The internet shutdown in parts of Cameroon, which a coalition of rights organisations says has cost businesses more than US$1.39 million, has now taken a global dimension.
Online campaigners for change, represented by Avaaz and Access Now, have launched campaigns to secure the attention of an international audience, including the African Union.
For over a month, millions of people in English-speaking regions of Cameroon have had their internet connection cut off following a government order, while those in the French-speaking parts, who constitute the majority of the country’s population, continue to enjoy access to the internet.
A petition hosted on Avaaz, a 44-million-person global campaign network, describes the situation as “a direct crackdown on dissent and a regional outcry can help break the blackout.”
It says: “The government is afraid of social media – Anglophone Cameroonians have been protesting against discrimination for not speaking French. The government has even threatened internet users with criminal penalties, including jail for years!
“Let’s create a massive outcry across Africa – from Zimbabwe to Ghana – demanding the African Union sanction the government of Cameroon until they restore internet for all its citizens. Add your name, then forward this to friends and family – let’s make our call for internet freedom massive!”
Their call is centered on the view that the United Nations considers internet shutdowns as a violation of the international human rights law, hence a sanction on Cameroon by the AU will set a precedent for other African countries.
Access Now, an advocacy group that defends and extends the digital rights of users at risk globally, encouraged a similar form of protest albeit via Twitter. They want Twitter users to initiate a petition which is directed at local service providers in Cameroon using the #BringBackOurInternet hashtag.
With its partners, the group also sent a letter to the telcos operating in Cameroon requesting they restore internet access in the South West and North West regions of the country.
A part of the letter states: “By blocking access to information and services, the disruption thwarts the exercise of human rights, including the freedoms of expression and association, and slows economic development, seriously harming the innovative businesses dependent on your services. We estimate the shutdown has already cost more than US$1.39 million and grows daily.”
The letter’s theme pricks on the need for Cameroon’s top telcos to enable the citizens “to exercise their rights and enjoy the economic, social, and cultural benefits of the global internet” – particularly as the group says its estimated cost being incurred as a result of the shutdown does not include the long-term effects of factors like the disruption of supply chains and remittances that Cameroonians living abroad send to these regions.
It adds that without internet access, entire communities are left more isolated, vulnerable, and at risk.