Perhaps, having ruled Cameroon since 1982, President Paul Biya and his team missed the memo about the Internet of Things (IoT).
Suspending access to the internet can never solve any country’s unrest. If anything, it stifles trade, freezes social interaction and proves regulation is, as they say, a symptom of system failure. Luckily, sense has prevailed after three months.
Like Zimbabwe and Ethiopia in 2016, the government of Cameroon introduced this bizarre restriction late in January, after accusing protesters of spreading anti-Yaounde propaganda. And now, in restoring the internet connection in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, the government acknowledged what should have been common sense.
When the latest African Economic Outlook calls you “the engine of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CAEMC)”, which is proving “resilient despite an unfavourable global economic context”, you ask how you can remain relevant and not be left out of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Cameroon faces some regional crises, especially Boko Haram and the crisis in the Central African Republic. Its economy has been growing at about 5.7 percent since 2015, led by the secondary and the tertiary sectors, according to the African Development Group.
Even with oil production up 28.3%, its future economic self-reliance remains pegged to the development of its tertiary sector.
Fast and affordable internet is the most active ingredient and the one many African leaders either neglect or fear. Out of fear of what good the internet brings, the big men of Africa blame this channel of communication, instead of addressing the message coming through it.
Reporting for the VOA News site, Moki Edwin Kindzeka wrote: “The Northwest is one of two English speaking regions in Cameroon that has seen violent demonstrations and waves of arrests related to the strike by teachers and lawyers. Those professionals say the government is letting French sideline English in the bilingual country.”
Things got so bad that some of the strikers were “calling for the English-speaking regions to secede from Cameroon”.
Instead of implicitly blaming the internet for the perception of bias among the English-speaking Cameroonians, the government ought to address the issue. So far it has established the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism (NCPBM). Some traditional leaders of Cameroon have embraced the initiative and President Biya has ordered the reconnection of the internet in the affected regions.
The internet could even facilitate most of the constructive dialogue envisaged by the NCPBM. Simple polls, surveys, feedback and focus group discussions can happen in an instant, providing fact-based grounds for the commission to do its work and reunite Anglophone Cameroon and Francophone Cameroon, the chasm between which goes back to 1884, when the country was still a colony of Germany. Since then, Portugal, Germany, France and the UK have toyed with the country, sliced it this way and that, to satisfy their colonial greed. Meanwhile, the needs of Cameroonians were neglected. However, President Biya has had enough time to restore parity to the various regions and should not be needing to shut down the internet to manage any crisis.
For someone who has been re-elected so many times, since 1982, President Biya panics too easily. He should listen to his people, like entrepreneur Gaela Dickson, who told Deutsche Welle: “Over the past three weeks, I have already run up a deficit of around $100 000.”
That is to be expected if suddenly Cameroonians cannot access their bank accounts, among other things. Unlike in the first world countries, mobile telephony and internet connectivity are more vital to daily living.
Banks are not readily available in far-flung rural and underdeveloped areas, so mobile payment kicks in.
Telemedicine, electronic account payment, etc are what this internet shutdown had rendered impossible.
The internet is life, not a tool for subversion, Mr President. Embrace it, do not fear, it!
Victor Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business and anchor of Power Hour, Monday to Thursday, on Power FM; and weekly columnist for Sunday Independent - Twitter Handle: @VictorAfrica.