By Joel Kouam
YAOUNDE (Reuters) – Cameroon’s government said on Thursday it had restored the internet to its restive Anglophone region, three months after cutting it amid protests against the predominantly French-speaking government of President Paul Biya.
Cameroonian forces have cracked down on protests in the English-speaking region that erupted last October, beating and arresting protesters, some of whom face the death penalty in military courts.
The unrest has exposed national divisions between the regions of Cameroon that were historically colonized by the French and the British. It has also been a lightening rod for opposition to Biya’s 35-year rule.
“It seems that the conditions that preceded the suspension of the internet to that part of the national territory have much changed,” Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma said in a statement.
“The head of state therefore instructs the (communications) minister … to re-establish internet connections in the northwest and southwest regions.”
Pulling the plug on the internet was a particular blow for Cameroon’s ‘Silicon Mountain’, as it was called locally, a cluster of tech start-ups in the region that had been flourishing prior to the crackdown.
At least six protesters have been shot dead and hundreds others arrested during the rare challenge to state authority, prompting criticism from human rights groups.
Activists had condemned the internet shutdown as a form of collective punishment.
At the end of World War One, the League of Nations divided the former German colony of Kamerun between the allied French and British victors.
After independence in 1960, voters from the smaller English-speaking zone opted to join Cameroon rather than neighboring Nigeria, but they have often felt marginalized by the Francophone government in Yaounde.
“Finally, it’s back. I’m on Facebook right now, so I’m very happy,” said a user in the northern city of Bamenda after the internet was restored. “Everyone is getting back in contact to let each other know the lines are OK.”
(Additional reporting by Anne Mireille Nzouankeu; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Tom Heneghan)