Congo student: ‘I skip meals to buy online data’

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Congo student: ‘I skip meals to buy online data’

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Bonheur Malenga, a Congolese university student, found himself facing a dilemma one day last month about whether to purchase online data.

“As I was hungry, I didn’t know if I should buy food or get a 24-hour internet bundle,” he told the BBC.

The 27-year-old, who is studying engineering, relies on his parents for financial support – but has been spending more than usual as he has been doing research online for his final-year dissertation.

He lives in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 26% of average monthly income is spent on getting online using mobiles – the easiest way to access the internet here.

“I told myself that staying hungry for a day and a night wouldn’t kill me. So, I just bought the internet bundle and slept on an empty stomach,” he said.

Cost of 1GB of mobile broadband data

Top five and bottom five countries

Mr Malenga says many of his friends face the same dilemma.

DR Congo is classed as the most expensive country to get online in the world, according to the 2019 Affordability Report from the Alliance for Affordable Internet.

The organisation determines affordable internet as paying 2% or less of your average monthly income for 1GB of mobile broadband data.

‘The cybercafé boss took my shoes’

On the other side of the country, more than 2,000km (about 1,240 miles) east of Kinshasa, Eric Kasinga remembers an embarrassing moment that happened to him a few years ago.

Like many young people living in the town of Bukavu, he had to go to a cybercafé to get online. He was applying for a postgraduate course at a reputable university in The Netherlands.

Eric Kasinga

BBC

I felt terribly ashamed. Nobody should have to experience that just for internet”

“The internet was so slow that the whole application process ended up taking three hours instead of one,” he says.

But he only had enough money to pay for an hour.

He explained the situation to the cybercafé manager, hoping he would be allowed to bring the money later.

However, the manager started shouting curses at him, screaming: “The internet is not for poor people.”

For payment, the manager pulled off the new shoes Mr Kasinga was wearing, forcing him to walk the long distance home barefoot.

“I felt terribly ashamed,” he says.

The graduate, who now works for a conservation organisation, was never able to follow up on his university application. He did try to get his shoes back later that week, but the cybercafé manager had already sold them.

“Nobody should have to experience this just for internet,” he says.

Image caption

Access to the internet was recognised by the UN as a human right in July 2016

DR Congo is the fourth-most populated country in Africa, two-thirds the size of western Europe and is rich in the minerals used to make sma

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