DRC internet, SMS restored, social networks precarious

By Issa Sikiti da Silva

Millions of people across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are for the first time in 20 days logging in the internet and sending and receiving SMSes, as the ban on internet and SMS was lifted by the government over the weekend.

While Gmail, Yahoo Mail and Hotmail account holders are happy to retrieve their messages, social networks in this troubled nation remain in a precarious mood, and are said not to be appearing properly on many screens, to the dismay of the country’s youth who decry the government’s ‘autocratic’ attitude.

“This is dictatorship in its worst form and never seen elsewhere in the world,” a 26-year-old man identified only as Chris told Biztechafrica in the capital Kinshasa.“The government is afraid that the international community will see the atrocities its security forces committed during those four days of protests." A university student who declined to give her name said she has not tweeted for about three weeks, and was in a hurry to speak out against violations of human rights.

Human rights activists said 42 people were killed, while the government put the number of fatalities at 27 after initially saying only four people died, including two cops.

Angry crowds took to the streets on 16 January to protest against a controversial electoral law critics believe was meant to keep President Joseph Kabila in power beyond 2016.

"I’m very angry about what happened, especially about the use of disproportionate force on innocent civilians. I need to express that frustration on the social networks, but both Facebook and Twitter are not coming out well,” she said.

“Pictures are not showing up properly and in some screens comments are mixing up with the pictures, creating a bizarre combination of strange content,” the student explained.

Government spokesperson Lambert Omalanga Mende, who told the press late last week that the internet and SMS would soon be restored, accused opposition politicians of using social networks to intoxicate and incite protestors to loot and burn state properties, and commit mass murder.

But the opposition has dismissed those claims and called for the full restoration of the internet and social networks.

On Friday, mobile operator Orange sent messages to its subscribers, telling them that the internet would be restored on Saturday and SMS will come back live again on Sunday.

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