March 29, 2017

The Government of Cameroon Has Cut Off The Internet to All Since 01/17/17





Wednesday marks 73 days since people in northwest and southwest Cameroon have had no access to the internet — at all. And it doesn’t look like it's coming back anytime soon. 


On Jan. 17, the government of Cameroon shut down the internet in two regions of the central African country. Courts and schools in the two regions have also been on strike for the duration.
The blackout has affected everything: ATM machines no longer work; students can't gossip on Whatsapp; and businesses have folded up as they're no longer able to operate online.

The shutdown has targeted Bamenda and Buea, two regions which are home to most of the country's English-speaking minority. Citizens there have long said theyre marginalised by the central government in Yaoundé, the French-speaking capital. 


“The Anglophone problem" dates back to the end of colonialism in the 1960s. 


What's known as Cameroon today was once under control of both British and French colonialists. After independence, a series of referendums were held and the country went from being a two-state federation to having a centralized government with 10 semi-autonomous administrative regions. 
But Anglophone Cameroonians say it's far from a case of being separate but equal. Although English and French are both official languages, language remains a barrier in getting often lucrative state jobs, state funding is skewed towards Francophone regions and official documents and activities that should be bilingual are frequently in French alone. 
Over the decades, several civil organizations and caucuses have formed amid calls for the state makeup to be reviewed. Some activists are campaigning for a return to a two-state federation; in recent years though others have gone further, calling for the anglophone-phone regions to splinter and form independent states.

The internet shutdown came after a surge in protests by English-speaking Cameroonians against the government last year. Throughout the last three months of 2016, the government faced a series of protests from lawyers, teachers and students. The marches were triggered by the presidential appointment of French-speaking judges to courts in the Anglophone region. Aside from operating in a different language, English-speaking regions still operate under the English common law, as opposed to French civil law which the appointees were trained in. 


Judges went on strike. Teachers soon joined them, saying the prevalence of French-speaking teachers in classrooms — who spoke limited English — was hampering students' progress.
While discontent has simmered in the background for decades, by December they bubbled over into violence. The government responded brutally. Incidents of soldiers brutally assaulting students flooded Cameroonian Twitter. Several prominent government critics were arrested, including a senior judge. They have yet to be released. 
Paul Biya, the autocratic ruler who has held power for 35 years, soon after claimed the internet needed to be shutdown for "security reasons."

Cameroonians have responded creatively by setting up internet “refugee camps" where the data is always flowing. 


To get online, residents in the affected areas have been forced to travel for tens of kilometers to get to Francophone areas where there's still connectivity.
But in Buea, known as "Silicon Mountain" for its booming tech start-ups, a group of techies have come together to set up a "refuge," Quartz reports. They’ve rented a room in Bonako, a village bordering the French region, bought portable modems and hooked them up to generators, creating an oasis for struggling start ups. 

But there are also fears such repression can cross borders.

US watchdog Freedom House found last year that governments curbed social media communications in 24 countries last year, up from 15 the previous year. 
African governments been increasingly using blackouts as a tool to crush dissenting voices. This week a Tanzanian rapper was arrested after a song criticising the government went viral. And partial or complete internet blackouts were order in Gambia, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon in 2016. Officials in Zimbabwe also hiked the cost of internet cell data after protests jumped from social media to the streets. 

For now, most Cameroonians are calling on the government to begin implementing three simple measures. 

1. Bring back the internet
2. Free all the arrested
3. National Dialogue

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