On the evening of January 17, 2017, Cameroon was cut off from the international bandwidth. Dyn, a company, which covers issues that impact Internet performance, reported disruptions of the Internet with this tweet:
This tweet corroborates many messages received by Internet Sans Frontières, on the particularly bad quality of the Internet connection on January 17, 2017.
On Twitter, Businesswoman Rebecca Enonchong, based in Douala, reported the same day, around 3 pm local time, that the network was particularly unstable.
The graphs below show that the level of routing activity, i.e. the paths through which Internet data packets circulate, suddenly dropped at 8:45 pm, reaching, for example for IPv4 addresses less than half the number of routers usually observed. A scenario already observed a few months earlier in neighboring Gabon.
International bandwidth gradually decreased on 17 January 2017, until the network was cut across the territory on the night of 17-18 January 2017. According to our analysis, this would be due to the technical adjustments necessary to confine the Internet outage to two regions of Cameroon.
Regional Internet Blackout
While the connection has since returned across the country, two specific regions remain cut off from the global Internet network: the two English-speaking regions of this bilingual country. Since November 2016, people have been demonstrating in the northwest and southwest of Cameroon against the marginalization they feel. They have been asking the central government to find institutional and practical solutions to put an end to this alleged marginalization.
The tone has gone up in recent weeks: two days of ghost town have been respected in the anglophone part since the beginning of 2017. Appeals to federalism and even secession are becoming increasingly audible. In response, the Cameroonian government defends the unity of the Republic of Cameroon, and in a decree of January 16, 2017 prohibited two citizen movements, which led the demonstrations of recent weeks.
It is in this extremely tensed context that this Internet shutdown occurs. It concerns the English-speaking regions of Cameroon. It should also be noted that the government has launched a campaign against « the spread of false news via social media« . The latter ordered major mobile operators to send government-sponsored messages to their subscribers, on the risk of misuse of social media. Internet Sans Frontières received copies of some of these messages:
Cameroonian Government remains silent
To date, the Minister of Communications of Cameroon, and government spokesman, has not yet given details on the reasons for the Internet shutdown.
Internet Sans Frontières contacted the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications of Cameroon. We haven’t received a response yet.
On the operators’ side, Vodafone told Internet Sans Frontières that Vodafone Cameroon, which operates as one of the group’s branded partner, hadn’t received any direct order from the government. Internet Sans Frontières is in contact with MTN group, in order to learn more about the orders received from the government for the sending of sponsored SMS and disconnection of the Internet. Orange Cameroon has not yet responded to our solicitation.
In this recording sent to Internet Sans Frontières, someone identified as Director of Corporate Affairs of the MTN Group, Chris Maroleng, whom you can hear speaking here, confirms the regional outage of Internet communications. According to Mr Maroleng, the company has « received a written instruction from the Government of Cameroon, pursuant to the operating license granted to the South African operator, to interrupt Internet connection services, particularly in areas where the Government considers that There are fears for national security ». Mr Maroleng adds that his company MTN « would not take any decision that would make it lose money. «
Another important information is that according to Mr Maroleng, MTN has received requests for access to customer data from the Government of Cameroon. This information is valuable because, unlike some other operators and web companies like Facebook or Google, MTN has always refused to disclose the list of countries that have sent requests for access to personal data, arguing that such disclosures are prohibited by the law in certain countries of operation.
On the issue of the sending of government sponsored SMSs, the CEO of MTN Cameroon confirmed via a release that her company received, like other operators, a request from the Telecommunications Regulatory Agency:
Violation of Cameroonian citizens’ freedom of expression
As a member of the #Keepiton coalition, Internet Sans Frontières condemn’s Cameroonian government’s violation of citizens’ freedom of expression, and its corollary freedom to communicate. As we previousely wrote, cutting or censoring the Internet is a serious violation of this fundamental freedom, protected by numerous international texts signed and ratified by the Republic of Cameroon.
The UN Human Rights Council spoke firmly against Internet cuts. At its 32nd session in July 2016, the Council adopted by consensus a resolution on freedom of expression and the Internet in a clear language on Internet shutdowns. The resolution, A / HRC / RES / 32/13, « unequivocally condemns measures aimed at voluntarily preventing or disrupting access to or dissemination of online information, in violation of internationally protected human rights, and invites all States to curb or cease the use of such practices. »
By instructing operators to carry out this Internet shutdown, without presenting a threat to public order, and without presenting the authorization duly given by a judge, the Cameroonian authorities are placed on the margins of international law.
Internet Sans Frontières urges the Cameroonian authorities to order the restoration of the Internet connection, indiscriminately throughout the national territory.