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Video used to falsely claim protestors torched French embassy in DR Congo

Video used to falsely claim protestors torched French embassy in DR Congo - Featured image

Author(s): Erin FLANAGAN / AFP Africa

The eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has been plagued by violence for decades and, since 2021, has seen the re-emergence of the rebel group M23, which has seized swathes of territory in the North Kivu province. The most recent flare-up has pushed thousands to flee and sparked a backlash against international powers perceived to be ignoring the bloodshed. A recent video claims that demonstrators set the French embassy on fire in the country’s capital, Kinshasa. But the claim is false: protestors burned tyres on the sidewalk in front of the embassy, not the embassy itself.

“French embassy is set on fire in Democratic Republic of Congo,” reads a post published on X on February 11, 2024.

A screenshot of the false post, taken on February 12, 2024

Liked more than 7,700 times, the post was published by an account called “African Hub”, which AFP Fact Check has previously fact-checked.

On February 12, 2024, the UN Security Council said it was concerned by “escalating violence” in the eastern DRC, condemning the offensive launched earlier this month by M23 rebels near the city of Goma (archived here).

The DRC, the UN and Western countries say neighbouring Rwanda is supporting the rebels in a bid to control vast mineral resources, an allegation the Rwandan government denies.

On February 11, 2024, embassy buildings and United Nations vehicles in Kinshasa were targeted by demonstrators who accused Western powers of supporting the rebels. AFP covered the story (archived here).

The post claiming the French embassy was set on fire includes a 29-second video of a group of people standing outside a large concrete wall marked “Embassy of France” in French.

Some individuals throw plastic bottles at the wall as a pile of tyres burns on the sidewalk. No other fire is visible in the footage.

Text overlaying the video reads, in French, “trouble at the French embassy because of the war in Goma, first part”.

Most comments are in English and come from accounts sharing anti-Western views.

“For Africa to survive France & the West must leave Africa alone completely,” reads one comment.

“I love you, my Congolese brothers and sisters! Free Africa from neocolonialism!” says another.

But although protestors did gather outside the French embassy, it was not set on fire.

French embassy in Kinshasa

Using a keyword search for “French embassy DR Congo,” AFP Fact Check confirmed the building seen in the video is the French diplomatic hub in Kinshasa.

There are several visual clues that AFP Fact Check used to verify this.

The same concrete wall in the footage used in the false post is visible in a 2017 Google Maps photo of the embassy.

A comparison of the video from the false post (left) and a Google Maps photo

The same building behind the wall is also visible in both the 2024 video and the 2017 Google Maps photo.

A comparison of video from the false post (left) and a Google Maps photo (right)

While the entrance in 2017 was brown, a 2022 Google Maps photo shows it in its current form, painted white with additional barbed wire on top. The concrete wall is only partially visible in the 2022 photo.

A comparison of video from the false post (left) and a Google Maps photo (right)

An AFP journalist based in Kinshasa confirmed that protestors did gather in front of the embassy but that it was not set on fire.

“It wasn’t burnt, but there was a small protest in front of the embassy on Friday, and some tyres were burned.”

AFP Fact Check also contacted the French embassy, which confirmed that only tyres were torched.

“The embassy was not set on fire, it was closed, and no one was there,” a representative for the embassy told AFP.

The AFP journalist also confirmed there were similar protests in front of other Western embassies, and a few UN cars were set alight, but the incidents were “still limited”.

The US Embassy in Kinshasa released a security alert, saying that “protests this past week have occurred at foreign embassies, international organisation offices, and foreign-owned businesses” (archived here).

The government announced tighter security for embassies and policing had been increased at several sites in the capital on February 12.

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Originally published here.
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