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Saturday, May 06, 2017

Cameroun Internet Shutdown: Before we leap for joy!

Five months ago, We at the Afrika Youth Movement (AYM) with the aid of our members on the ground from the English speaking regions of Cameroon, released exclusive interviews and video to project the strike from the youth voices in Cameroon,  a country that has seen just one president since 1986.

As a resulted, we have partnered with other human rights organizations addressing an Open Letter To Cameroonian Government On Internet Connectivity In Anglophone Regions in English and French.  

We also condemned human rights abuses in Cameroon, our member Molinge Henry spoke out for justice in Cameroon on local newspapers. 
But should we leap for joy?

With the restoration of the internet by Paul Biya, in these regions after 94 days of deprivation, euphoria has greeted not only nationals, but also activists and the diasporas as a revival of the negative impact on the populace which highlighted the international trending of #BringBackOurInternet. The legendary question hovers, should we genuinely leap for joy?

Biya has asserted that he is no different from other African leaders in Gabon, Ethiopia, Chad, Uganda, the Gambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo and others who have used internet restriction to oppress the voices of the marginalized. Their major vices toward their people have been to eliminate those who stand against their ways of power clinching despite their unpopularity and their incompetence toward thought leadership and honest governance. Their strategies to maintain their grip are no doubt tantamount to the violation of people's rights and freedom.

Before celebrating the return of citizens’ deserved internet, let us go back to the core matter; did they take to the street because of the internet cut? Or was it as a side effect to the action taken by the marginalized against their marginalization? With this established, does the internet restoration solve the anglophones’ problem?

In a series of interviews recently carried out as we commune with young leaders, activists and citizens in different fields across Cameroon on this issue.  Their only excitement that floated stemmed from the reinstallation of the ‘lazy’ internet as the guarantee to reconnect to their loved ones has been rekindled. 

Our source from Buea, whose identity would not be disclose for security reasons, says “the biggest sufferer are tech entrepreneurs whose businesses survive solely on the internet because customers can only assess them digitally through social medias and websites.” In a global system where economies of countries are driven by young tech entrepreneurs, and Buea being the tech hub of Cameroon, President Biya’s clamp down took “a great leap” backward for Cameroon with serious damage on the economy. The economic losses are estimated at a minimum of $4.5 million according to Access Now.

This shutdown disrupted access to vital information, e-financing and emergency services; not minimizing the interrupted remittances from the diaspora to Cameroon. In fact, according to the Brookings Institution, a similar decision in Ethiopia that lasted for just 30days, that is from June to July, cost the country the sum of $8 million.

Before we leap for joy on Cameroon, we have to ask questions like; what about the activists held illegally in police custody?

It should be noted that what gyrated into the internet ban was a result of protest from teachers and lawyers which degenerated to the students and the man on the street who all have been complaining against unequal laws and the biased educational policies and implementation toward the Anglophone sub system. This led to many youth being assaulted and dozens more arrested. The height of trying to control the protest from spilling over was internet shutdown. So what happens to these young activists facing trial for simply exercising their freedom of expression and association besides schools shutdown and loss of vital access to education?

Before we leap for joy on Cameroon, we must ensure it is a safe place for youth advocates, activists, academics, entrepreneurs and citizens. Thus President Paul Biya has to address the concerns of Anglophone Cameroon. A referendum should not be a bad idea except that President Biya knows his support is at an all-time low in Southern Cameroon and whatever policies he comes up with be countered. So his only way will be to manipulate results as this is what dictators are known for.

It is becoming a trend among African leaders to disconnect their people from the world and promote a fa├žade of the real issues in the country for the benefit of a selected few whose time has gone.

It is problematic to see the international community’s reactions to issues of the Internet shutdown, notably with the statement  by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the statement by the UN envoy for Central Africa. Apart from these statements, there has not been international reaction or action  on the core issues and demands of English Speaking Cameroonians whose rights have been violated.

Human rights approach to the problem should not lay much weight on Digital Rights and disregard the discriminatory practices and policies by the Cameroonian government against Anglophone regions.

In the midst of  global challenges, it seems this issue is not perceived to be a priority. 

Therefore, we demand to:
1.    The Immediate release of all arrested (who are mostly Cameroonian youth) by the government 
2.    A compensation plan for businesses that have lost huge profits due to the deliberate act of the government in an era where internet is key to survival for business.
3.    The African Union to act and call on the Cameroon government to stop Human Rights violations and encourage a National Dialogue


*Contributed by Daniel Nwaeze, Media and Communications Lead, Afrika Youth Movement, email: info@afrikayouthmovement.org

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