1 February 2002

Top Story

The Democratic Republic of Congo is an enormous country with a population of approximately 50 million people. Its capital Kinshasa alone is home to more than 5 million people. Its vast land-mass is currently divided amongst the many participants in its civil war. The telephone take-up rate is one of the lowest rate in world and its telephone infrastructure is very decrepit from years of corruption, neglect and war. The current period of "not quite war" has focused attention on its enormous potential. Despite all these unpromising factors, its internet services and users have grown across the many different provinces of the country. Eric Nzita and Nico Tshintu attempt for the first time to chart the spread of internet access.

If SITA services are included, it was possible fairly early on to get an internet connection in Kinshasa. People could be connected to Compuserve, AOL and Calvacom via SITA. But only a very few people knew about this opportunity and you needed to have a credit card, not something that’s easy to come by in the DRC. The connection was very slow and service provided in this way was not successful.

A standard ISP service offering a dial-up connection started in 1997. It was very expensive and mainly aimed at the corporate sector although there were some individual subscribers. It only operated in Kinshasa and was far too expensive for ordinary people.

In October 1999 a second ISP was started by CongoNet, a joint venture between the Office National des Postes et Télécommunications, société d’Etat Congolais the South African company MediaPost SA (Pty) Ltd. Its was primarily focused on Kinshasa and offered a wireless connection.

The beginning of the growth of cyber-cafes can be dated to this point. One was installed in Matonge in the heart of Kinshasa city. It was quite successful as it offered an effective solution for overcoming the country’s poor telephone system and for those unable to afford to buy a computer. From its success sprang others and there are now at least twenty cybercafes.

Internet access for the majority of users is through cyber-cafes. Local NGOs have also developed internet use for sending communications and documents. A small number of these NGOs have got access to internet connections through international aid agencies. Individual usage is negligible. The most used applications are e-mail and web.

Today, there are seven ISPs in Kinshasa. All are offering wireless connectivity. Only the first ISP founded still offers a dial-up subscription but it also offers wireless options. The state telco is not offering any internet services. The number of internet subscribers in Kinshasa is likely to be approximately 2,000. It is hard to provide authoritative information about usage across the country because of the extent of the country and the impact of the war which has torn the country apart.

However it is now possible for the first time to provide some information about what exists in the different government and rebel controlled areas in terms of: towns and cities that are now connected to the internet, larger providers of internet access and the position of certain international aid and development agencies:

In the eleven provinces of the DRC, there are the following provinces of note:

- The province of Kinshasa, the capital city.

There are seven companies offering internet services (with the year they started in brackets): Interconnect( 1998),Raganet(1999), Afrinet(2000), Usanent(2000),Roff Hi-tech(2000),Microcom(2000) and Africanusnet(2001)

- The province of Katanga with towns of Lumbubashi and Likasi.

Only the town of Lumumbashi is connected by Interconnect and Raganet.

- The province of Bas-Congo with the towns of Matadi, Boma et Muanda.

Only the town of Matadi is connected by Hi-Tech.

- The province du Kasaï Oriental with the town of Mbuji-mayi.

The town of Mbuji-mayi is connected by Microcom.

USAID has launched an initiative to provide provide internet connections for local civil society organisations and NGOs to help them with information and communication. It operates in Kinshasa, Mbuji-mayi, Boma, Muanda and Matadi.

There are two companies that have internet access in other parts of the country: Golf-Congo in Munda in Bas-Congo Province and the Central Bank of Congo in those provinces under government control.