabila wasn’t even at home, which raises some question marks.

Congo has a rich history of political assassination, violence, intrigue and conspiracy. Decades ago Congo’s first independence leader was assassinated and replaced, with the help of the CIA who objected to Patrice Lumumba’s Marxist posturing.

In 2001 Joseph Kabila became president, inheriting the job from his father Laurent who was killed by one of his own bodyguards. Five years ago Kabila Jr won Congo’s first multiparty election in nearly half a century and hopes to win again in November but faces an array of opponents including the formidable Vital Kamerhe and veteran Etienne Tshisikede.

So was Sunday’s attack a serious coup attempt, as the government spokesman describes? Or was it a staged event that will excuse a government crackdown on opponents? The whole thing looks as murky, for now, as an unexplained attack on the airport in Lubumubashi a few weeks ago.

The motivations are so far unclear, but armed attacks for whatever reason are a worry in a war-wracked nation that is headed for competitive elections.

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