Yaounde, April, 24th, 2017 (Quartz). After a 93-day blackout, internet service has been restored to English-speaking regions in Cameroon.
President Paul Biya ordered the restoration of internet services in the northwest and southwest regions of the country. Internet services had been cut off in both regions in January after protests against political and economic discrimination by the country’s French-dominated government. The government achieved the shutdown by pressuring mobile operators and did not give any prior notice before cutting off the internet services.
A bilingual country in theory, Cameroon’s government and institutions are dominated by the French-speaking majority. Anglophone regions account for slightly less than 20% of Cameroon’s 23 million population. The internet shutdown was viewed as a tactic to prevent more protests by cutting off communication through social media messaging apps, which had proven vital to planning protests.
The internet blackout was met with criticism and even more protests as regions unaffected by the shutdown led an online #BringBackOurInternet campaign to restore internet services to Anglophone regions. Rebecca Enonchong, a Cameroonian tech entrepreneur, said the campaign “was an expression of solidarity for those in the no-internet zones.” She told Quartz, “The millions of tweets of support gave them hope.” The blackout was also condemned by internet advocacy groups and United Nations officials, who described it as a rights violation.
Despite the blackout, some Cameroonian startups found ways to get online by creating an “internet refugee camp.” On an even brighter note, during the shutdown, 17-year-old Nji Collins Gbah, whose hometown was cut off the internet, emerged as the first African winner in Google’s annual coding competition.