By Chris Zumani Zimba
As the two lead opposition camps are claiming premature electoral victory in DR Congo by contending that Kabila’s choice candidate, Shadary is headed for sure defeat, the Kabila government has decided to shut down internet across the country by targeting services like WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, and Skype to be temporally dysfunctional in order to hamper communication among political protesters while the national election commission (CENI), an electoral administration body for DR Congo continue to count the votes. CENI is likely to announce the winner of the chaotic and violent presidential elections on Tuesday or Wednesday. The election is a first-past-the-post system with no run-off.
Pierre Lumbi, the campaign manager to opposition candidate Martin Fayulu, said in a statement posted on Twitter that Fayulu was winning after more than a third of votes had been counted. “The polls are clear: they put…Martin Fayulu easily in the lead,” he said.
Vital Kamerhe, the campaign manager to another opposition candidate, Felix Tshisekedi, said earlier that initial counting showed Tshisekedi and Fayulu neck-and-neck in the lead, both with more than 40 percent of the vote. He said the ruling coalition candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who is backed by Kabila, had only about 13 percent, although a significant part of the vote remained to be tabulated.
However, Shadary’s campaign team said their candidate is headed for victory. “For us, victory is certain,” Nehemie Mwilanya, Kabila’s chief of staff and a member of Shadary’s campaign, told a news conference on Monday morning, without providing figures. Shadary’s campaign said it has collected about 30 percent of the results but will not release any results before the national election commission (CENI) announce.
Quartz Africa reports that an internet shutdown across the Democratic Republic of the Congo is heightening fears of electoral fraud in a presidential election already marred by delays and violence.
Internet connectivity in the vast central African state was already disrupted before voters headed to polls on Dec. 30, according to advocacy group NetBlocks, which maps internet freedom globally. A full blackout was also experienced in major cities, including the capital Kinshasa, after results started trickling in on Monday (Dec. 31), with outages impacting mobile and fixed-line connections.
The success of these elections, already delayed for two years, is crucial for the mineral-rich state, given that president Joseph Kabila is stepping down after 17 years in power. Assassinations and coups have prevented the DRC from having a peaceful transfer of power since gaining its independence from Belgium in 1960.
But the polls were marred by logistical challenges, insecurity, and fake news. An estimated one million voters in opposition stronghold areas won’t be able to vote until March—after the new president’s inauguration—a decision the government pinned on the worst Ebola outbreak in the nation’s history.
Internet provider Global and telecom operator Vodacom told the AFP that they had cut web access on government orders. The government said they were enforcing the restrictions to prevent the circulation of fake results online, and to avert “chaos” and a “popular uprising.” Officials have said the blackout would last until the publication of preliminary results on Jan. 6; final results aren’t expected until Jan. 15. NetBlocks noted the interruption to connectivity wasn’t centralized and was being carried “at the discretion of commercial operators.”
Shutting the internet during this crucial transitional moment doesn’t bode well for the tenability of the election, nor solve the problem of misinformation online, Internet Sans Frontières executive director Julie Owono says.
“Past experiences in Mali, Republic of Congo, and Equatorial Guinea have proved that internet disruptions during elections are clear signs of irregularities. These events must be taken seriously into account by election monitoring missions in their final assessment of the vote.”
The state has resorted to cutting off internet access to its over 83 million people as anti-Kabila sentiment has risen in recent years. Authorities have also targeted services like WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, and Skype in order to hamper communication among protesters, while allowing businesses like banks to operate. Rights groups have pointed to a 2002 law that confers a broad mandate on the government to take charge of communication facilities in the interest of national security.
Chris Zumani Zimba is a prolific Political Scientist, Analyst, Author, Blogger, PhD Scholar, Researcher and Consultant. Besides being the CEO and Managing Consultant at Chrizzima Democracy University (CDU) in Zambia, he analyses African politics weekly on Voice of the Cape Town, South Africa every Wednesday at 16:45hours CAT. So far, he has authored more than 10 political and academic books as well as published over 100 well researched articles.