Unrelenting calls from the two English-speaking regions in the predominantly French-speaking Cameroon for equal treatment, or alternatively secession, has resulted in an internet shutdown on Jan. 17 by government, in an effort to prevent the regions from communicating to (and be influenced by) liberal, English-speaking states in Africa. 

Internet-based businesses in the English-speaking towns of Beau and Bamenda were hit, and classifieds sites were on the bandwagon. 

Operating from Beau, Churchill Mambe, founder of Njorku.com, Africa’s first job search engine and a regional player in the French-speaking countries, said in an email response that his business “was been negatively affected.”

Based on SimilarWeb analytics, between the internet clampdown on Jan. 17 the time of writing, traffic to his job site plummeted by an alarming 50 percent. Churchill is quite angry about the situation.

“When they simply ban the internet, which is the source of my livelihood, I feel maybe I made the wrong decision. Maybe I should just leave the country – like my friends – and never return again.”

Nino Njopkou, founder of Kerawa.com, a fast-growing horizontal classifieds in Cameroon, said the site doesn’t have many users living in the affected, English-speaking regions. So, the internet shutdown didn’t affect the site significantly.

Another major player in Cameroon is general classifieds Afribaba, which received over $500,000 investment from Frontier Digital Ventures last year. It experienced a slight drop in traffic from 150,000 in January to 140,000 in February. With its office and core market in Douala – a French-speaking town – it is unlikely the site would have been significantly impacted by the shutdown. No official response had been received by the time of posting.  

Cameroon’s Ministry of Post and Telecommunications said, for the internet to be restored, internet service providers need to commit to ‘respecting measures drawn up in close collaboration with government’. It is still unknown when the punitive measure against Beau and Bamenda will be lifted.

This case is a fine example of the undemocratic and unjust style of governance in Africa.

In a moment, they could roll out policies that would ruin certain businesses. More than any other continent in the world, in Africa businesses need to parley the government for a hope of sustainability.

For intending or new entrants, it is crucial to study, understand and align with the political climate. In Cameroon, establishing headquarters and focusing on the minority, English-speaking market (and anti-government region) lead to trouble for companies, as it did for Njorku.

French is spoken in eight of Cameroon’s ten regions, and English in the remaining two. Leaders of the Anglophone regions are calling on authorities to stop imposing French on their educational and legal systems.

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