Chude Jideonwo: This is why we are all Cameroon

For a brief period last week across Young African Internet, we were all Cameroon.

 

Young activists and social media users everywhere from neighbouring Nigeria to far away came together to draw the line on what was unacceptable: the government limited access to the internet for its citizens under the pretext of national security. For more than a week now, the English-speaking north-west and south-west regions of the country have had no access to the internet, after the government apparently arm-twisted telecoms operators to suspend services “in certain sensitive regions.”

 

The cause for this is clear. There have been months of protests, and this month, two days of riots across the country, as citizen signpost the ineptitude of their 35-year president, Paul Biya. The 84-year-old was angling to tamper with the constitution and bring forward election dates to his own benefit.

 

Failing to quell the protests (the head of its legislature called social media “a new form of terrorism” in 2015), the Internet came crumbling down.

 

Of course, the Cameroonian government is not alone in the continent to turn to fibre optic cowardice to silence its own citizens.

 

For months, Nigeria’s Senate played with a dangerous Frivolous Petitions (Prohibition, etc) Bill 2015 (popularly called the ‘Social Media Bill’) to curtail the freedoms of social media users. After intense protests and a widespread media backlash, the Senate President came to our social media week event in 2016 and finally waved a white flag. This one wouldn’t fly.

 

Last year, Ethiopia shut down Twitter and Whatsapp for over in a month in its Oromia area, and in June, joined South Africa and Kenya to abstain from the United Nations Human Rights Council Online Freedom Resolution.

 

This was the same year that, at least 11 African governments tampered with Internet access during elections, or during citizen protests.

 

Here is the crux of the matter: Africa’s usually comfortable leaders are finally running scared.

 

It was barely two years ago after all that Nigeria’s energized youth popular took massive advantage of social media and the internet to dislodge a 16-year monopoly the previous ruling party and delivered electoral change that the previous ruling party is yet to recover from. The 3-year strong #BringBackOurGirls has barely 50 people at its weekly sit-outs this year, but continues its tradition of rattling obtuse governments by a devastatingly effective use of Twitter and other social media.

 

In Ghana last year, social media is credited for the historic movement that unseated the ruling National Democratic Congress and installing its new president after three unsuccessful attempts.

 

Then, of course, observers report, it was the rise and influence of social media that overwhelmed its 20-year dictator, Yahya Jammeh and ushered him out of office this month under a thick cloud of disgrace and powerlessness. It will be remembered that he had shut down the internet in the country on the eve of its December elections.

So Africa’s leaders have reason to be scared. And the gasps of a dying establishment are seen in the desperate attempts to limit expression, dampen enthusiasm and battle connectivity.

 

But they will fail.

 

Try as they might and succeed in the interim as they may, recent history will show that there is no force on earth that can stop a hashtag whose time has time.

 

Ensconced by the safety of life-presidencies, self-affirming political corruption and access to unlimited resources, they have been unaware of the revolution that has occurred under their noses – as citizens inside and outside the country can link arms with neighbours to make life difficult for their leaders, to organize above and under the radar and to strategise with tools that the old order cannot understand.

 

It would be wise for them to learn from Jammeh. But it would too much to expect that an elite set used to maintaining and transferring power within its ranks would easily relinquish that power to the will of an angry, frustrated, organized citizenry.

 

Luckily, they are set to confront, in a series of elections and other actions across the continent this year, a resolute, determined and well organized youth population, supported by a continental aspiration and strengthened by mobile technology.

 

Africa is going to change whether its leaders like it or not. Because you can close down the internet, but you can not close down the fortitude of a people who have, quite simply, had enough.


Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

One comment

  1. Nigeria to go and reaper the darmage s so that they will be ……

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