Internet access in Bukavu

A bit of history!

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, 700,000 Congolese have access to the internet. However, 84% of Congolese use the internet on a mobile device.

Mobile telephony was introduced in Bukavu in the 2000s after the signing of the Sun City Agreement at the end of the Inter-Congolese dialogue in South Africa.

Congo was then united, after 5 years of insurrection, under the leadership of the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democracy (RCD) and the Allies. This conflict, described as “Africa’s Third World War”, will result in the division of the DRC into two blocs: the east under rebel control and the west under the control of the central government.

With the reunification, the first mobile phone companies settled in Bukavu, especially the companies Vodacom and Airtel. Note that before 2003, the company Supercell, with the Internet signal from Rwanda, enabled communication in the cities of Bukavu, Uvira and Goma.

In addition to mobile telephony, Bukavu had a number of cyber cafes operated by Indian economic operators (Datco). The presence of international NGOs and MONUSCO have also contributed to the opening up of the city of Bukavu to the internet.

With the advent of the first democratic elections in 2006, other telecommunications investors took over, most notably Orange company.

Currently, the mobile phone companies Vodacom, Airtel and Orange ensure that the city of Bukavu and the province of South Kivu are provided with the internet.

Despite the presence of these companies, internet access is still very limited. According to a 2012 survey of internet users, only less than 1% of the population has access to the internet (out of approximately 1 million people in the city of Bukavu).

To meet this challenge, most Internet users subscribe to the MTN network. This is an internet provider in Rwanda. The Congolese believe that operational internet networks on Congolese territory are expensive and that the quality is mediocre.

About fiber in the DRC:

According to the report of the parliamentary committee on the fiber optic project submitted to the National Assembly on May 18, 2015 (ie: to the Directorate General for Controlling Public Procurement), the DORECO file is nowhere to be found. The implementation of the project has been infected, upstream and downstream, with violations that testify to the indifference with which fiber management has been handled.

After many difficulties, the DRC was connected to the fiber optic cable on July 8, 2013. A ceremony was organized with great fanfare by the head of state Joseph Kabila at the fiber optic distribution station in Moanda, Bas-Congo.

The creation of Congo Cable without SCPT supervision:

Experts believed that the management of fiber optics should not be left to the public operator. Everywhere in Africa where fiber optic cable is realized, it is the state-owned companies, which are responsible for telecommunications, who are in charge. In order to reinvent the wheel, the former Minister of Telecommunications started a project in 2015 to create a fuzzy company that manages Congolese fiber optics called “Congo Cable”. Due to the vigilance of ex-OCPT agents, the company never saw the light of day.

Since the connection of the DRC to fiber optic on 8 July 2013, the quality of the internet service has not always improved. Responsibilities must be recorded.

The internet signal remains a major challenge in the DRC:

The DRC is the fourth most populous country in Africa and its population is spread over an area as large as ⅔ of Western Europe. It is especially rich in minerals used in the manufacture of smartphones.

Yet many citizens struggle to access basic services such as adequate health care, clean water and electricity. For them, internet access, recognized as a human right by the UN in July 2016, is considered a luxury.

The Congolese Post and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (ARPTC) estimates that only 17% of the population has access to the internet.

P. Birindwa, a young geologist looking for work, visits the radio cybercafé Maendeleo Bukavu to access the internet:

“Compared to previous years, we are making progress, because today with 1,000 FC we can easily use the internet for a few minutes, as long as the connection remains stable. Often, we can get on the internet, but then suddenly there is no connection, and this situation can last a whole day. It remains and is a real challenge. But also, another advantage is that there are now Android phones. You can access the internet at home if you are used to being active on social media regularly. But not everyone can afford an Android phone, let alone a computer. It is also important to note that the costs are high. You can buy 1 GB and then suddenly the connection drops. During this time, your mobile data credit will expire. If at that time it was really important to be connected to the internet, it may just be that you e.g. missed an opportunity to get a job”.

Faced with these challenges, internet users are asking authorities to cut taxes and other charges imposed on telecommunications companies. This so that they in turn can reduce the cost of internet access.

Bernardin SEBAHIRE

Media expert / Bukavu-DRC