DRC clamps down on internet, radio station after voting

Former DRC interior minister Emmanuel Ramanzi Shadary, left, Felix Tshisekedi, centre, leader of Congolese main opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress party, and DRC joint opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu.
Former DRC interior minister Emmanuel Ramanzi Shadary, left, Felix Tshisekedi, centre, leader of Congolese main opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress party, and DRC joint opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu.
Image: Reuters

The Democratic Republic of Congo government has cut the country’s internet services to avert a “popular uprising” as tensions rise pending the results of fractious presidential elections.

The opposition accused authorities of cutting the internet on Monday to thwart activism, while leading Western powers called on the troubled central African country’s government to quickly restore web access.

There are people who have indoctrinated the public with false numbers about this election’ Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi
PRESIDENT’S DIPLOMATIC ADVISER

The long-delayed vote was barely completed on Sunday when the three main candidates – President Joseph Kabila’s hand-picked successor and two opposition leaders – each claimed that early counts showed them winning.

Kabila’s diplomatic adviser, Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi, said the national security council had decided it was “imperative” to shut down the internet to allow the electoral commission to finish counting and compiling votes.

“There are people who have indoctrinated the public with false numbers about this election. This has laid the groundwork for a popular uprising,” he said on Tuesday.

Karubi did not say how long internet access would be down in the country which rivals continental western Europe in size.

The country’s electoral commission said on Tuesday that provisional results would be announced on Sunday. Final results are expected on January 15 and the next head of state will be sworn in on January 18.

A marathon vote count is under way in a climate of deep suspicion about fraud in a country scarred by political turmoil and haunted by memories of violence.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has never had a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960, and bloodshed marred elections in 2006 and 2011.

Worries of a new descent into violence deepened two years ago after Kabila, in power since 2001, refused to quit when his two-term limit expired.

Internet operator Global said on Monday web access had been cut for an indefinite period on government orders.

Several residents in the capital Kinshasa tried their luck at large hotels, where some internet could still be accessed.

Others headed to street markets to buy credit for services in neighbouring Congo.

The authorities also cut cellphone texting, according to service provider Vodacom.

Radio France Internationale (RFI) said its broadcasts had been jammed since Monday evening. The station has carried extensive coverage of the election in the country.

The European Union, US, Canadian and Swiss heads of mission in Kinshasa issued a joint statement on Tuesday urging the government to restore internet access.

They also backed a request by the country’s two main election monitors – the National Episcopal Electoral Conference of Congo (CENCO) and SYMOCEL, an alliance of citizens’ observer missions – to get access to vote counting centres.

A CENCO representative said observers had been refused access to voting centres in two provinces.

However, the National Independent Electoral Commission said on Tuesday that counting at all 179 local centres was continuing normally.

The commission also said it would file complaints about vandalism at several spots overnight, without giving further details.

The DRC on Wednesday said it had pulled accreditation for an RFI journalist in Kinshasa, Florence Morice, and cut off the station’s broadcasts amid tensions over vote counting.

Government spokesperson Lambert Mende accused Morice of violating electoral law and “the code of good conduct for foreign journalists covering the elections”.

RFI, a French public-service broadcaster, has a very large audience in the DRC, a Frenchspeaking country of around 80million people. It issued a statement saying its coverage had been impartial and expressing full support for Morice.

There are three frontrunners among the 21 presidential candidates – Kabila’s choice Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, Felix Tshisekedi, who now leads his late father Etienne’s UDPS party, and another opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu. –

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