Two primarily English-speaking regions of Cameroon have had their internet connections completely pulled. The internet blackout is affecting all major towns in the regions. It is believed that the internet has been cut as a direct response to the ongoing strikes in the areas, which are being carried out by lawyers and teachers. Those strikes have recently intensified, but have been underway for around a month.
According to Agbor Gideon, a shop owner from Bamenda in the northwest of Cameroon, the internet has been cut off since last Tuesday in his town. His shop provides internet services to local university students and researchers in the area. The web blackouts are causing a large disruption to people living locally.
Anglophone Regions Affected
The northwest region of Cameroon is one of two predominantly British-speaking regions in Cameroon. It is believed that the internet has been cut there because of widespread protests – violent at times – due to the ongoing teacher and lawyer strikes. It is thought that the internet has been cut in an attempt to bring the strikes and protests to an end. Local internet cafe owner Mr Gideon stated:
“They are stepping on our rights. They are stepping on the rights of the people to use internet because it blocks so many things. There are people whose businesses are based on the internet so it is going to add to the hardship.”
According to teachers and lawyers in Cameroon, the local government is attempting to sideline English for French in the country. In particular, teachers and lawyers are striking against the use of French as the first language in courts and schools. Sadly for many students, however, this has meant that many educational institutions have been closed for a month.
In addition to Bamenda, another Anglophone region called Yaounde is experiencing similar strikes. That region has also been ill-affected by efforts at Francophone favoritism. In addition to local lawyers and teachers, the strikers have been joined by third party interests groups who are calling for the British-speaking areas in question to secede from the African nation. This possibility, however, has already been quelled by the local government, which says that secession is not an option under any circumstances.
Many Towns Affected
According to a correspondent for the BBC, Bamenda has been turned into a ghost town due to the strikes. The towns that have been worst affected are those of Bamenda, Yuku, Nkambe, Batibo, Bela, Kumbo, and Buea.
The government has appealed to professionals in the area to end the strikes, claiming that at this rate the teachers could void the entire academic year for their students. Teachers, however, who have long complained of discrimination against the English language, are refusing to back down.
Those professionals claim that English speakers are often excluded from top tier civil service positions: discrimination that they feel must come to an end. Lawyers are also fed up of court workers being employed who have a lack of basic knowledge about British common laws, which they seek to uphold in those regions.
Lack of Official Statements
As of yet, mobile phone companies and internet service providers (ISPs) have failed to make any official statement about the blackouts. However, law enforcement in the region has confirmed that the internet has been cut against the will of those providers. Those agents say that the ISPs have been threatened with losing their licenses for the whole of the nation should they refuse to cut off the internet.
Many concerned parties have joined a hashtag campaign called #BringBackOurInternet on Twitter. Edward Snowden has already got behind the cause by tweeting:
Ghost Towns and Chaos
Sadly, the situation is far from clear. Even the Government of Cameroon has failed to issue an official statement about the ongoing internet blackouts. No-one knows for certain when internet connectivity will be reinstated. For the time being all online money transfers and payments are completely unavailable in the regions, causing chaos.
In addition to the internet blackouts, the authorities have been sending out SMS warnings to people. Those messages explain that the use of social media to propagate (what it refers to as) “false information” in order to incite panic and rioting is now punishable by law.
Social Media Targetted
In Cameroon, social media has become an important way of communicating political concerns. Now, however, it would appear that the government of Cameroon has decided to launch a complete crack down on political dissenters. The internet blackouts are a part of that process.
Libom Li Likeng, Cameroon’s minister of post and telecommunications says that the SMS messages are part of a “civic education campaign.” The messages make it clear that anybody found to be using social media within Cameroon for the purpose of stirring up dissent will be punished with the full force of the law. For now, that means prison terms of up to two years and fines of up to $4,000 (or both).
Furthermore, two pro-English organizations in the area – the Southern Cameroons National Council and the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium – have been outlawed. Anybody interested should help by using the hashtag #BringBackOurInternet to protest the ongoing web blackouts.