By Francis B. Nyamnjoh
Culled from Africa's Media, Democracy and the Politics of Belonging. London: Zed Books. (May 2005). 320 pages. Cost: Hardback: £ 60.00 $85.00; Paperback: £ 18.95 $29.95
1. Africa and the Information Superhighway: What Future? (pp. 14-15)
Politically and socially, the Internet once fully developed and widely installed, could indeed offer Africans many avenues to address current predicaments and promote good governance (Berger 1998; Jensen 2000; Leslie 2002).
For as Berger rightly points out, far from merely being ‘just a step towards the information Superhighway’, the Internet ‘is also the hope of many NGOs worldwide, of scientists and community initiatives, of trade unions and critical journalists, of alternative movement and counter-movements, who wish to avail themselves of an independent, inexpensive, non-state-controlled, open communication network’ (Becker 1996: 10).
Thus various branches of civil society in different parts of Africa, journalists and media organizations included, might potentially neutralize government control over media, through websites and discussion groups.
Working through such networks and in solidarity, these arms of civil society could use the internet to bypass the repression of uncaring regimes and bring their interests and predicaments to the attention of Africans in the Diaspora and to the international community…
There is the possibility, distant and remote though it might seem that some day disillusioned Africans, impoverished and disempowered, will be active and equal participants in the ‘global conversations’ of the ‘global village’ or the global ‘republic of technology’.
2. Appropriation of the Internet by Anglophone Cameroonians (pp. 205 – 207)
We have already alluded to the networks of various kinds taking advantage of the Internet to push ahead their agenda in situations where the conventional media continue to blunt aspirations for creative diversity (cf. Spitulnik 2002). True, the Internet is not free from the logic of domination and appropriation typical of neoliberalism. But it clearly offers real alternatives, if well harnessed. …
Among Anglophone Cameroonians, where feelings of marginalisation by the state and exclusion from the mainstream media are high, many people, especially youths, are increasingly turning to the Internet. They use it as a vehicle to air their views on various aspects of their predicament, centring mostly on their territory and community as victim of gross mismanagement by a corrupt and inefficient Francophone-dominated state (cf. Konings and Nyamnjoh 2003). Their main channels on the Internet include web pages, discussion and mailing groups such as: http://www.southerncameroons.org; firstname.lastname@example.org; Camnet; Camenetwork@egroups.com; and SDF Forum. These are created and managed by Anglophone youths, usually Grassfielders of the North-West Province, and mostly based in the American diaspora.
Because of their influential nature, these mailing and discussion groups have even attracted the attention of the state, especially after June 2004 when a rumour claiming that President Biya had died in Switzerland was alleged by the government to have been started by an online newspaper – The African Independent, and spread the world over by various listservs in conjuction with the cellphone. Following the rumour, the minister of communication issued a press release threatening court action and calling on ‘all users of the Internet to be vigilant on the type of information they receive on the Internet, where some editors and producers exploit the new liberty offered them by the new communication and information technologies, to abuse the credulity of the public and want to give credit to their erroneous information’.
Normally indifferent in the past to this traffic, Government departments and members of the ruling party now monitor its content on a daily basis, determined to track and close down websites deemed to be unpalatable. But policing the Internet is by now means an easy task, especially for an under-resourced and highly popular government like President Biya’s. Given the flexible nature of the Internet, real identities of users can be hidden under ambiguous usernames, making provocative and fearless exchanges more possible.
Those who participate in the discussions mentioned above are Anglophones both in Cameroon and the diaspora, pro-government or pro-SDF or pro- Southern Cameroons independence. Among them are the most radical and most conciliatory alike. This clearly highlights the importance of the Internet in providing the space for Anglophone issues in a state that has stifled such debate and monopolised the conventional media. Critics of the government no longer feel obliged to be physically located in Cameroon to be relevant to the ongoing struggles for democracy, and thus ‘challenge the very notion that processes of civil society always occur within the physical boundaries of the nation-state’ (Spitulnik 2002:179).
Quite strikingly however, discussions even at this level tend to reflect the same tensions and multiple divisions that the politics of belonging and autochthony have brought to the fore (cf. Chapter Eight). The Internet discussions not only shape what is discussed in society, they also reflect the inherent divisions that autochthony brings about.