Uproar Over Internet Shutdowns: Governments Cite Incitements to Violence, Exam Cheating and Hate Speech.

AuthorMukeredzi, Tonderayi

Nina Forgwe, who lives in Bamenda, in the northwest of Cameroon, missed the deadline to submit her doctoral application in March--one of many victims of an Internet shutdown in her town and in the other English-speaking parts of the country.

The Cameroonian government suspended services after Anglophone teachers, lawyers and students went on strike over alleged historical biases in favour of Francophones. The suspension started in January this year and ended in March, and at nearly one hundred days is the longest period of Internet disruption by an African government.

The impact of the Internet disruption was severe, recalled Ms. Forgwe, who is an activist.

"All personal services that required the Internet were put on hold. Many Internet-based businesses ground to a halt, especially tech start-ups. A lot of our activism is through online portals," she told Africa Renewal.

Access Now, a New York-based international human rights organisation, put the financial cost of the shutdown at $5 million in tax revenue, profits of Internet-related businesses, general operating expenses, bank transaction fees, and money transfer services, among others.

Communication minister and government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary said the shutdown was triggered by the propagation of false information on social media capable of inciting hate and violence in the crisis-hit regions.

The shutdown was a particular blow for Cameroon's "Silicon Mountain," a cluster of tech startups in the region that had been flourishing. Deprived of the Internet, Silicon Mountain entrepreneurs were forced to drive to other parts of Cameroon whenever they wanted to go online. These long drives ate into work time.

"Money is being lost. Some of us can't engage with our foreign clients because of the suspended Internet service. It's disruptive to everyone," said Churchill Mambe. Mr. Mambe is the owner of Njorku, an employment and hotel services company recently listed among the top 20 African start-ups by Forbes magazine.

Julie Owono, a lawyer and executive director of Internet without Borders, a Paris-based Internet rights organisation, told Africa Renewal that between January and June 2017, nine countries globally experienced Internet blockades, including three in Africa--Cameroon, Egypt and Ethiopia.

A few months after Cameroon's Internet disruption, a nationwide blackout was imposed in Ethiopia over concerns about cheating at exams. Ethiopian government spokesperson Mohammed Seid...

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