Cameroon vowed on Tuesday that Internet will remain down in two of its ten regions populated mainly by English speaking countrymen where protests broke out in November over lingering grievances caused by decades of neglect and injustices in both regions.
The Minister of Information, Issa Tchiroma, said at a press briefing monitored by TheSimonAtebaNews online that the government decided to suspend the Internet in the Northwest and Southwest regions because “With that powerful tool, you don’t know who is who”.
“The problem is that with that tool (Internet), you don’t know who is who,” Mr. Tchiroma said in French. “That’s why we cut it,” he added.
He said it will remain cut or down and warned that government would “neutralise” any tool capable of being used to cause disunity in Cameroon or for preaching hatred or calling for break up, or even a Federal system.
Watching to the minister’s tone and arrogance, it seemed at times as if he was referring to slaves, not countrymen with genuine grievances and rights to assemble and protest.
In Cameroon, where President Paul Biya has been in power for over 34 years, the government tends to have maximum power and the President’s words and instructions are final on any issue.
Even as most of the world watches silently, early in February, the United Kingdom called for an end to violence in two both regions, which have been stunned by protests and strikes since November 2016.
Online newspaper, IBTimes UK, back then, quoted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), as saying that it was “closely monitoring” the situation in Southwest and Northwest regions of Cameroon.
Both regions are the only English-speaking in Cameroon. Eight other regions are mainly populated by French-speaking Cameroonians. The English-speaking parts account for about 19 percent of the population.
“We call for restraint, by all involved, in the use of force, reiterate the obligation to uphold human rights standards and encourage the use of transparent legal means to address concerns,” an FCO spokesperson said, according to IBTimes UK.
“We call for issues to be resolved through broad-based dialogue, with a range of interlocutors, and a return to normalcy in the two regions. We are engaged with the Government of Cameroon and will continue to raise this with them.”
Lawyers and teachers took to the street last November to protest against perceived marginalisation and the use of French in courts and schools in the English-speaking regions.
The government responded by sending soldiers and military police to suppress the protests. The operatives ended up beating people up, and detaining many others, including students who later joined the protests.
Videos posted online showed security forces kicking lawyers to the ground and photographs showed how students were packed into trucks and dumped into detention centres.
With the violence triggered by security forces, protesters began to demand outright break up, or at least a return to a Federal system of government, the kind they had until 1972 when Cameroon abolished the Federal system and moved to a unitary form of government with English and French as the official languages.
The protesters have since been demanding the restoration of ‘Southern Cameroons’, or the Republic of Ambazonia, a British mandate during colonisation.
The Cameroonian government initially opened talks with the organisers of the protests but authorities quickly rejected calls for a referendum on a possible return to a federal system.
In his New Year message, Cameroonian President, Paul Biya, declared that “Cameroon is one and indivisible”, adding that “it will remain so”.
But the protests continued even with the crackdown. Protesters have since been calling for the release of activists, including Felix Agbor Balla and Fontem Neba, arrested for organising so-called ‘ghost town’ strikes.
Instead of holding further talks, the government reacted by disconnecting the Internet in both regions.
Fears are growing Balla and Neba – who are president and secretary-general respectively of the banned Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC) – will be sentenced to death under the country’s 2014 terrorism law. Activist Bibixy Mancho is also facing trial.
Schools and businesses have been repeatedly closed in both regions’ capitals Bamenda and Buea, due to the strikes.
The Cameroonian High Commission in London, IBTimes UK said, has not responded to a request for comments on the unrest.