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Blackout in Silicon Mountain

For three months there was no Internet for the English-speaking minority. Now it is being restored. But for how long? Different people demonstrate with signs. One of them speaks into a microphone. The Internet was gone for three months in the English-speaking areas. Now the government ordered the restoration last Thursday. That is a great relief.

But the official government delegation to break up the longest internet censorship the African continent has ever experienced is another threatening gesture. “This is very good news, but the government remains open to its interpretation of the situation to shut down the Internet again, and our concern, of course, is that this could happen quickly,” says Julie Owono. The native Cameroonian and head of the Africa section of the organization Internets sans frontièrsble remains skeptical.

The anglofone minority is marginalized

Cameroon, formerly a German colony, was declared a British and French Mandate after the First World War. Today the country is officially bilingual, but the Anglo-Saxon minority, which accounts for 20 percent of the total population, is marginalized in all areas of public life. In November last year, lawyers and teachers protested in Bamenda, Cameroon’s largest English-speaking city. They call for the introduction of federalism and greater recognition of the English language. The government quickly sent the military to Bamenda and the protests were ended by force.

However, this action only allowed the protest movement to grow. In December several thousand people took to the streets again in Bamenda and students in Buea started a strike. Again there were violent riots by the military, in which eight people lost their lives. As a result, the population went on general strikes, schools were closed and public life was paralysed.

A radical blackout

The government’s radical response: a digital blackout. All Internet connections from the southwest Limbé to the northwest of Bamenda were shut down by MTN and Orange on government orders. People took to the streets. The military violently ended the protest.

The effects of the blackout are also devastating for the economy. The city of Buea in the English-speaking southwest of the country is particularly affected. Buea is an economic hopeful in the country and is also called Silicon Mountain due to flourishing start-ups in the IT sector and its location at the foot of Mont Cameroun.

During the blackout, the young IT entrepreneurs were forced to travel to neighboring francophone cities to use the local Internet connection and thus be able to continue their business halfway.

“We estimate that within ninety days a loss of about 4.5 million US dollars has been incurred. For a country like Cameroon, which is still in an economic crisis, this is a lot of money,” explains Julie Owono. “Some people in the French-speaking part, for example in Douala, showed solidarity, they set up offices for the entrepreneurs, the so-called Internet refugees, from Buea. But the ordinary citizens, who want to communicate with their friends or family abroad, were also affected”.

Fight against repression

Now English-speaking Cameroonians finally have access to the World Wide Web again, but the government in Yaoundé is still not seeking dialogue with its English-speaking population – on the contrary: many lawyers and teachers are still in prison and shocking videos of police violence on the social networks appear again and again.

“The Cameroonian government hides behind the argument of national security. Since 2014 there has been a law against terrorism which now allows the government to take unbridled action against members of the opposition. The shutdown of the Internet was legitimized on the grounds of counter-terrorism,” explains Owono.

The activists of the internationally acclaimed #BringBackOurInternet campaign are also sceptical. They recall the original goal: they do not fight for the Internet, but against repression.

About Cameroon

The Republic of Cameroon is located in Central Africa and borders Nigeria to the west, Chad to the northeast, the Central African Republic to the east, the Republic of Congo to the southeast and south and Equatorial Guinea to the south. In the west, the country has an approximately 400 km long coast on the Atlantic Ocean (Gulf of Guinea). With a national territory of 475 442 km², Cameroon is one third larger than Germany.

In the centre of the country lies the Adamaoua plateau at an altitude of 1,000 to 1,500 m above sea level. Isolated mountain ranges tower out of the highlands and reach altitudes of over 2,000 m. The highest mountain with 2 679 m is the Muti in the Bamboutogebirge in the northwest of the country. In the north, the plateau descends to the Chad Basin, in the far north, the country has a share in Lake Chad. To the west of the Adamaoua highlands is a coastal plain up to 130 km wide. In the northwest, in the immediate vicinity of the coast, lies the still active volcanic massif of Mount Cameroon, at 4,070 m the highest elevation in the country. The longest of Cameroon’s numerous rivers is the Sanaga, which flows through the highlands from northeast to southwest and flows into the Gulf of Guinea.

Yaoundé (Yaoundé; 1.3 million inhabitants) in the interior is the capital of the country, with over 1.5 million inhabitants the most populous city and economic center of the country is the coastal city Douala.

Political System

The Republic of Cameroon is a presidential republic in the Commonwealth based on the French model. The constitution dates back to 1972. The head of state with far-reaching powers is the president (since November 1982 Paul Biya). He has a seven-year term of office (direct election by the people) with unlimited re-election. The Prime Minister (since June 2009 Philémon Yang) is appointed by the President of the Republic, as is the Cabinet on the recommendation of the Head of Government.

The legislature is the National Assembly, which consists of a chamber with 180 seats. The members are elected directly by the people for a five-year term. The President has the right to extend or shorten Parliament’s term of office. In accordance with the constitutional amendment of 1996, a second chamber in the form of a Senate took office in May 2013. It has a total of 100 seats for regional representatives. 30 of them are appointed by the President, the remainder by indirect election. Cameroonians are entitled to vote at the age of 21.

The legal system is based on the French one. Cameroon is divided into ten provinces.

Economy

In the early 1990s, the depletion of oil reserves and a fall in world market prices initially led to a crisis in the economy, and various international structural adjustment and assistance programmes have since helped to bring some stability. Nevertheless, the economy remains extremely dependent on world market prices. About 40% of the population live below the poverty line.

Agriculture accounts for one-fifth of GDP; more than half the population is employed in this sector. Bananas, jams, manioc, maize, millet, rice and beans are cultivated mainly for personal consumption on small farms. Cocoa, coffee, rubber and cotton are cultivated for export. Forestry is of great importance. Fishing is important both for the population’s own needs and for exports.

Cameroon’s most important raw material is oil, which accounts for almost two thirds of its exports. The reserves of bauxite, iron ore and natural gas have hardly been exploited to date. Industry (one third of GDP) is geared to the processing of agricultural and forestry products and is to be diversified in the future. Due to the many rivers in the country, most of the energy demand can be covered by hydropower.

The most important trading partners for exports are the EU countries, especially the Netherlands, France, Italy and Belgium, as well as China. The main imports are food, machinery, consumer goods and fuels from France, China and Germany.

The infrastructure is moderately developed, with about 1 000 km of rail and 4 300 km of paved road (a total of about 35 000 km). The economic centre of the country is the coastal town of Douala, which is the most important port and the largest of the country’s three international airports. Currency is the CFA franc.