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

Zimbabwe Becomes the Latest Country to Shut Down Social Media

By Juliet Nanfuka |
Less than a week after the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council declared that online rights must be protected and condemned disruptions to internet access, citizens in Zimbabwe became the latest victims of online communications shut down. Authorities in Zimbabwe shut down communications in the wake of protests against rampant corruption and misuse of state funds by Robert Mugabe’s regime, which has been in power since 1980.
Online campaigns initiated by frustrated Zimbabweans using hashtags like #MugabeMustFall and #ThisFlag have gained widespread popularity over the past weeks with the most recent #ZimbabweShutdown and #ZimShutdown2016 gaining momentum while calling for citizens to stay away from work. On Wednesday July 6, many streets in the capital Harare stood empty as the stay-in protest took effect, while online, despite the blockage of the popular instant messaging platform Whatsapp, citizens continued voicing concerns and sharing messages of solidarity. Service providers such as TelOnem, Liquid Telecom Zimbabwe, ZOL Zimbabwe, Telecel and Econet were amongst those who were reportedly pressured into shutting down access, which caused users to turn to circumvention tools in order to bypass the blockage.

A notice issued by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) stated that those who engaged in “irresponsible use of social media and telecommunications services” would be “arrested and dealt with accordingly in the national interest.”
Zimbabwe, which is ranked “partly free” by Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net report, has also over the years recorded dismal media freedom and digital rights records, including crackdown on critics and news outlets both online and offline. In April 2016, a senior government official said the country could take measures similar to China by entirely blocking access to certain content online.
In July 2014, an anonymous whistle-blower Facebook page, “Baba Jukwa”, was deleted under unclear circumstances following the arrest of a journalist for allegedly running the page. A bounty of US$300,000 had earlier reportedly been offered for revealing the name of the person behind the account, while  in January 2014, a Facebook user was arrested and charged for sharing a post alleging that the president had died. These actions have cultivated a culture of self-censorship among the Zimbabwean online community.
The UN resolution, which was passed on Wednesday July 1 by 70 states, stresses that human rights enjoyed offline, particularly with regards to freedom of expression, must be protected online pursuant to articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Countries that voted against the resolution included Bolivia, Bangladesh, Burundi, Cuba, China, Russia, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, the Republic of Congo, Kenya, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela and Vietnam. Some countries including Algeria, Cote D’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan and Togo chose to abstain from voting on the resolution.
The Zimbabwe government’s stance on the use of social media comes as no surprise as an increasing number of shutdowns have been documented in African countries in recent months.
*Whatsapp was restored after four hours of disruption