Democratic Republic of Congo: State says it cut Internet to avoid ‘uprising’ after vote

Agents of Congo's National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) count casted ballot papers after election at a polling station in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, December 30, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 02 January 2019

Democratic Republic of Congo: State says it cut Internet to avoid ‘uprising’ after vote

  • 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

KINSHASA: The DR Congo government said 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 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 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 neighboring 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 centers.
A CENCO representative told AFP that observers had been refused access to voting centers in two provinces — Lomami and Sankuru.
However the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) said Tuesday that counting at all 179 local centers 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 favorite.

Taliban under attack in Badghis province

In this file photo, Afghan National Army soldiers carry out an exercise during a live firing at the Afghan Military Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghan officials say around 100 soldiers fled their posts and tried to cross into neighboring Turkmenistan during a weeklong battle with the Taliban, in the latest setback for the country's battered security forces. (AP)
Updated 38 min 3 sec ago

Taliban under attack in Badghis province

  • Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan
  • In a statement, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed

KABUL: Afghanistan’s government launched a ground and air offensive on Monday to flush out Taliban insurgents from a key area in the northwestern province of Badghis, which is close to the border with Turkmenistan, officials said.

The focal point of the operation was the Bala Murghab district where, a few days ago, the Taliban had captured dozens of government forces in addition to overrunning several parts of the district, which serves as a gateway to the northern areas for the insurgents.

Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan, officials said. 

One provincial official and a lawmaker from the province, who requested anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, said that Turkmenistan was due to hand over the troops to Afghanistan on Monday.

Sayed Mohmmad Musa, a lawmaker from the province, said that hundreds of government troops have taken part in the operation, which had resulted in the deaths of several of the Taliban’s top commanders.

“Through the operation, the government wants to not only regain the control of the district, but is also trying to free those forces who either had to join the Taliban or were captured by them several days ago,” he said by phone.

“There is heavy fighting there and the government wants to end the Taliban threat because it is a strategic location,” he said.

Meanwhile, spokesmen for the defense and interior ministries did not answer repeated calls for comment about the government’s operation and about the Taliban’s rampage days ago.

In a statement released earlier, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed.

There were conflicting reports about the number of troops who were captured by the Taliban and those who had fled to Turkmenistan, while the Taliban said 90 soldiers had surrendered.

The development comes amid continuing efforts in recent months by US diplomats and Taliban delegates for finding a peaceful settlement to the war. 

Both the Taliban and government forces, backed by the US military, have stepped up their attacks in a number of areas in the country.

Ahmad Saeedi, an analyst from Badghis, said the remoteness of the province, changes in the leadership of the ministry and confusion among troops about the peace process were some of the factors for the Taliban’s gains in Badghis.

“The time of US and Taliban formally announcing a deal has become closer; this has disheartened some troops in some parts of the country to keep on fighting,” Saeedi told Arab News.

Mirza Mohammed Yarmand, a military analyst and retired general, agreed. He told Arab News: “Unfortunately, the schism and differences among the political leaders of the country have caused disruption and slowness in the conduct of responsibilities of officers in the battlefield.”

He added: “Logistical shortcomings, the amount of attacks conducted by the enemy, (the government’s) failure to transport on time the war casualties from the battle ground and the amount of time officers spend in war zone, are among the reasons for incidents such as Bala Murghab.”

“When there is difference among the leaders that certainly impacts the moral of troops,” he said.