Featured Storyteller

CAMEROON: The Internet Blackout Hurts Women and Girls

Sophie Ngassa
Posted March 30, 2017 from Cameroon

Sophie Ngassa uses technology to empower girls in her community. But a months-long Internet blackout threatens to upend her efforts.

Our girls need to be online.

On a Monday morning in January I was seated in my office with 12 girls around my table. I was excited as I prepared to register the girls for the 2017 Technovation Challenge program, which would train them to create mobile applications to address everyday problems in our community of Bamenda, Cameroon. When I turned on my computer, I discovered that there was no Internet signal.

This was really strange to me, and at first I thought my laptop had a technical issue. Frustrated, I left to find out what was wrong from my co-workers, who run a cyber café in the next office. They were gazing at each other in confusion while customers complained.

We started hearing similar complaints from around my office. Soon, we were getting SMS messages from friends and family who were also unable to connect. After further investigating the issue, we found that the same situation prevailed throughout the entire North West and South West Regions of Cameroon. It was clear there was no Internet connection, but we could not understand any reason for the shutdown.

At the time, we had no idea that this was the beginning of an Internet blackout in English-speaking regions of Cameroon. We lost our connection on January 17, and we still do not have it nearly three months later.

To understand the blackout, you need to understand the language divide in my country. In Cameroon, both French and English are official languages, but only two out of our 10 regions are English speaking. These two regions have been marginalized for too long, and as conditions have worsened, the population has become very angry. Before the blackout, English-speaking regions had decided to speak out and protest. There was a lot of violence, causing people to lose property; some have even lost their lives.

As part of the protest, English-speakers were using the Internet to spread information about the situation, including sharing violent images of armed forces harassing those who were striking in the streets.

On that first day of the blackout, I remember returning to my office seriously disappointed, wondering how I would inform my team of girls that I would not be able to register them for this amazing online opportunity. I finally convinced myself to explain to the girls that it would not be possible to get them registered on the platform.

One of the frustrated girls exclaimed, “My dream of communicating and exchanging ideas with peers around the globe has just evaporated.”

Another girl said to me, “So truly I am going to miss this opportunity to pitch my idea for the mobile application…I really want to be connected in order to compete with my peers from around the world.”

They were devastated.

Last year, one of the teams from our region was a semi-finalist for the world-class competition and this year, these girls hoped that they would work harder to move to the finals this time. The sudden disappearance of the Internet significantly affected the girls, who were highly engaged and very eager to attend these sessions.

A few days after it began, the Internet blackout in our region became world news.

Meanwhile, we rely on the Internet in our work and in our lives, and we are still trying to understand why we have been deprived of this important basic need.

As the months went on, the close of the Technovation registration process approached and the girls became demoralized.

We had a brief moment of hope, however, during this turbulent period when we received breaking news that a boy from Bamenda won the Google coding competition. BBC and other international stations reported the story about this awesome 17-year-old boy and his struggles caused by the Internet outage. This boy is now a star! Learning this information gave hope to the Technovation girls, and they began thinking of other ways we could continue working.

The girls began contacting me to figure out other methods to continue the program. Although the registration date closed on March 8, all five regional ambassadors wrote a letter to the Technovation team pleading for an extension of the deadline, and as a result the date was extended by one week.

As the regional ambassador for the program in Bamenda, I felt responsibility for these girls. I traveled for over three hours on a very bad road for about 77km to the nearby French-speaking West Region, where Internet is available. There I tried and succeeded in registering some of the girls for the Technovation opportunity.

With the blackout continuing though, the future is uncertain for the 200 girls hoping to participate in the Technovation challenge in our region. They may not have the opportunity to fulfill their dream of going beyond the semifinals. That privilege shall be reserved only for the girls from the French-speaking regions of Cameroon, who have online access.

This is a huge disappointment, and the situation is even more serious for business people in affected regions who need an Internet connection to do their work. My co-worker relies on his cyber café business to support his family. Four of his workers have lost their jobs from the blackout. Many other businesses that rely on Internet have been shut down.

It is imperative for the government to reinstall the Internet connection in the areas affected.

Our girls deserve to be included in the development of our communities. Our girls need to be online.

 


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Comments 37

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Sally maforchi Mboumien
Mar 30, 2017
Mar 30, 2017

Sophie congratulations. Yes being online is a great tool of empowerment for women/girls. I wish the government does what is right

Sophie Ngassa
Apr 05, 2017
Apr 05, 2017

Dear Sally,

Yes, access to the internet is a basic human right and a great tool for development. It creates an environment that attracts girls to be enthusiastic about technology innovations.

Sophie Ngassa
Apr 05, 2017
Apr 05, 2017
Francisca Robles
Mar 31, 2017
Mar 31, 2017

Thanks for sharing what is happening. It is really important for communities to be connected, internet is a tool for communication and empowerment. Please let us know how everything is going on with your internet issue, I hope you can go on with your classes. Big hug for you!

Sophie Ngassa
Apr 05, 2017
Apr 05, 2017

Dear franroblesc,

Thanks for your concern.The internet provides opportunities for girls to connect, interact and participate in many different World Tech Innovation competitions like The Technovation Challenge. I am doing my best to follow all my World Pulse Digital Changemaking classes.So far I have not had any serious issues apart form the long journey to access network.

Shirley Brown
Mar 31, 2017
Mar 31, 2017

Thank you for sharing this.  It is so important that the Internet remain available to all.  Stay strong.  Don't give up.  What can be done to have the government turn it back on?  How can we help?

Sophie Ngassa
Apr 05, 2017
Apr 05, 2017

Dear Globalamma,

Yes, access to internet is a basic human right.We really need it.

Another happy day in my life will be the day that I will turn on my phone or tablet and find out that the internet has been reinstalled.

You can help by joining the #BringBackOurInternet campaign and by signing a petition for internet to be reinstalled in the 2 English Speaking Regions of Cameroon. Thanks for your kindness.

Shirley Brown
Apr 05, 2017
Apr 05, 2017

I would be happy to join the campaign and sign a petition.  Where would I do this?

Sophie Ngassa
Apr 27, 2017
Apr 27, 2017
Ritkatmwa Gwan Gwan
Apr 01, 2017
Apr 01, 2017

Dear Sophie,

I celebrate your courage and steadfast spirit, I cannot imagine what my life or work will be with an internet blackout, I guess we often take things for granted and your story has taught me to appreciate the freedom to be online.... I also celebrate the girls who despite clear and obvious challenges decided to go ahead and even seek other ways of going ahead with the program..

Looking forward to hear more from you and the amazing girls you work with.

Rit

Sophie Ngassa
Apr 05, 2017
Apr 05, 2017

Dear Ritz,

Thanks for your encouraging words.It has been a very disturbing period for us living in these 2 regions.We have been deprived the freedom to use the internet.The girls were highly motivated to take this season, but now it has become a night mare.

Yes, I will keep forging ahead while keeping a positive attitude. Cheers !

nasara
Apr 01, 2017
Apr 01, 2017

Good do more to educate girls so that the change their communities to develop and empower them self.

(by sister Rashida nasara) 

Sophie Ngassa
Apr 05, 2017
Apr 05, 2017

Dear Nasara,

Yes I will keep on doing more.Thank you very much.

QueenVirtuous
Apr 01, 2017
Apr 01, 2017

Darling Sophie,

I am proud of you and the work you are doing with the girls. I am proud of you for the sacrifice you are making, traveling long distances just to get the girls to participate in the Technovation program. Your efforts will not go to waste, and the girls will always remember you for your selflessness.

Given the situation in Cameroun as you have described it, it is only obvious how sensitive an index of identity language is to us. However, people must understand that besides being an index of identity, language is also a medium of expression and the most common variety of such a medium is the English language. If viewed from this most empowering perspective, I don't see why the extension of internet services to include English-speaking communities should be an issue of political contention at all!

Frankly, I am of the opinion that, besides protesting, measures should be taken to see that more communities become English-speaking communities. After all, English is one of the official languages in Cameroun, and that for a reason. It would go a long way to help other communities see the importance of learning and mastering the other official language of your country, namely English. And why is English so important? English lends its importance to the fact that it is the global language or lingua franca; more than 350 million people from various communities in the world communicate in English, and this isn't going to change anytime soon because it helps to foster international intelligibility. With a widespread literacy in English, the number of communities with access to internet connectivity will increase, and these blackouts will soon be forgotten news.......well, hopefully.

Again, I must commend your work with the girls. Please, do not lose heart. Help is on its way to meet you, but only if you do not give up.

Sophie Ngassa
Apr 05, 2017
Apr 05, 2017

Dear Queen,

Thanks for your inspiring comment.It is imperative for the government to reinstall the internet connection in the areas affected.We did not choose to belong there.We have become internet refugees.

iyamail
Apr 02, 2017
Apr 02, 2017

my dear Cameroonian sister, I can only imagine how you feel. The issue of lack of internet in my home region due to political reasons leaves me,disappointed that our government would condone such a thing forgetting the benefits the internet gives to our economy and growth.

I pray you find a way to keep marching forward in your goals until this short sighted maneuver to shut up the Anglophone community is resolved.

peace and love

Sophie Ngassa
Apr 05, 2017
Apr 05, 2017

Dear sis iyamail,

Thanks for joining me in this cry.Though living in this night mare has been very frustrating and painful to me, I will do my best to keep on working despite the difficulties.

Sophie Ngassa
Apr 05, 2017
Apr 05, 2017
LillianVB
Apr 03, 2017
Apr 03, 2017

Dear Sophie,

This is really unfortunate considering the gross impact on the girls as well as economic activity in the Anglophone community. The effect even on security -  social media has been very useful in alerting communities of danger! Even in as seemingly simple messages as reminding mothers to return their babies for immunisation - hence saving many lives. We can only hope that there is a revisit to the issue and internet connectivity is restored. In a situation of unrest it can be challenging to stage civilised demonstrations! We pray the the situation is reversed.

Sophie Ngassa
Apr 05, 2017
Apr 05, 2017

Dear Lillian,

Thanks for your prayers.The return of internet remains unknown. No one knows when that part of the country will be reconnected.We keep on waiting on the government to reinstall the internet.

Mbithi
Apr 03, 2017
Apr 03, 2017

Great Sophie,

Keep matching forward,your efforts will pay it off.Congrats for remaining resilience amidst of all the challenges.

Kind regards

Betty

Sophie Ngassa
Apr 05, 2017
Apr 05, 2017

Dear Mbithi,

Thanks for the encouragement, I feel lighter after reading your comment. 

Immaculate Amoit
Apr 04, 2017
Apr 04, 2017

Hey Sophie,

sorry about the whole internet blackout, I do admire your resilience and determination to register the girls for the technovation challenge, regardless of the issues at hand.

All the best

Sophie Ngassa
Apr 05, 2017
Apr 05, 2017

Dear Immah,

Thank you very much.We need to keep on moving despite the challenges.Our girls can continue their online activities .

Edinah
Apr 04, 2017
Apr 04, 2017

congrats power girl on being a featured story teller and using the oppoturnity to highlight such an important issue, I wish you all the best in your endeavours

Sophie Ngassa
Apr 05, 2017
Apr 05, 2017

Dear Edinah,

Thanks for your kind words.Thanks to the World Pulse platform for providing this great opportunity.I really appreciate the team.Cheers!

Geraldine Durif Sandberg
Apr 06, 2017
Apr 06, 2017

Thanks for your story. This seems so unfair. I am sending you all my good thoughts for you and for the girls. They deserve the same chances to show their skills!

 geraldine

Sophie Ngassa
Apr 12, 2017
Apr 12, 2017

Dear Geraldine, 

Thanks for your message.It is really unfair and we are victims.

We pray that the issue will be resolved someday.

Apr 12, 2017
Apr 12, 2017
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
Julia O
Apr 24, 2017
Apr 24, 2017

Dear Sophie, Thank you for sharing. I actually had not heard of the blackout in Cameroon at all and I'm embarrassed to say I did not know Cameroon had English speaking regions as well. I've already learned a lot from your post! I feel for your girls and am so disappointed and sorry that they did not get to participate in the challenge. What I liked most about your post was how it reinforced just how important the internet is to people around the world. It can make such a huge difference and while I've read other posts on World Pulse about the importance of the internet, your post really hit home because it illustrated so starkly how the absence of the internet can also have negative effects. I really hope the internet is restored soon. Thank you very much for sharing. Best wishes, Julia

Julia O
Apr 24, 2017
Apr 24, 2017

Dear Sophie, Thank you for sharing. I actually had not heard of the blackout in Cameroon at all and I'm embarrassed to say I did not know Cameroon had English speaking regions as well. I've already learned a lot from your post! I feel for your girls and am so disappointed and sorry that they did not get to participate in the challenge. What I liked most about your post was how it reinforced just how important the internet is to people around the world. It can make such a huge difference and while I've read other posts on World Pulse about the importance of the internet, your post really hit home because it illustrated so starkly how the absence of the internet can also have negative effects. I really hope the internet is restored soon. Thank you very much for sharing. Best wishes, Julia

Julia O
Apr 24, 2017
Apr 24, 2017

Dear Sophie,

Thank you for sharing. I actually had not heard of the blackout in Cameroon at all and I'm embarrassed to say I did not know Cameroon had English speaking regions as well. I've already learned a lot from your post! I feel for your girls and am so disappointed and sorry that they did not get to participate in the challenge. What I liked most about your post was how it reinforced just how important the internet is to people around the world. It can make such a huge difference and while I've read other posts on World Pulse about the importance of the internet, your post really hit home because it illustrated so starkly how the absence of the internet can also have negative effects. I just googled it and discovered the internet was just restored a few days ago. I'm happy for you and am sure you'll be able to make up for lost time. I hope this doesn't happen again... It's terrifying to think of governments in other countries doing similar things. 

Thank you very much for sharing.

Best wishes, Julia

Sophie Ngassa
Apr 27, 2017
Apr 27, 2017

Dear Julia,

Thank you for your great comment. Finally the internet came back after 93 days.

Really this should not happen again.The problem is greater then internet. We must support our innovators creators and garner funds to build and rebuild the country we love!!! cheers!

Lisac
May 11, 2017
May 11, 2017

Dear Sophie, your dedication is an inspiration and valuable to the young girls. Without your support they would be missing an important figurehead in your community. You have also continued to find a better way to the situation which is amazing! I wish with the renewed access to connect with the world you will grow and develop potential for your futures, and the world changes for the better for you all.

Sophie Ngassa
May 18, 2017
May 18, 2017

Dear Lisac, Thanks for the nice complements.Our girls really need mentors to look up to.The internet is back and the ball is rolling. Going on now in the Microsoft world championship 2017 at CYEED training center. Follow my campaign " Bring a Girl to STEM" Thanks.

Clodine Mbuli Shei
Jul 14, 2017
Jul 14, 2017

Dear Sophie,

Thank you so much big sister. You are such an activist that i admire and glad to have you in my world. It took the outcry of heroines like you for our internet to be reinstalled.

Sophie Ngassa
Aug 04, 2017
Aug 04, 2017

Dear Clodine, welcome and  thanks you too dear Clo for the nice words. Happy that it was reinstalled.