Internet users in Cameroon’s Bamenda have been reporting that the Internet has been cut in the country’s English-speaking region amid ongoing protests. This claim is supported by Akamai’s State of the Internet who have seen a sharp drop in Internet traffic from Cameroon since the reports were made.
Sharp Drop In Internet Traffic From Cameroon / Akamai State Of The Internet
It has emerged that the shutdown was ordered by the government, with a letter from the Director-General of CAMTEL, Cameroon's national telecommunications and internet service provider stating that the internet was shut off following orders from the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications.
In order for servicce to be restored, the ISPs needed to commit to 'respecting measures drawn up in close collaboration with the Government. Failure to do this would lead to threats and outright coercion.
Cameroon government letter detailing measures taken to ensure that operators cooperate in state-sanctioned internet shutdowns / Eric Acha
The letter reads:
For the attention of the Minister for Post and Telecommunications
Subject: Suspension of internet services in certain sensitive regions
I have the honor to inform you that following your instructions, CAMTEL has made all necessary arrangements for the suspension referred to above. However, it happens that some operators have not exactly followed your recommendations.
I personally mobilized a team to the CAMTEL sites in the cities of Yaounde, Douala, Kribi and Limbe between Tuesday 17 January 2017 at 20h30 and Wednesday 18th January 2017 at 01h30 in order to coercively enforce your mentioned instructions.
This operation resulted in the suspension of internet service for all internet service providers (ISPs) throughout the country. After a firm commitment by these different partners to respect the measures taken in close collaboration with the Government, the service was restored.
We have noted that some operators such as MTN, offer internet service to other suppliers such as CREOLINK, VODAFONE and AFRIMAX, and this is within the margin of the regulation in force. Investigations are under way for the VIETTEL case.
Moreover, this clearly raises the problem not only of the control of internet services at the level of the different access points for submarine fibre-optic cables and satellite access, but also of the need to acquire modern tools that can guarantee our sovereignty.
Please accept, Madam Minister, this expression of my highest consideration.
The Director General, Cameroon Telecommunications (CAMTEL)
The ongoing violent protests in Cameroon's English-speaking regions like Bamenda are a result of a strike by teachers and lawyers who say that Cameroon’s government is letting French sideline English in the country. Furthermore, the protesters have even gone on to suggest that the English speaking regions secede from the rest of the country, an option which the government is not entertaining.
Cameroonians have taken to social media to express their discontent and specifically at the Internet shutdown as it not only hampers communication but economic activity as well.
Added to the Internet shutdown, Cameroon's authorities are sending citizens across all mobile networks SMS messages reminding them of the penalties of posting "information you can't prove" on social media.
Mimi Takambou Mefo, a journalist who works in Cameroon, spoke to a few people in Douala affected by the Internet shutdown, and discusses what impact it is having on their lives and businesses.