Open letter to telecommunications companies in Cameroon on the internet shutdown

Read this letter in French

Dear MTN Cameroon CEO Philisiwe Sibiya, NextTel CEO Nguyen Duc Quang, and Orange Cameroon CEO Elisabeth Medou Badang,

We write to urgently request your support in restoring internet access in the South West and North West regions of Cameroon.

The internet shutdown in Cameroon’s anglophone regions has been continuing for a month and has significantly interfered with citizens’ daily lives. By blocking access to information and services, the disruption thwarts the exercise of human rights, including the freedoms of expression and association, and slows economic development, seriously harming the innovative businesses dependent on your services. We estimate the shutdown has already cost more than US$1.39 million and grows daily. [1] However, this conservative estimate does not take into account the long-term effects of factors such as the disruption of supply chains and of the significant amount of remittances that Cameroonians living abroad send to these regions.

As Cameroon’s leading telecommunications providers, you enable Cameroon citizens to exercise their rights and enjoy the economic, social, and cultural benefits of the global internet. Without internet access, entire communities are left more isolated, vulnerable, and at risk.

We implore you to help turn internet back on.

Research shows that internet shutdowns and violence go hand in hand. [2] Shutdowns disrupt the free flow of information and create a cover of darkness that allows repression to occur without scrutiny. In Cameroon, the internet shutdown coincides with the arrest of judges, lawyers, journalists, and citizens, who are taken to military court and charged with terrorism for voicing calls for more federalism.

Internet shutdowns — with governments ordering the suspension or throttling of entire networks, often during elections or public protests — must never be allowed to become the new normal. Justified for public safety purposes, shutdowns instead cut off access to vital information, e-financing, and emergency services, plunging whole societies into fear and destabilizing the internet’s power to support small business livelihoods and drive economic development. A study by The Brookings Institution indicates that shutdowns drained $2.4 billion from the global economy last year. [3]

The Internet shutdown imposed in anglophone territories of Cameroon damages the burgeoning digital economy, which is blossoming in Cameroon’s Silicon Mountain, Buea. [4] It also thwarts the ability of journalists and the media to provide vital information to the citizenry, interfering with their right to receive and impart information.

International Law

A growing body of jurisprudence declares shutdowns to violate international law. The United Nations Human Rights Council has spoken out strongly against internet shutdowns. In July 2016, the Council passed by consensus a resolution on freedom of expression and the internet that “condemns unequivocally” intentional disruptions to access or dissemination of information online. [5] In addition, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights stated in its November 2016 Resolution on the Right to Freedom of Information and Expression on the Internet in Africa that it was “Concerned by the emerging practice of State Parties of interrupting or limiting access to telecommunication services such as the Internet, social media and messaging services, increasingly during elections,” affirming the principles set out in the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms. [6]

We have clearly informed the Cameroon government of its responsibility to protect human rights and restore access to the internet. [7] The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye lent his voice as well, releasing a statement on Friday, Feb. 10 saying, “A network shutdown of this scale violates international law – it not only suppresses public debate, but also deprives Cameroonians of access to essential services and basic resources.” The Special Rapporteur called on the government to end this “appalling violation” of freedom of expression. [8]

Businesses, too, have the responsibility to respect human rights, and mitigate or remedy harms they cause or contribute to. Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights, which the Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed and African Union officials have pledged to support, business enterprises, “should avoid infringing on the human rights of others and should address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved.” [9]

The internet has enabled significant advances in health, education, and creativity, and it is now essential to fully realize human rights including participation in elections and access to information. Moreover, UNESCO has stated that linguistic diversity is a cornerstone of the internet, and that “speakers of non-dominant languages need to be able to express themselves in culturally meaningful ways, create their own cultural content in local languages and share through cyberspace.” [10] There is no question that the shutdown your businesses are involved with harms human rights and economic development in Cameroon’s anglophone regions.

Intentionally blocking Cameroon’s anglophone communities is bad for business. The Cameroon shutdown does not further your economic interests, yet you are nonetheless involved in the blocking. For the above reasons, we ask that you publicly identify the steps you are taking to restore access to the internet in Cameroon.


We recommend that you:

  1. Publicly denounce the shutdown and the harm it has caused to your customers and your company’s economic and reputational interests;
  2. Detail the geographic scope and technical implementation of the blocking;
  3. Reveal the demand from the government that required you to block internet access, and any gag order or other pressure to conceal the demand; and
  4. Jointly push back against the government demand, through all legal and policy tools at your disposal, in order to restore internet access.

The undersigned civil society organizations in Cameroon and worldwide appreciate your swift attention to these recommendations, and pledge our support in assisting your efforts to restore internet access.


Access Now

African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)


Association for Progressive Communications (APC)

Campaign for Human Rights and Development International

Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)

Committee to Protect Journalists

Internet Without Borders

Paradigm Initiative

PEN America

PEN South Africa

PEN Afrikaans

PEN Eritrea in Exile

PEN Sierra Leone

PEN Uganda

PEN Zambia

PEN Zimbabwe

Ghanaian PEN Centre

Liberia Internet Governance Forum


PanAfrican Human rights Defenders Network

Center for Media Research – Nepal

i freedom Uganda Network

Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains

Cameroon Ô Bosso

Droit au Droit

Société des Amis de Mongo Beti (SAMBE)