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DRC bans SMS and social media networks to curb violence

The wait for election results is filled with tension

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has banned the use of SMS and access to social media networks on phones in what it says is a bid to curb the escalating violence following last week's presidential and parliamentary elections, whose partial results put incumbent President Joseph Kabila in the lead.

The country is now on the verge of slipping back into civil war as the opposition parties have rejected the election results. Several people have already been killed by security forces during clashes with protesters.

People have been using text messages and social media networks to coordinate rallies to protest the expected outcome of the presidential results.

The police responded by banning political rallies to avoid further deadly clashes with protesters.

As a rush of conspiracy theories about President Kabila and the election commission circulated by text messages, the service crashed on two consecutive days for the country's largest telecom operator, Vodacom, as well as for other operators.

Reports indicate that the DRC government ordered Vodacom to interrupt SMS services, although Vodacom and the DRC government denied there was such an order.

French news agency AFP reported Saturday that a senior government official confirmed that the government had in fact ordered all cellphone operators to block texting services indefinitely "because of the diffusion of false results."

The growing popularity of social media networks in Africa has resulted in several countries in the region including Malawi, Angola and Uganda banning their use in a bid to quell protests.

"We have seen this happen in Swaziland and Malawi and many other countries as the only means to stop the coordination of protests. But in many instances the ban has not worked," said Amos Kalunga, a telecom analyst from the Computer Society of Zambia.

The Independent National Election Commission (CINE) was expected to announce the final results Tuesday with the main opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekedi, warning the country will not accept results that declare him the loser.

As in many African countries, the Kabila-led government has been under increasing pressure for failed economic policies, the high cost of living and unemployment despite a measure of security stability currently prevailing in the country.

Social media networks are said to have played a major role in the uprisings in North Africa including the popular movement that ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak early this year.

The DRC election is the second since the wars that gripped the country from 1996 to 2003. After the election, which was marred by deadly violence and rioting at poling centers, the long wait for results has been filled with tension.

While politicians in neighboring countries including Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique have been tapping social media to communicate with voters, the DRC has become the third country in Southern Africa after Malawi and Angola to ban the use of social media.


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