Democratic Republic of Congo restores Internet throughout country
Internet connectivity and mobile communications throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been fully restored, but the country’s political turmoil is far from over.
The government had moved to block communications in an attempt to quell public protests sparked by President Joseph Kabila’s political maneuvers to extend his tenure in office.
The DRC government shut down Internet, social media and mobile phone communications on Jan. 19, restoring Internet service only to banks, government agencies and other corporate bodies 10 days later.
People had been using text messages and social media networks to coordinate rallies to protest Kabila’s attempts to introduce an electoral bill and change the country’s constitution in order to continue his stay in office. The DRC government admitted that the debate over the bill would likely delay the next presidential election by at least one year.
About 45 people reportedly died and more than 1,000 were injured during just four days of protests last month. As in many other countries in Africa hit by political unrest—including Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi—the DRC government claimed the Internet and mobile phones were putting the security of the nation at risk.
The political opposition has threatened to call for more protests should there be any further attempt to prolong Kabila’s stay in power. Kabila has been in power for 14 years and looks set to extend his tenure, which ends next year. But so far, he has not officially announced he will be running.
DRC government spokesman Lambert Mende earlier this week accused political dissidents of using social media networks to incite protesters to destroy state property and commit murder.
France’s Orange Telecom, one of the many international telecom companies operating in the DRC, has been sending text messages to its subscribers over the last 48 hours, informing them that Internet connectivity and SMS services have been restored. South Africa’s Vodacom apologized for the inconvenience via radio, blaming circumstances beyond its control.
Operators and ISPs in the Central African country complained of losing millions of dollars during the shutdown period.
The U.S. has joined mounting calls for the DRC to hold elections next year. The U.N. and France have also put pressure on Kabila to step down when his term ends.