Anglophone Cameroon is back online | The World Weekly
They had assembled on bridges and the tops of buildings. Arms aloft, they waved their mobile phones in the air desperate for a signal. Now their struggle is over, as this week, after three months of no Internet, people in English-speaking regions of Cameroon were finally reconnected. The whole episode was, however, about more than just going online. It brought to the fore a decades-old divide rooted in decolonisation.
After World War One, Cameroon, a former German colony, was handed to France and Britain by the League of Nations. The two territories spent 40 years under different systems of government: Anglophones used the British legal and education system, while Francophones experienced the French system. Following independence in 1960 the English-speaking population was given the opportunity to join neighbouring Nigeria, also a former British colony, but they rejected the offer and Cameroon was unified as a dual-language, dual-jural country.
Since unification, the country has been plagued by problems stemming from this duality. Anglophones, representing less than 20% of the population, feel that they have been marginalised by the French-speaking majority. Amindeh Atabong, an investigative journalist based in the capital Yaoundé, told The World Weekly that “most official documents are only in French” and that revenues from petroleum and gas resources, drilled in the Anglophone region, are rarely reinvested.
Other frictions stem from bureaucratic problems stemming from the colonial legacy: stories of Francophone judges, ignorant of British-based common law, presiding over Anglophone courts are common, as are tales of teachers unfamiliar with the Anglophone system holding classes - much to the dismay of pupils.
Last year tensions between the state and Anglophone lawyers and teachers boiled over into demonstrations, which were repressed by government forces. The crackdown was captured on social media and sparked wider dissent. Verner Ayukegba, a Cameroonian analyst, believes that the Internet has played a vital role in galvanising the Anglophone cause. “Using WhatsApp or Facebook, civil society can get tens of thousands of people to protest,” he told TWW. This, he suggests, is why President Paul Biya pulled the plug.
Under international pressure, Mr. Biya put Anglophone Cameroon back online. However, this is unlikely to end the tensions given that a number of high-profile English speakers, including journalists, opposition politicians and prominent figures in civil society, remain in prison.