Cameroon: Netizens React to SMS-to-Tweet Ban

International Women's Day 2011 will be remembered in Cameroon for more technological reasons.

Bouba Kaele, a marketing manager at the South African MTN telecom company in Cameroon,  announced on social network Twitter that the Cameroonian Government banned access to twitter via SMS  for MTN customers [fr] :

For security reasons, the Cameroonian Government asked that posting on twitter via SMS be suspended on the MTN Cameroon network

According to Edouard Tamba on his blog, customers received information via  SMS from the MTN Cameroon saying [fr]:

Cher client, pour des raisons indépendantes de notre volonté, l’accès au 8711 est désormais suspendu. Merci de votre compréhension

Dear costumer, for reasons we cannot control, access to 8711 has been shut down. Thank you for your understanding.

Contacted on Twitter about the reasons for the ban, MTN's the Chief Information Officer, @GeorgesMpoudi replied:

This news caused anger among the Cameroonian online community. A hashtag was immediately created by @Kasbig [fr]:

Guys I suggest the hashtag #SMSTweet to chat about this suspension affair, because soon, websites will follow! #cmr11

These netizens’ surprise is understandable: after all on March 5 2011, the 9ideas conference was organised in Douala, Cameroon. The technology-driven conference was sponsored, by MTN, among others and the floor was given to African and Cameroonian innovators for them to introduce their ideas aimed at helping to develop the continent. The subject of Internet censorship had been dealt with at this occasion; as @champico explains:

We talked about internet censorship (…) at the 9ideas [conference], it came a bit too early according to me #fail #govt

Cameroonian online portal Mboablog posted on its Youtube channel a video of the 9ideas conference:

@mambenanje is more than upset:

@etumnamboa is even more sour:

Why suspend the #SMSTweet?  It represents little in terms of traffic ! What security are we talking about here? #Theyjustdontgetit #cmr11

For many, “security reasons” mentioned by the authorities  are related to the recent revolutions and uprisings that have taken place throughout Africa since the beginning of the year. This unrest also affected Cameroon, though to a lesser extent than its African counterparts, on February 23, 2011. It's the opinion shared by @mambenanje:

But according to blogger Dibussi Tande, the Cameroonian Government got it all wrong:

Obviously, the government has failed to learn the lesson from North Africa. (…) 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.

Cameroonian netizens seem nevertheless resourceful. Blogger Djia Think posted an article on “OpenMesh, the ultimate weapon to keep our freedom of communication”  that introduces the OpenMesh project:

C’est dans l’optique de lutter contre ses coups portés à la liberté de communication que Shervin Pishevar proposait le 27 Février 2011, le projet OpenMesh qui consiste à former un réseau maillée, où les hommes joueront le rôle des routeurs Internet

It is with the fight for freedom of communication in mind  that Shervin Pishevar proposed on February 27, 2011 the OpenMesh project, which consists in forming a meshed network, where people will be the Internet routers.


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