DR Congo has shut down the internet and SMS amid bloody anti-government protests

“Kabila must go!”
“Kabila must go!”
Image: AP Photo/John Bompengo
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At the start of a new year, the Democratic Republic of Congo is being rocked by an old problem: violent protests against president Joseph Kabila who has refused to leave office after his term expired.

On Sunday (Dec. 31), protests demanding Kabila step down from office turned violent after a clash with state security forces. At least seven people were killed and another 120 arrested. The government shut down internet and SMS services ahead of the protests citing “state security.” It is not a new government tactic as it has shut down social media 13 months ago when at least 40 people were killed and 500 arrested.

The United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres called on Kabila to step down in keeping with an agreement signed in late 2016, which he described as the “only viable path to the holding of elections, the peaceful transfer of power and the consolidation of stability”.

Kabila’s term expired in December 2016 but rather than make way for a new leader,  he’s repeatedly pushed back elections which were originally slated for November of that year. His government has claimed it couldn’t afford a $1.8 billion bill for the election. However, at the end of last year, the political impasse looked on its way to being resolved as elections were finally slated for December this year.

But opposition groups fear Kabila could spend the next year in office trying to undo constitutional term limits to allow him contest the December elections. Kabila, 46, has been in power since 2001 when he first took office following the assassination of his father, Laurent. The younger Kabila went on to win democratic elections in 2006 and 2011.