Vodacom Told to Halt Congo Services Amid Protest Over Laws


Vodacom Group Ltd. (VOD) said it’s been ordered to switch off all Internet and text message services in the Democratic Republic of Congo amid protests against proposed changes to the country’s electoral code.

Mobile operators and Internet Service Providers last week received orders from Congolese officials instructing them to suspend the services, the phone company said in an e-mailed response to questions today.

“The deadline for the implementation of this was midnight, and all companies complied,” according to Johannesburg-based Vodacom, a unit of Vodafone Group Plc (VOD) and the biggest provider of mobile-phone services in South Africa.

Protesters, who surrounded parliament on Monday and continued to demonstrate on Tuesday, are seeking to prevent the Senate from voting on the law, which includes requiring the world’s largest producer of cobalt to conduct its first census in about three decades before the next national elections. Opposition parties say that may delay the vote and may extend President Joseph Kabila’s 14-year rule.

Demonstrators have now suspended their protests until Jan. 26.

Vodacom had 11 million subscribers in Democratic Republic of Congo as of September and competes with Luxembourg-based Millicom International Cellular SA’s Tigo brand and India’s Bharti Airtel Ltd. in the country.

Tigo has 4.2 million customers in the country, according to its website. Millicom spokesman Julian Eccles said in an e-mail that the company had also suspended services. Bharti Airtel also didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail.

Lambert Mende, a government spokesman, said two civilians and a police officer were killed Monday when security guards opened fire to stop crowds from looting shops in the capital, Kinshasa. Kabila, who came to power after his father was killed in 2001, won contested elections in 2006 and 2011 in sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country by area and is constitutionally barred from running for a third term.

The government has been battling local and foreign militias in the east for more than two decades. A civil war ended in 2003.

Stop Press: Fixed Internet has been restored in the country but mobile Internet and SMS remain unconnected.

Source: Bloomberg 20 January 2015