A little bit of relief as the internet has been restored to the English speaking regions of Cameroon, though still slow and inaccessible to many as observed by digital rights groups.
For some time now, the Access Now, a global advocacy group has been at the fore front of the battle to stop the government of Cameroon from disrupting the internet under the #KeepItOn campaign. The group has now confirmed that the internet was back as of Thursday (Mar. 1).
However, complaints have continued to trail the development as users of social media sites lament the slow uploading of pages while some websites still couldn’t be accessed without a virtual private network.
Otto Akama, who runs the Makonjo media startup in Buea the capital of the Southwest region, also said the network was “very unstable.” This was especially true, he added, for the national telecommunications service Camtel. Since it operates the country’s fiber-optic backbone, the company has a monopoly on the nation’s internet infrastructure—making it easy for them to shut down the internet or pressure other telecom operators to do so.
“It is several times slower than it used to be,” Akama, whose company uses the Camtel service and was contemplating switching to other operators, said. “We lose several hours per day waiting for pages to load.”
For over a year now, the country which recorded one of the longest internet shutdown ever in Africa, has had internet slowed down or completely shutdown in the two Southwest and Northwest Anglophone regions spanning 240 days as of Feb 28 this year. The internet was back on for 48 hours in January for a diplomatic visit, but otherwise, it’s been off for the entire period. There are strong doubts about the permanency of the current restoration.
With mounting international pressure, Access Now and Internet Sans Frontières joined a lawsuit along with a consortium of local and regional civil society organizations, which cited violations of freedom of expression, access to information, and discrimination based on language.
The shutdown has had grievous effects on businesses as startups like Akamas have suffered serious financial losses. Akama revealed that his company lost 3,000 euros ($3,700) every month. Also, Ayuk Etta, whose company Skylabase provides software to financial institutions, was forced to relocate some of his operations to The Gambia.
There seems to be no end in sight to the political crisis that kick started the shutdown and the the central government is not slowing down in its campaign to repress dissent over the perceived marginalization of the English-speaking minority.