Fears of electoral fraud are rising in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after officials said a total block on internet connections and SMS services imposed after the chaotic presidential poll on Sunday could last for several days. Both the opposition and ruling coalition have claimed victory in the elections – the third poll since 2002 and the end of a civil war in which millions died. The election, which some observers hope may bring a measure of political stability to the vast central African country, was marred by widespread logistics problems, insecurity and an outbreak of Ebola. Millions were left unable to vote. Barnabé Kikaya Bin Karubi, a senior adviser to the outgoing president, Joseph Kabila, said internet and SMS services were cut on Monday to preserve public order after “fictitious results” began circulating on social media. “That could lead us straight toward chaos,” Kikaya told Reuters, adding that the connections would remain cut until the publication of preliminary results on 6 January.
The signal to Radio France Internationale (RFI), one of the most popular news sources in the DRC, was also down, and the government withdrew the accreditation of RFI’s main DRC correspondent late on Monday for having aired unofficial results from the opposition.
Opposition activists said they believed the internet had been cut off to prevent people circulating information that could allow the official count to be challenged when it is announced. “It is very straightforward. They don’t want us to compile our own totals of votes,” said one Kinshasa resident who requested anonymity. Olivier Kamitatu, a spokesperson for opposition candidates, said the media crackdown was part of a “plan to obscure the truth of the ballot box”.
The measures drew a sharp response from several western powers. In a statement supported by the UK and France, the EU and the US called on authorities to restore the internet and to allow the country’s two main election monitors – the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) and Symocel, an alliance of citizens’ observer missions – access to the count.