Overview of Cameroon’s Digital Landscape

By Simone Toussi |

The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector in Cameroon has evolved considerably since 2010, despite the persistence of the digital divide and affronts to freedom of expression online. The country’s digital landscape was  boosted by the launch in May 2016 of the National ICT Strategic Plan 2020, which recognised the digital economy as a driver for development. The country has registered increased investments in  telecommunication and ICT infrastructure, including extension of the national optical fibre backbone to about 12,000 km, connecting 209 of the country’s 360 sub-divisions, and neighbouring countries such as Chad, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, the Central African Republic and Nigeria. 

By 2018, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications reported that mobile phone  subscribers stood at 18.8 million representing a penetration rate of 83%, while internet penetration was 35%. There are four big telecommunications service providers in Cameroon – MTN, Orange, Viettel and the state-owned CAMTEL. With 48% of the mobile market share or 8.7 million subscribers, MTN is the leading service provider, according to its report for the first quarter of 2019. 

Over the years, Cameroon has scored some improvements in ICT development and affordability. For instance, on the ICT Development Index (IDI) of  the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), its value improved from 1.54 in 2010 to 2.38 in 2017 – against the highest global value of 8.98 for Iceland, and between the highest African value of 5.88 for Mauritius and the lowest 0.96 for Eritrea. Cameroon thus ranked at 149  out of the 176 countries assessed, with more than twenty African countries ranked above it. On affordability of the internet, Cameroon’s ranking has also slightly improved – currently ranked 50, up from 53 in 2015, out of 60 countries. This still makes internet access in Cameroon among the most expensive of the countries surveyed.

Meanwhile, internet shutdowns, arrests and intimidation of online critics, and censorship of online content  raise concerns about the government’s commitment to nurturing a sustainable and inclusive digital society.

ICT Legal and Regulatory Frameworks

The Cameroonian Constitution provides for freedom of expression, freedom of the press and of communication. It states: “the freedom of communication, of expression, of the press, of assembly, of association, and of trade unionism, as well as the right to strike shall be guaranteed under the conditions fixed by law”. 

Relevant agencies governing the sector include the Telecommunication Regulatory Agency (ART), and the National Telecommunications Agency (ANTIC) – both under the mandate of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MINPOSTEL). Other entities such as the Ministry of Communication and the National Council of Communication also has regulatory and advisory roles with regards to media. 

These agencies are guided by key laws that govern ICT including  Law n° 98/014 of July 14, 1998 governing telecommunications and its amendment of December 29, 2005;  Law n° 2010/013 of  December 21, 2010 on e-Communications, and its amendment of April 2015;  Law n° 2010/012 of  December 21, 2010 on Cyber Security and Cybercrime; and Law n° 2010/021 of December 21 2010 governing e-Commerce. Other legalisation related to ICT are the Framework Law n° 2011/012 of May 6, 2011 on Consumer Protection,  Law n° 2001 / 0130 of July 23, 2001 establishing the minimum service in telecommunications, and Law n° 98/013 of July 14, 1998 on competition which governs all sectors of the national economy.

The 2014 Law on the Suppression of Terrorist Acts, which was enacted to support the fight against terrorism and growing threats from the jihadist group Boko Haram, has been used as a tool to suppress journalism and opinion critical of the government under the guise of preventing the spread of fake news and threatening national security. In January 2018, the Minister of Justice issued a directive to magistrates to “commit, after clear identification by the security services, to legally prosecute any person residing in Cameroon who uses social media to spread fake news”. 

A new law is the  2019 Finance Act, which under Section 8, introduces taxation on software and application downloads produced outside of Cameroon, at a flat rate of 200 Central African Francs (CFA), equivalent to USD 0.34, per download. Whereas the government is yet to issue implementation guidelines for the taxes, once in effect, they  will result in additional costs for digital platform users.

Access and Affordability 

Article 4 of the 2010 eCommunications law states that every citizen “has the right to benefit from electronic communications services”. The same law establishes a Universal Service Access Fund, aimed at ensuring equal, quality and affordable access to services (Articles 27-29). Whereas internet and mobile telephony have registered growth, access and affordability remain a challenge, especially among rural and poor communities. Currently, the average cost of 1GB of data is 2,000 CFA (USD 3.4) per month, and with the proposed levy of 200 CFAs (USD 0.34) on software and application downloads, costs are expected to further increase. With an estimated per capita income of USD 1,500 in 2018, the prevailing rates are over and above the Alliance for Affordable Internet’s recommendation of 1GB of data costing 2% or less of average monthly income.  

Gender Digital Divide

A 2015 report by the Web Foundation found that in Cameroon only 36% of women compared to 45% of men were internet users. The key factors inhibiting women’s access to the internet and digital devices in Cameroon included literacy levels, cost relative to income, access to devices, perceived relevance and usefulness, lack of time and poor infrastructure. Towards addressing the digital gender divide, the National ICT Strategic Plan 2020 states among its objectives the need to “support the development of female skills in the field of digital engineering“, and to “support technological and scientific vocations for women“. However, these objectives are not linked to any specific projects within the plan’s priority action areas. 

Meanwhile, without much in the way of provisions for gender, cultural and linguistic diversity, the country’s ICT laws remain largely silent on diversity and inclusion within the ICT sector. Further, seven years since its passing, the Framework Law on Consumer Protection, which includes provisions on consumer rights and quality of services within the technology sector, remains largely unenforced due to the absence of  implementation guidelines.

Privacy and Data Protection

Cameroon has no data protection or privacy law. However, the national Constitution amended by the Law N°. 96-06 of 18 January 1996, guarantees privacy of communications in its preamble, stating that “the privacy of all correspondence is inviolate. No interference may be allowed except by virtue of decisions emanating from the Judicial Power”. The 2010 Cybersecurity and Cybercrime law also provides for the privacy of communications under Article 41 and outlaws the interception of communications under Article 44. The obligation for service providers to guarantee users’ privacy and the confidentiality of information is covered under Articles 42 and 26.  

According to Article 26(1); “Information system operators shall take all technical and administrative measures to ensure the security of the services offered. To this end, they should be equipped with standardised systems that enable them to identify, evaluate, process and continuously manage the risks related to the security of information systems in the context of services offered directly or indirectly”. However, the law does not specify the guiding principles for the collection and processing of personal data, nor users’ right to access and update such data. 

Network Disruptions

The government of Cameroon has in the past initiated two internet shutdowns in the Anglophone region of the country, which together lasted 240 days and drew international condemnation. The shutdowns were imposed in the wake of ongoing strikes, fatal violence and protest action against the alleged “francophonisation” and marginalisation of English speakers who claim that “the central government privileges the majority French-speaking population and eight other regions.” It is estimated that the regional internet shutdown cost USD 38.8 million in addition to affecting access to public services, education, and daily livelihoods. 

Guaranteeing an Inclusive Digital Space in Cameroon

Cameroon’s government has professed its intention to leverage the digital economy for sustainable development and to establish  an enabling legal and regulatory framework. However, developments such as taxation of application downloads, internet disruptions, and limited efforts to bridge the digital gender divide, indicate a shrinking digital space and are likely obstacles to the uptake of ICT. Efforts are thus necessary to ensure a digital environment that is both open and accessible to all, upholds users’ safety and security, and guarantees constitutional rights. These efforts should include a strengthened legal framework with implementation guidelines to ensure enforcement, compliance monitoring, and accountability. 

Moreover, the adoption of a specific law on privacy and data protection is recommended, so as to guarantee the principles of anonymity and consent, and in line with international best practice. For civil society organisations, it is recommended to intensify advocacy against regressive policy and practice including internet disruptions,  and the enforcement of consumer protection and universal services. Crucially, civil society should play an active role in policy consultative processes and citizen sensitisation on digital rights and literacy.

Litigating Against Internet Shutdowns in Cameroon

By Juliet Nanfuka |
The pushback against internet shutdowns in Cameroon has recently taken a new turn with advocacy organisations filing formal submissions before the Supreme Court of Cameroon. In their January 2018 submission, AccessNow and Internet Sans Frontières (ISF) highlight Cameroon’s commitment to international and regional human rights law and urge judges to recognise that disrupting or blocking the internet is incompatible with the right to free expression and access to information.
Authorities in Cameroon first initiated an internet shutdown in the English-speaking regions on January 17, 2017, which lasted 93 days. The shutdown was imposed in the wake of ongoing strikes, fatal violence and protest action against the continued “francophonisation” and marginalisation of English speakers who claim the central government “privileges the majority French-speaking population and eight other regions.” Cameroon’s constitution recognises the two languages as equal and calls for bilingualism. A second shutdown was effected on October 1, 2017 and some 150 days later, there was still no sign that the shutdown is about to be lifted in the affected Anglophone regions of Southwest and Northwest Cameroon.
The case in which AccessNow and ISF intervened is one of two ongoing cases challenging the January 2017 shutdown. Initiated in April 2017 by Cameroon’s Veritas Law Offices, in collaboration with the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI), the cases are against the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, Cameroon Telecommunications (CamTel) – a private company which dominates the telecoms sector in the country – and the Government of Cameroon.
Litigation has been recognised as a potentially effective tool in removing restrictions on the free flow of information online in countries with repressive internet regimes. Increasingly,  various initiatives are seeking to encourage collaboration across different internet governance actors in strategic litigation for a free and open internet.
AccessNow and ISF’s filing seeks remedy for the shutdown, calling it a violation of citizens’ constitutional rights to freedom of expression and access to information and freedom from discrimination. Indeed, in the submission, the organisations point out that international and regional courts as well as human rights institutions have condemned shutdowns as contrary to the law, unnecessary, and a disproportionate means of achieving their aim.
The filing also to refers to Article 19(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 9 and 27(2) of the African Charter, which state that a limitation or restriction on the right to freedom of expression will only be justifiable where it is (i) provided by law, (ii) serves a legitimate interest, and (iii) is necessary in a democratic society. These articles further state that where a state’s restriction or limitation fails to meet any one of the aforementioned criteria, it will amount to a violation of the right to freedom of expression.
Meanwhile, in November 2016, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted a Resolution in which it expressed its concern over “the emerging practice of State Parties of interrupting or limiting access to telecommunication services such as the Internet, social media and messaging services, increasingly during elections”. It urged state parties “to respect and take legislative and other measures to guarantee, respect and protect citizens’ right to freedom of information and expression through access to Internet services.”
Various countries in Africa, Europe and Asia have experienced various forms of internet disruptions in recent years, some repeatedly like DR Congo, Ethiopia, India, Turkey, and Uganda, often with little legal recourse available to citizens. In the few instances where redress has been sought through courts of law, the proceedings have been slow such as the case of Uganda which called for the 2016 social media and mobile money shutdowns to be classed as illegal in a bid to deter a repeat of similar actions. Indeed, litigation is offering a new frontline in digital rights, such as in the case of the Gambia following the February ruling by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Regional Court of Justice that media laws on sedition, false news and criminal defamation violate the right to freedom of expression. This mirrored the 2015 ruling by the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) which ruled that sections of Burundi’s Press Law of 2013 violated press freedom and democratic principles called for them to be repealed.
Nonetheless, the push for digital rights has taken on different forms and strategies, including the popular #KeepItOn campaign which is creating greater awareness and pushback against internet shutdowns. In Africa, for as long internet disruptions continue to recur, more strategic responses to them need to be developed particularly as sinister measures such as ambiguous regulations are increasingly taken to control the flow of information and freedom of expression online.
Update: Internet Access in the affected regions of Cameroon was restored in early March 2018.

Online Chat On Internet Shutdowns

Online Chat |
On Friday December 15, 2017, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) will spend some time sharing insights on internet shutdowns. Between 15h00 and 16h00 East African Time (EAT) we will explore the spate of shutdowns affecting Sub-Saharan Africa and the efforts to navigate them.

Have you experienced an internet shutdown? Are you experiencing a shutdown? What work or insights would you like to share around this issue? What is the way forward?

We will also share insights on the economic impact of internet shutdowns with reference to a new framework we developed on calculating the Economic Impact of Internet Disruptions in Sub-Saharan Africa
A few of the documented cases of deliberate interruption of digital communications in sub-Sahara Africa in December thus far include an ongoing shutdown in Anglophone regions of Cameroon which as of today has run for 75 days. An earlier shutdown in the same region lasted 93 days. This week also Ethiopia experienced interruptions to its communications – primarily Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter due to protests in the Oromia region. Further afield, in Yemen, there were reports of some internet filtering, blocking, throttling, and social media shutdowns.
Join the discussion and share your views on how we can #KeepItOn and protect #InternetFreedomAfrica 

13 Days Later, Cameroon Maintains Internet Shutdown Despite Global Outcry

By Juliet Nanfuka |

An internet shutdown in the primarily Anglophone regions of north-west and south-west Cameroon is now in its 13th day. The shutdown was first initiated across the country on January 16 and on January 17, internet access was reinstated in the Francophone parts of the country. As of January 30, the blockage in the Anglophone regions including in key towns such as Buea and Bameda remains in pace.
The shutdown was imposed in the wake of ongoing strikes, fatal violence and protest action against the continued “francophonisation” and marginalisation of English speakers who say that “the central government privileges the majority French-speaking population and eight other regions.” Cameroon’s constitution recognises the two languages as equal and calls for bilingualism. Further, the arrest of the activist leaders of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, Nkongho Felix Agbor Balla and Fontem Neba, have done little to address the perception that government is trying to silence voices of dissent.
Critics of the shutdown have called the shutdown a violation of “citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and access to information”. On January 22, civil society organisations from around the world sent an open letter to the President of Cameroon, and the ministers for telecommunications and communication urging an immediate end to the shutdown. No response has been received.
Indeed, there has been global outcry on the shutdown which has affected the livelihoods of millions of citizens in the affected regions. Mobile Money services providers, microfinance Institutions and banks have also been affected, forcing residents to travel to Francophone towns like Douala to conduct their financial transactions (Listen to iAfrikan podcast).
In the days leading up to the shutdown, the Ministry of Post & Telecommunications (MINPOSTEL) issued a directive to operators to send out messages warning subscribers against the “bad” use of social media.  Operators received backlash on social media for sending the government-directed message which was seen to encourage self–censorship.
However, Philisiwe Sibiya, CEO at MTN Cameroon, argued that the communication was not intended to “curtail customer rights and violate customer privacy.” She explained that the regulator, MINPOSTEL, “may from time to time request telecom operators to carry messages on their networks intended for the general public. This was the case recently when MTN Cameroon, along with other operators, broadcast a message from MINSPOTEL regarding the use of the internet.”

“Dear subscriber, publishing as well as spreading false news,including on the social media, are punishable by the Penal Code and the law

Communiqué sent to users of Camtel, MTN, Orange, Nextell mobile telephone lines from MINPOSTEL

Back in November 2016, the government launched a campaign against social media, calling it “a new form of terrorism”. At the time, Facebook and Twitter users were sharing information, including pictures, about a train derailment in which 80 people died while government maintained silence about the accident.
Whereas language as the basis for an internet shutdown is new, the practice has become common in Africa particularly during political unrest (Burundi), elections and inauguration (Uganda), economic failure (Zimbabwe) and exams (Ethiopia).
Various campaigns are underway calling for the Cameroon Government to reinstate internet access, including this Use your voice! Tell Cameroon to turn the internet back on  and the hashtags #BringBackOurInternet #KeepItOn.
See this Aljzeera discussion titled Is Cameroon persecuting its English speakers? It features Elvis Ngolle Ngolle – Former Minister of Special Duties in the Office of the President of Cameroon. Julie Owono – Head of the Internet Desk at Internet Without Borders and Albert Nchinda – Political Analyst.
Image: Cameroonians in South Africa gathered at the MTN Headquarters in Johannesburg to protest the shut down of internet in its English-speaking regions of Cameroon.
Source: Kinnakas Blog

Open Letter To Cameroonian Government On Internet Connectivity In Anglophone Regions

Open Letter |
On January 22, 2017, Civil Society Organizations from around the world sent the following open letter to The President of Cameroon, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, and Minister of Communication, on ongoing Internet blackout in anglophone regions of the country.

Internet Sans Frontières - CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 FR

Internet Sans Frontières – CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 FR

Re: Internet Connectivity in the Republic of Cameroon
Your Excellencies,
We are writing to urgently request that you restore Internet access in the South West and North West regions of Cameroon. Multiple reports, including ours, indicate that your government ordered operators to block communications over the internet in the anglophone regions of the country. [1]
We implore you to keep the internet on.
Research shows that internet shutdowns and violence go hand in hand. [2] Shutdowns disrupt the free flow of information and create a cover of darkness that allows repression to occur without scrutiny. Worryingly, the Republic of Cameroon would be joining an alarming global trend of government-mandated shutdowns around election issues, a practice that many African Union member governments have recently adopted, including:  Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, Chad, Gabon, Egypt, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo. [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9]

Internet shutdowns — with governments ordering the suspension or throttling of entire networks, often during elections or public protests — must never be allowed to become the new normal.

Justified for public safety purposes, shutdowns instead cut off access to vital information, e-financing, and emergency services, plunging whole societies into fear and destabilizing the internet’s power to support small business livelihoods and drive economic development. In addition, a study by the Brookings Institution indicates that shutdowns drained $2.4 billion from the global economy last year. [10]
The Internet shutdown imposed in anglophone territories of Cameroon will hit hard on the burgeoning digital economy, which is blossoming in Cameroon’s Silicon Mountain, Buea. [11]
International Law
A growing body of jurisprudence declares shutdowns to violate international law. The United Nations Human Rights Council has spoken out strongly against internet shutdowns. In its 32nd Session, in July 2016, the Council passed by consensus a resolution on freedom of expression and the internet with operative language on internet shutdowns. The resolution, A/HRC/RES/32/13, « condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law and calls on all States to refrain from and cease such measures. » The Council intended this clear declaration to combat the blocking and throttling of networks, applications, and services that facilitate the freedoms of expression, opinion, and access to information online. In addition, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights stated in its November 2016  Resolution on the Right to Freedom of Information and Expression on the Internet in Africa that it was “Concerned by the emerging practice of State Parties of interrupting or limiting access to telecommunication services such as the Internet, social media and messaging services, increasingly during elections.” [12]
In 2015, various experts from the United Nations (UN) Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Organization of American States (OAS), and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), issued an historic statement declaring that internet “kill switches” can never be justified under international human rights law, even in times of conflict. [13] General Comment 34 of the UN Human Rights Committee, the official interpreter of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, emphasizes that restrictions on speech online must be strictly necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate purpose. Shutdowns disproportionately impact all users, and unnecessarily restrict access to information and emergency services communications during crucial moments.
The internet has enabled significant advances in health, education, and creativity, and it is now essential to fully realize human rights including participation in elections and access to information.
We humbly request that you use the vital positions of your good offices to:

  • Ensure that the internet connectivity, including social media, is restored in the anglophone regions of the republic of Cameroon in the coming period
  • Publicly declare your commitment to keep the internet on, including social media
  • Encourage telecommunications and internet services providers to respect human rights, including through public disclosures and transparency reports.

We are happy to assist you in any of these matters.

  • Access Now
  • Internet Sans Frontières
  • Internet Sans Frontières-Togo
  • Africtivistes
  • Cameroon Ô Bosso
  • Droit au Droit
  • Réseau des blogueurs du Burkina Faso
  • Réseau Panafricain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains
  • Afrika Youth Movement
    Voice of Women Initiative
    Coexistence with Alternative Language and Action Movement- Tunisia
  • The Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
  • Pen Plus Bytes
  • Unwanted Witness Uganda
  • Center for Media Research
  • Media Foundation for West Africa
  • Campaign for Human Rights and Development
  • African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
  • Center for Democracy and Technology
  • Paradigm Initiative Nigeria
  • Internet Freedom Forum
  • ADISI-Cameroun
  • Société des Amis de Mongo Beti (SAMBE)

[1] Julie Owono, Regional Internet Blackout In Cameroon (Report by Internet Sans Frontières, 20 January 2017) <http://internetwithoutborders.org/fr/regional-internet-blackout-in-cameroon/
[2] Sarah Myers West, ‘Research Shows Internet Shutdowns and State Violence Go Hand in Hand in Syria’ (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 1 July 2015) <https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/06/research-shows-internet-shutdowns-and-state-violence-go-hand-hand-syria> accessed 18 February 2016.
[3] ‘Access urges UN and African Union experts to take action on Burundi internet shutdown’ (Access Now 29 April 2015) <https://www.accessnow.org/access-urges-un-and-african-union-experts-to-take-action-on-burundi-interne/> accessed 18 February 2016.
[4] Deji Olukotun, ‘Government may have ordered internet shutdown in Congo-Brazzaville’ (Access Now 20 October 2015) <https://www.accessnow.org/government-may-have-ordered-internet-shutdown-in-congo-brazzaville/> accessed 18 February 2016.
[5]  Deji Olukotun and Peter Micek, ‘Five years later: the internet shutdown that rocked Egypt’ (Access Now 21 January 2016) <https://www.accessnow.org/five-years-later-the-internet-shutdown-that-rocked-egypt/> accessed 18 February 2016.
[6] Peter Micek, ‘Update: Mass internet shutdown in Sudan follows days of protest’ (Access Now, 15 October 2013) <https://www.accessnow.org/mass-internet-shutdown-in-sudan-follows-days-of-protest/> accessed 18 February 2016.
[7] Peter Micek, ‘Access submits evidence to International Criminal Court on net shutdown in Central African Republic’(Access Now 17 February 2015) <https://www.accessnow.org/evidence-international-criminal-court-net-shutdown-in-central-african-repub/> accessed 18 February 2016.
[8] ‘Niger resorts to blocking in wake of violent protests against Charlie Hebdo cartoons.’ (Access Now Facebook page 26 January 2015) <https://www.facebook.com/accessnow/posts/10153030213288480> accessed 18 February 2016.
[9] Peter Micek, (Access Now 23 January 2015) ‘Violating International Law, DRC Orders Telcos to Cease Communications Services’ <https://www.accessnow.org/violating-international-law-drc-orders-telcos-vodafone-millicon-airtel/> accessed 18 February 2016.
[10] Darrell West, (Brookings Institution, October 2016) “Internet shutdowns cost countries $2.4 billion last year”https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/intenet-shutdowns-v-3.pdf
[11] Julie Owono, Cameroon’s Reflection on the “false news” debate stirs censorship fears (Report by Internet Sans Frontières, 22 November 2016) <http://internetwithoutborders.org/fr/cameroonian-governments-dangerous-stance-against-a-free-and-open-internet/
[12] African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, (November 2016) ‘362: Resolution on the Right to Freedom of Information and Expression on the Internet in Africa – ACHPR/Res. 362(LIX) 2016’ http://www.achpr.org/sessions/59th/resolutions/362/
[13] Peter Micek, (Access Now 4 May 2015) ‘Internet kill switches are a violation of human rights law, declare major UN and rights experts’ <https://www.accessnow.org/blog/2015/05/04/internet-kill-switches-are-a-violation-of-human-rights-law-declare-major-un&gt; accessed 18 February 2016.
Originally published here – French Version available here