All social networks, including Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp, were due to be blocked in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from Sunday 18 December 2016 at 6pm. The shutdown coincides with the end of President Joseph Kabila’s constitutional term in office on December 19.
The government gave no reason for the shutdown but many observers believe the blackout is politically motivated as a massive mobilisation campaign for uprising (Yebela, get out) to ‘chase’ Kabila out of power seems to be gaining momentum on social networks.
Mid-week, telecommunications regulator ARPTC wrote to telecom companies and internet service providers, requesting them to suspend all social networks in the DRC from Sunday evening. Reports said Oscar Manikunda, ARTPC CEO, also threatened them with severe sanctions, including cancelling their operating licences, if they did not obey.
“Our country is on the brink of violence and collapse. Tension is rising as December 19 draws near,” one Kinois (resident of Kinshasa) told Sifa News by telephone last night.
“And the way I see it, this violence will be unprecedented because everyone here is determined to be sacrificed to get rid of Kabila. The government is scared, that’s why they are blocking the social networks and the internet,” the source said.
The decision to suspend social networks has irked Kasonga Tshilunde, the president of the Union Nationale de la Presse Congolaise (UNPC), who described it as a violation of freedom of expression and the media.
“I regret this decision because it will, among others, prevent online journalists to do their work. In such crucial period of our country’s history, access to information should not be restricted but rather made available to everyone to promote development,” Tshilunde said in a statement.
The DRC has been in the middle of heavy censorship in the past three years, with critical newspapers and opposition’s broadcast stations shut down, journalists detained, threatened, beaten up and shot dead.
A so-called ‘inclusive dialogue’ (dialogue bis) hosted in Kinshasa by the Roman Catholic Church has been suspended without an agreement mostly over the fate of Kabila’s future beyond December 19.
Photo: DRC President Joseph Kabila