The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) deplores the move by the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to shut down all social media platforms on December 18, 2016.
In a statement signed by Mr. Oscar Manikunda Musata, Director General of DRC’s regulator, Autorité de Régulation de la Poste et des Télécommunications (ARPTC), on December 14, 2016, the government ordered telecommunication service providers to disconnect Internet for communications via social media platforms.
The statement specifically mentions content producing and information sharing platforms including Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, Skype, YouTube, Pinterest, among others. The directive takes effect on the evening of December 18, a day before the official end of President Kabila’s tenure of office.
According to media report, the directive to shut down social media platforms is a mechanism to halt potential protests against President Joseph Kabila whose presidential term comes to an end on December 19, 2016.
There have been series of protests in DRC following the announcement by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) that elections scheduled for December 2016 would be held in July 2017 due to lack of funds. Critics have however described the decision of the electoral body as an attempt to extend President Kabila’s tenure.
Disconnection of social media platforms or internet connectivity in totality has become a common mechanism adopted by some African governments to stifle freedom of expression and access to information online. Several countries including Uganda, Chad, The Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and The Gambia have shut down social media platforms during important national events such as elections or protests.
The directive to shut down social media platforms contravenes provisions of the African Declaration on Internet Rights Freedoms as noted at the 59th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s rights held in Banjul in October 2016. The African Declaration elaborates on the principles which are necessary to uphold human and people’s rights on the Internet. Similarly, the decision to shut down social media platforms in DRC breaches UN Resolution on “the protection, promotion and enjoyment of human rights on the internet”. The Resolution (A/HRC/32/L.20) condemns deliberate “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to information or dissemination of information online”.
Social media platforms have been identified in modern times as one of the fastest and effective channels of communication. AFEX appeals to the authorities in DRC to rescind their decision regarding the shut down as this will disconnect the Congolese people from being informed about important developments that affect them directly.