The internet is working again in the Democratic Republic of Congo after being blocked since December 31 in a likely attempt to dampen speculation about the presidential election results.
Barnabe Kikaya bin Karubi, a senior adviser to President Joseph Kabila, said at the time that internet and SMS services were cut to preserve public order after “fictitious results” began circulating on social media. “That could lead us straight towards chaos,” Kikaya said, adding the connections would remain cut until the publication of complete results on January 6.
The election results were contested and the internet remained off until just before the country’s Constitutional Court confirmed the win of Felix Tshisekedi on Sunday.
The Economist reported that the shutoff spawned a trade in contraband mobile phone SIM cards smuggled from the neighbouring Republic of Congo. The two countries are divided by the swirling Congo river. DR Congo residents in the capital, Kinshasa, could connect to the internet in the country next door, if they were close enough to the riverbank.
Problems for hospitals
Nearly two weeks ago the United Nations called on the government of DR Congo to switch the internet back on.
“A general network shutdown is in clear violation of international law and cannot be justified by any means,” said David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression.
“Access to information is crucial for the credibility of the ongoing electoral process. Shutdowns are damaging not only for people’s access to information, but also for their access to basic services,” the expert said.
The US ambassador to Congo, Mike Hammer, tweeted on Saturday 20 days without internet in the country are “20 days too many” and that access cut off just after the disputed presidential election “needs to be restored now”.
British ambassador John Murton tweeted on Friday that “this poses problems for hospitals, universities, commerce”.
Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from Kinshasa, tweeted about the internet outage on January 18, saying the Congolese “were angry in the beginning but now realise there is nothing they can do about it until authorities switch it back on”.
As internet service returned to the country, messages of joy began to appear on social media.