In Cameroon, a government-ordered internet blackout aimed at quashing unrest in the English-speaking regions is hurting the local economy. Banks have been paralyzed and salaries left unpaid.
In Buea, capital of the English-speaking Southwest region of Cameroon, Carlos Company Limited offers hotel and dry cleaning services, employing 140 people. Some of them have gathered outside the company’s headquarters to voice their grievances. They haven’t received their salaries for January. Staff representative Nmbakop Terence says they can’t pay their electricity and other bills at home.
“How can we live without the internet?” he asks rhetorically. “It is quite difficult. I think the government should do something to solve this situation because it is getting out of hand,” Terence told DW.
Gaela Dickson, proprietor and general manager of Carlos Company Limited, says the absence of the internet is stopping them from accessing company bank accounts.
“We just woke up one morning to discover that there was no internet and that was an order from above.” Dickson said they were expecting clients from abroad to book their services, but those clients can’t see or access their website. The cost of the internet blackout to his business is mounting.
“Over the past three weeks, I have already run up a deficit of 50 million CFA, that around $100,000,” he told DW.
The Cameroonian government has blocked internet access to the English-speaking regions after massive protests by residents who accuse President Paul Biya’s government of marginalizing the anglophone regions. Yaounde says the internet shutdown is necessary to preserve peace.
Chichila Dislav runs a company that normally sets up websites, manages data and operate security surveillance for public buildings, hotels and business premises. They are now restricted to offering secretarial services. He told DW clients have been calling them because routine updates and controls have not been carried out.
“When security is breached – or when security in a company is not assured – we lose our credibility. We have to travel to Douala in order to have internet connections,” he said.
Douala is some 70 kilometers (43 miles) away from Buea by road. “It’s very expensive. We cannot displace the whole company to another region because we want to have access to the internet,” Dislav said.
SMS for Journalists
Buea resident, Ngah Marcelline, told DW she buys goods from abroad and also travels to Douala “because they have internet services to communicate with my customers.”
Douala is Cameroon’s largest city, it boasts an international airport and Central Africa’s biggest sea port.
Freelance journalist Wynau Philip told DW he now uses text messages to send reports to his employers in India. It took him some time to adapt.
“I joined journalism in an internet era and I have never been used to sending stories to my head office via SMS.”
It’s not just reporters, entrepreneurs, their staff and clients who have been hit by the internet blackout.Thousands of civil servants are also still waiting for their salaries and the government has instructed the banks to pay them manually. ATM services have also been suspended.