Implications of Depriving Anglophone Cameroon Access to the Internet

M D Zigo

British Southern Cameroon is currently without internet. The region has been deprived of internet services since January 17th, 2017. 

In a bid to punish, frustrate and bring a halt to a two-month-long strike action in the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon, the government embarked on some very tough measures against protestors and inhabitants of these two regions. One of such measures was to switch off the internet. The decision came immediately after police arrested two leaders of the Cameroon Civil Society Consortium (ACSC), Barrister Nkongho Felix and Dr. Fontem Neba.

The government of Cameroon is not the first country to resort to such measures as a means of censorship. However, the decision to turn off connectivity is quite disturbing. This is so because individuals and organisations have clearly identified and documented the negative impacts of such actions. In fact, the measure is frowned at for a number of reasons. This short piece throws more light on the implications of such a measure.

To begin with, it is important to note that the arrival of new information and communication technologies, such as the internet has been considered by many as being ‘more than just a good thing.’  There is the believe that it has the potential to facilitate quantum leaps in development, be it economic, political or socio-cultural.

Today, we live in a fast changing world, where the free flow of information, ideas and knowledge exchanged across the glope are having a profound impact on the way we function. In the words of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), the global challenge is to harness the potential of Information and Communication Technologies and ‘built a people-centered, inclusive and development oriented information society, where everyone can create, access, utilise and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals and communities and people to achieve their full potential in promoting development goals and improving their quality of life.’’

So, what happens when the government of Cameroon decides to deprive a whole region, more than six million people and more than one fifth of her total population, of internet services? What are the implications? Either the government does not know or does not care about the fact that the negative implications far more outweigh the benefits. Most often, all governments think is about censorship and the insatiable desire to bring citizens to their knees.

But repercussions go beyond the desire to punish and force people to conform. It can also negatively affect the economy and result to human right abuses etc.

Shooting the Economy on the Foot.

Government leaders who turn off internet as a means of censorship and force people into submission are shooting their economies on the foot. Most economy activities are increasingly relying on the internet in one way or the other. Thus, disruptions are counterproductive. It is hard to ascertain how much the economy is losing, but it is a fact that millions are going down the drain every day. Internet providers charge for provision. Failure to provide means they are losing millions. Cyber shops are also grounded. Banks, for instance and other businesses that depend on the internet are being affected. What about government offices and departments that cannot operate without connectivity? These results to untold hardship, exacerbates poverty in an economy that has already been rendered unproductive, due to frequent ghost towns and other strike actions. All these go a long way to prove that governments damage their economies when they shutdown internet applications and services.

Human Right Abuses.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee condemns shutdown by governments.  It ‘condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to dissemination of information online in violation of international Human Rights Law.’ As such, it ‘specifically calls on all states to refrain from and cease such measures.’ Thus, government’s action means stepping on the rights of English speaking Cameroonians and all who live in Southern Cameroons.  It also chills free expression.   When the strike started, citizens were able to document and share to the whole world the atrocities of the military. Some of those pictures and videos are still making rounds on the internet. With this measure, government has been able to stop the free circulation of these pictures and videos, at least, to an extent. It goes without saying, therefore that the measure has been used not only to force people to submission, but also to cover up police brutality and maybe, genocide against the peace loving people of Southern Cameroon. Also, thousands of Anglophone Cameroonians, both at home and abroad depend on free applications like Facebook and other social media to connect with family and friends. A government that genuinely pays attention to the inalienable rights of its citizens will think twice before switching off the internet.

Issues of e-education, e-Health, e-participation and e-democracy

All these ‘e-things’ are done online, with the help of the internet. For instance, more and more students in the South West and North West Regions of Cameroon have opted to study online.  Depriving them of the means to study equals stopping them from their studies. E-health is gaining importance as more and more people are relying on it to better their health. E-democracy and e-participation are no longer new concepts and thousands of people are gradually making their voices heard and participating in making decisions that affect their lives in one way or the other.

The Government of Cameroon could use other measures to bring the strike action to an end. One of such measures is to re-open dialogue. Such a dialogue must be GENUINE and take into consideration the complaints and aspirations of the people. Austerity measures such as arresting leaders and protestors and detaining them in maximum security prisons, out of the jurisdiction of their common law system; intimidating and killing others; militarising their towns and cities, shutting down internet etc are not the best. These actions do not quench, rather they help to further widen a divide that is already very visible and push a people who genuinely feel oppressed, cheated and marginanised to the edge.

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