The Democratic Republic of Congo government said on Tuesday it had 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 nation’s government to quickly restore web access.
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, told AFP 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.
No SMSes, radio
The country’s electoral commission said Tuesday that provisional results will 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 underway 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 told AFP on Monday that 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 the neighbouring Republic of Congo.
The authorities also cut mobile phone texting, according to service provider Vodacom.
Radio France Internationale said its broadcasts had been jammed since Monday evening. The station has carried extensive coverage of the election in the francophone country.
The European Union, United States, Canadian, and Swiss heads of mission in Kinshasa issued a joint statement Tuesday urging the government to restore internet access.
“We request that the government refrains from blocking means of communication, in particular access to the internet and the media,” said the statement.
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 told AFP that observers had been refused access to voting centres in two provinces – Lomami and Sankuru.
However the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) said Tuesday that counting at all 179 local centres were “continuing normally”.
The CENI also said it would file complaints about “vandalism” at several spots overnight, without giving further details.
There are three front-runners 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.
Pre-vote opinion polls indicated that Fayulu, a little-known legislator and former oil executive until a coalition of opposition parties chose him as its candidate, was the favourite.
DRC curbs French radio station RFI in tension vote
Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday said it had pulled accreditation for a French radio journalist and cut off the station’s broadcasts amid tensions over the counting of votes in crucial elections.
The authorities said accreditation for the Radio France Internationale (RFI) correspondent in Kinshasa, Florence Morice, had been withdrawn.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende accused Morice of violating electoral law and “the code of good conduct for foreign journalists covering the elections”.
Accusing the station of stirring controversy, he said, “RFI’s broadcasts have been cut off in all of Congo’s cities.”
“We are not going to let a radio station throw petrol on the flames at a time when we are waiting for the compilation of the provisional results,” Mende said.
RFI, a French public-service broadcaster, has a very large audience in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a French-speaking country of around 80 million people.
It has been closely covering Sunday’s presidential elections and the marathon vote tally.
RFI issued a statement saying its coverage had been impartial and expressing full support for Morice.
She had been “merely working as a professional journalist,” it said, and urged the authorities to reverse their decision to withdraw her accreditation.
On Tuesday, RFI said that its broadcasts had been blocked since Monday evening.
The elections will determine who succeeds President Joseph Kabila, at the helm of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country for nearly 18 years.
Kabila refused to step down after his two-term constitutional limit ended in 2016, sparking protests that were quelled at the cost of scores of lives.
Among the DRC’s opposition, suspicions run deep that the vote will be rigged to let his preferred successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, be declared winner.
Mende said RFI had been “declaring results (and) trends” as the vote count unfolded.
“Only the head of CENI can proclaim” these, he said, referring to the Independent National Electoral Commission, in charge of overseeing the elections and the count.
On Monday, the authorities cut off access to the internet, a move that opposition activists said sought to gag communications and stifle transparency.
An adviser to Kabila, Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi, said the move targetted the dissemination of “fake figures” to avert a “popular uprising.”
The European Union, United States, Canada and Switzerland urged the government to restore access.