Cameroon bans Twitter, protests likely to continue

By on March 10, 2011, 9:52 AM
The government of Cameroon has banned mobile Twitter, according to the twittermobile account: "Twitter SMS on MTN Cameroon has been suspended by the Cameroonian government. Affected users should contact their MTN representative." The goal is to stop opposition protests in the West African state, which have been inspired by the recent uprising in other Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya.

Cameroon's president Paul Biya believes he can cut off a possible revolution by eliminating one of the tools that protesters might use. Last month's protests were quickly disrupted and put down by the government's security forces. Cameroonian blogger Dibussi Tande believes Biya's plans have backfired since blocking the service merely increased awareness of the people, who didn't even grasp the potential of Twitter as a tool for political activism. Here's the crux of his argument:

Obviously, the government has failed to learn the lesson from North Africa, particularly in Tunisia where the Ben Ali regime was still toppled even though it had banned all social media sites for years and had engaged in a sophisticated cyber-war with Tunisian digital activists. The government has also completely misread the lessons of the February 23 protests; even though Twitter played a prominent role in informing the world of what was happening in Cameroon, over 95% of the tweets which the international media relied on for updates did not originate from within Cameroon. It was information obtained via mobile phones, regular SMS and email which ended up on Twitter and not real-time tweets from activists on the ground. Thus, banning the Twitter short code does little to change the balance of power online.

Cameroon is a country with around 725,000 Internet users, out of a population of 19.1 million people (July 2009 estimate). That's an Internet penetration rate of just 4 percent.

Twitter is now blocked in a handful of countries, including China, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and Libya. If anything, this is a good thing for the startup as it increases media attention and makes it look like Twitter matters more than it actually does.


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