Vodacom DRC's internet, SMS services suspended

Police try to clear a main road as anti government protesters burn tyres during a protest against a new law that could delay elections to be held in the city of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. (John Bompengo, AP)
Police try to clear a main road as anti government protesters burn tyres during a protest against a new law that could delay elections to be held in the city of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. (John Bompengo, AP)

Johannesburg - The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has ordered all mobile networks in the country, including Vodacom, to suspend internet and SMS services amid violent protests.

On Monday, the DRC government gave the order to all mobile networks to suspend internet and SMS services but allow voice services. A Vodacom spokesperson told Fin24 that these services remained suspended on Thursday morning.

The order came as protests over proposed legal reform have gripped the African nation.

DRC opposition forces called for protests on Monday in a bid to take control of parliament and stop government lawmakers from approving reform of the electoral code that would require a census before the 2016 presidential elections.

Opposition forces say it could take years to organise such a census and in turn keep President Joseph Kabila beyond his second and final term in power.

Since Monday, at least 42 people have been killed in the protests, according to Reuters.

And amid this situation, mobile networks have been forced to halt services. South Africa’s Vodacom, which owns 51% of Vodacom DRC, has 11 million subscribers in the country.

“All DRC mobile operators and ISPs (internet service providers) received an order from the DRC authorities Monday afternoon to suspend internet services,” Vodacom told Fin24 in an emailed statement.

“The mobile operators were also instructed to suspend SMS services. The deadline for the implementation of this was midnight (on Monday), and all companies complied.

“The order was issued in accordance with Article 46 of the Telecommunications Law of the DRC which gives the state the authority to prohibit the use of telecommunications installations,” Vodacom said.

SA operators in Africa

Africa has proven to be rewarding and challenging for South African mobile networks.

MTN, for example, has its biggest operations in Nigeria where the company has over 50 million phone subscribers.

But MTN has struggled to keep pace with this growth as Nigeria’s telecoms regulator has previously issued fines to the South African mobile network for poor quality of service, such as dropped calls and insufficient network coverage.

MTN was also embroiled in a Sh600 million fraud case in Uganda. Last year, MTN launched court action against an ex-employee in Uganda who stood accused of ordering the mobile network’s finance department to pay Sh600 million to a fake Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) bank account.

Meanwhile, Vodacom also had its fingers burnt in Nigeria after it exited the country in 2004 because of problems surrounding brokerage payments.

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