DRC govt cuts internet, SMS to quell deadly protests

By Issa Sikiti da Silva 

After a week of deadly protests in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that saw at least 42 people dead, about 1 000 injured and 400 arrests, people in this troubled Central African nation are still scrambling to connect to the internet and send SMSes. 

After initially denying that it had anything to do with the cuts, the government has finally admitted that it had ordered internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile telephone operators to cut off the signal of both the internet and SMSes.

“We did it for security reasons,” government spokesperson Lambert Mende said.

“Our constitutional duty is to protect the country and we couldn’t fold our arms to see protestors urging people to loot and burn properties and kill MPs and members of the government,” Mende explained.

Thousands of angry people, including university students, began protesting across three cities last Monday, 19 January 2014, over a controversial electoral bill that critics said was meant to keep President Joseph Kabila in power beyond 2016.

An uneasy calm has since returned to the capital Kinshasa, Goma and Bukavu.

However, schools remain closed and tension is  mounting as another protest is set to take place on Monday 26 January against the cut of internet access and SMSes, and the suspension of opposition TV stations Canal Kin and Catholic Church's RTCE.

No SMSes were going and coming in by Sunday night. 

But the internet signal was said to have been restored on Thursday on fixed connections to allow banks and other corporate bodies to start functioning again, the government said.

However, staff in various organisations said it was impossible to connect because the signal was weak.

“I prefer to stay at home rather than sitting in front of that blank computer with no internet connection,” one bored worker said.  

Internet at some parts of the capital Kinshasa was partially restored on Sunday but remained precarious.

Internet café operators across the country were hard-hit by the cut, with many of their shops remaining closed.

“They are killing us. We haven’t done anything since Monday and we are hungry. I think the government has no love for its people,” John Kivuila said in the township of Kasa-Vubu.

 “We are already suffering in this country due to the lack of food, electricity, safe drinking water and basic healthcare, and now this. The internet helps us connect to Facebook, Twitter and What’s App, where we find solace and happiness, and without these social networks we are doomed,” Beni Massiala said.

ISPs and mobile operators, who late this week held an emergency meeting with top officials of the ministry of posts, telecoms and ICTs, have so far declined to make any formal comment about the saga due to the sensitivity of the matter.

But a source told Biztechafrica on Sunday that unhappy mobile companies and ISPs were said to be losing millions of US dollars due to the cut.

Some operators who attended the meeting said Thomas Luhaka, Vice-Prime Minister and PT-ICT minister, informed them about the reasons that led the government to make such an unpopular decision.

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