HUMAN RIGHTS IN CAMEROON
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.