Cameroon Restores Internet in Minority English-Speaking Areas

  • Shutdown could resume if protests continue, government says
  • Decision came after UN envoy called situation ‘deplorable’

Cameroon President Paul Biya ordered the restoration of internet services in English-speaking regions three months after shutting them down because of protests and social-media campaigns against the dominance of the French language in their courts and schools.

The decision, announced Friday on state radio, came a week after the United Nations special envoy to Central Africa, Francois Louceny Fall, called the internet shutdown “a deplorable situation” at a press conference in the capital, Yaounde. He urged the government to restore it and release those detained during the crisis in the Southwest and Northwest regions.

Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakari said the shutdown was no longer necessary. He urged Cameroonians to ignore “extremists, secessionists and enemies of the state” inciting protests on Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter.

“The internet will be disconnected again if the extremists calling for secession use it again to call for violent demonstrations,” he said in a statement Friday.

At least six people died in the protests, according to the government. The London-based rights group Amnesty International accused the authorities of using excessive force against demonstrators. It was the worst unrest in Cameroon in almost a decade as Biya, 84, appears intent on trying to extend his 35-year rule, the fourth-longest on the continent, in elections next year.

Read more on the Cameroon protests here

The internet shutdown had severe impact on businesses in areas such Buea, the capital of Cameroon’s English-speaking Southwest region, where dozens of technology startups have earned the city the nickname of Silicon Valley.

It cost companies including banks and telecommunications providers as much as 4 million euros ($4.3 million), Julie Owono, a lawyer for France-based Internet Without Borders, said in an email on Friday. Wireless operators in the country include Johannesburg-based MTN Group Ltd., with almost 10 million subscribers, and Orange SA of France.

— With assistance by Loni Prinsloo

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