Cameroon shuts down internet in English-speaking areas

Government orders internet blackout after protests against what activists call marginalisation of English-speakers.

Cameroon protest
Protests in Anglophone regions turned violent late last year [File: Stringer/Reuters]

English-speaking regions of Cameroon have now been without the internet for more than a week after Anglophone teachers, lawyers and students went on strike over alleged bias in favour of Francophones.

Wednesday marks the eighth day since the authorities ordered the country’s telecommunications providers to shut off internet connections to the regions of Northwest and Southwest.

Cameroon teachers on strike in battle over English or French

Al Jazeera contacted Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary, the country’s minister of communications, who pledged to comment on the situation but he has yet to do so.

The internet blackout came after the government outlawed at least two Anglophone groups – Southern Cameroons National Council and the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium – and arrested some of their leaders. 

The groups had been pushing for so-called Ghost Town actions, in which they urge members of the public to stay at home and shops and businesses to shut.  

The aim is to peacefully protest against what activists call the marginalisation of the English-speaking regions by government imposing the French language on their schools and courts.

The towns of Bamenda, Yuku, Nkambe and Buea came to a standstill on January 9, according to pictures and videos posted online.

Using hashtag Bring-Back-Our-Internet, many on social media expressed their outrage at the government’s response to the protest. 

Protests in the Anglophone regions have been going on for years, but intensified late last year when protests turned violent.

Anglophone teachers, lawyers and students have been on strike since early December with many urging peaceful protests to call for the establishment of a two-state federation.

On Monday, Cameroonian President Paul Biya reportedly signed a decree establishing the National Commission of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism in the country.

Activists, however, rejected the measure saying their strikes and protests are about more than language.

The discontent

Areas controlled by Britain and France joined to form Cameroon after the colonial powers withdrew in the 1960s.

As a result, the country now has 10 semi-autonomous administrative regions; eight are Francophone, while the Northwest and Southwest regions are home to approximately five million English-speakers.

Anglophones in the country have long complained that they face discrimination, saying that they are excluded from state jobs as a result of their limited French language skills.

They also complain that official documents are often only published in French, even though English is also an official language.

READ MORE: Cameroon teachers, lawyers strike in battle for English

There are issues in the judicial sector as well.

The country’s legal system is largely based on French civil law, but English-speaking regions still operate under the English common law.

Cameroonian lawyers say that the government is sending French-educated civil law judges who do not understand English common law to their courts.

Anglophone Cameroonians believe that only a complete overhaul of the administrative departments in the country and an inclusive federal constitution can end their woes.

Cameroon had adopted a federal government system in the 1960s but this system was later dropped after a referendum.

Source: Al Jazeera