Finweek English Edition - - COVER STORY MTN -

It’s been over a month since the in­ter­net was cut off on 17 Jan­uary in English-speak­ing re­gions of Cameroon, al­legedly on in­struc­tion from the gov­ern­ment. MTN is the largest net­work in Cameroon with a mar­ket share of 51%, fol­lowed by French mo­bile player Orange with 35% of the mar­ket.

Protests emerg­ing within the An­glo­phone re­gions of Cameroon against marginal­i­sa­tion by the Fran­co­phone gov­ern­ment al­legedly trig­gered the or­der to cut off the in­ter­net. It has been re­ported that the aim of the cut-off was to pre­vent the use of apps like What­sApp, Face­book and Twit­ter, which were be­ing used to or­gan­ise protests.

MTN faced sim­i­lar al­le­ga­tions in Swazi­land in 2011, when protesters rose up against King Mswati III. At the time, the tele­coms operator de­nied that it was col­lud­ing with Mswati.

United Na­tions ex­perts have con­demned the move as an “ap­palling vi­o­la­tion” of the right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion and ar­gue it is a con­tra­ven­tion of in­ter­na­tional law. MTN in­sists it is not in a po­si­tion to com­ment on the sit­u­a­tion in Cameroon. How­ever, it did state that it re­spects the laws of the Repub­lic of Cameroon as a li­censed provider of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vices.

World Wide Worx’s Arthur Gold­stuck said that MTN is as much a vic­tim in Cameroon as its cus­tomers are. “When you win li­cences at all costs, there ex­ists the po­ten­tial for to­tal­i­tar­ian regimes to make you com­plicit in hu­man rights abuses,” says Gold­stuck. “It’s a daily risk you run.”

Mean­while, the com­pany is also fac­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Cameroon into un­paid taxes. It has been re­ported that MTN faces a po­ten­tial bill for R1.46bn from the Cameroon Na­tional Anti-cor­rup­tion Com­mis­sion. This bill is for al­leged un­paid taxes and roy­al­ties, un­cov­ered by an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the com­mis­sion. MTN in­sists that it is a com­pli­ant tax­payer in Cameroon and the largest con­trib­u­tor to pub­lic rev­enues.

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