Two #Google Developer Group leaders in Cameroon have been accused of political hacktivism, perhaps for their potential to bring social change.
On Sunday, the 16th of July 2016, Isaac Kamga and Check Nyah, two leaders of the Google Developer Group in Cameroon were arrested by the Cameroonian armed forces and jailed among 14 other persons who were eating at a restaurant with them. They have been in jail for more than a month now, accused of planning to hold a meeting that will challenge the integrity of the “the state”.
Let’s begin with the arrest story after which we will look at the persons, Isaac and Check. From there, we will be able to draw some ideas and move to my theory that says, the government of Cameroon is scared of the abilities of these young men and prefers to keep them in jail so as to prevent a possible political hacktivism which could create a successful secession of the English Speaking Cameroon from the French Speaking Cameroon.
We will also have a look at the relationship between these two Cameroons and the secession struggle while studying the background of these two Google-focused Computer Engineers.
The Arrest Story
It was a Sunday afternoon in Silicon Mountain, Buea, the heart of ICT for Entrepreneurship in Cameroon (as described by the BBC journalist, Tamasin Ford). 16 persons were eating in a restaurant called Mr. Cleans behind BICEC bank, Molyko Buea. Sundays in Buea can be very boring, especially in the afternoons.
It is customary for people to spend time idling and discussing on several topics, moving from one topic to another, in an exercise known as “burning time”. After these chats by the roads, restaurants, bakeries and other “idle grounds”, most people go back to their homes, take a shower and go for evening meetings. These meetings range from tribal meetings, “njangis”, to ex-student association meetings.
As people ate and chatted, topics of politics came up. People shared their opinions and perspectives. Everyone was joining the discussion very passionately. Voices were getting louder.
The passions grew and some of those voices began attacking the inability of the government of Cameroon to evenly share her resources and opportunities across the regions. More points came up… and much more. Everyone defending his reasons why he thinks the Francophone-intensive government of Cameroon might be unfair to the Anglophone Cameroon and as a result, a secession would be healthy for the Anglophone Cameroonians. Theses were only opinions shared by people passionate about the wellbeing of their country.
It was so exciting.
All the excitement died when some uniformed men in arms arrived and surrounded the restaurant. Everyone in the restaurant was arrested, including Mr. Cleans, the restaurant owner. You could hear the voices of the people asking, “why are you arresting us? what have we done? what is our crime?”
They were taken to the Buea Central Police cell and locked up. They stayed there for a couple of days, all their belongings were seized and searched for some possible evidence of a crime. Something, anything that could be related to an accusation of holding a meeting; an agenda, the minutes of the meeting, or anything. Nothing was found.
Three days later, they had their first hearing with a magistrate. This was a preliminary hearing with the State Council of Buea. The hearing was quite brief. They were sent to the Buea Central Prison from where they would be on “awaiting trial”.
Isaac Kamga & Check Nyah
Isaac Kamga is a son of two Cameroonian citizens, born in England and bred in Cameroon. He grew up to complete university programs in Mathematics, Physics, Accounting and Computer Science. He just recently had his MSc. in Computer Science from the University of Buea.
Isaac’s term as National Google Developers Group Mentor for Cameroon just finished. He presently serves as the Lead Organizer of Google Developers Group, Buea Cameroon. He was the first Cameroonian to be accepted into Google’s Summer internship program called Google Summer of Code. Since then Isaac has been helping Cameroonians across the country to prepare for international tech internships.
Isaac’s reign was rich and eventful. Many #students in Cameroon got to learn about the huge opportunities the tech ecosystem offers to youths in general and to girls in particular as a result of his efforts. Check Nyah did a good job
Check Nyah is a Cameroonian who hails from Batibo, a North West tribe in Cameroon. He schooled in Saint Joseph’s College, Sasse and presently reads Computer Engineering in the University of Buea in his final year. Check’s first visible step as a leader in the tech community in Cameroon began with his appointment as the Google Student Ambassador for the University of Buea, Cameroon during the 2013/ 2014 academic year.
Check’s first visible step as a leader in the tech community in Cameroon began with his appointment as the Google Student Ambassador for the University of Buea, Cameroon during the 2013/ 2014 academic year. His reign was rich and eventful. Many students in Cameroon got to learn about the huge opportunities the tech ecosystem offers to youths in general and to girls in particular as a result of his efforts.
Check Nyah also did a good job in marketing the services of Google and the usefulness to the Cameroonian youth. His efforts did not go unnoticed in any way. In 2014, Google organized a “Google Student Ambassador Summit” in Accra, Ghana during which Nyah check was announced a “Star Student Ambassador in Africa“. Another way of saying, “this lad is Africa’s best of breeds”.
Check Nyah is in his final year at the University of Buea reading Computer Engineering. While studying, he works tirelessly to take awareness of Information Technology to the hinterlands of Cameroon. He presently volunteers as the leader of Google Developers Group in Bambili, in the North West Region of Cameroon.
Check travels from Buea to Bambili to evangelize IT in secondary and high schools. Check has been quite successful so far in his efforts to introduce Computer Programming to secondary school students. In 2016, one of his mentees, Nji Collins, a secondary school student from Bambili was finalists for the Google Code-in competition. Nji Collins also had an opportunity to do a presentation during the 2016 edition of the prestigious Silicon Mountain Conference.
Check Nyah still mentors so many kids to date. He helps in pitching to the parents of these kids on how important it is for them to have laptops. He also travels the world looking for opportunities that would be suitable for these kids. In 2016, he has been to the USA twice for DockerCon and OSCon.
Beyond any reasonable doubts, Isaac Kamga and Check Nyah have worked endlessly to create a growing technology family in Cameroon.
And according to them, they are just starting on their mission to make Cameroon a leading country in technology entrepreneurship ecosystem in Cameroon.
The Southern Cameroon Crisis & SCNC
Cameroon is a bilingual country. History records that several stages were taken by different politicians to bring Southern Cameroons and Francophone Cameroon together as one big country. In the past and present, different pressure groups have arisen to accuse the French Cameroon of severe injustices against the Southern Cameroons that range from unlawful colonization to poor distribution of the country’s resources.
Some of these groups want to have a system put in place that will ensure justice in the distribution of resources, others want to see Cameroon become a federated state and some others prefer to totally secede Southern Cameroons from the French Cameroon.
The most popular of these pressure groups is the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC). This group used to be very active. In the past, they used to carry out different activities in the country in a public style. SCNC activities have been inexistent for several years now within Cameroon.
The Cameroon government used several methods to suppress this group and their activities. The SCNC is mostly seen by Cameroonians on Facebook as the activists share pictures of their claims from Washington DC and Belgium. They also lobby across the world to garner support for their course.
The Rise of Hacktivism in Africa
Hacktivism is the act of hacking, or breaking into a computer system, for a politically or socially motivated purpose. The individual who performs an act of hacktivism is said to be a hacktivist. (Source: www.whatis.com)
In his article on Computer Weekly, Dai Davis establishes a topic of the “good or bad of Hacktivism”. I will move on to cite some instances of Hacktivism in the world and in Africa in particular.
- In 2011, LulzSec made an attack on the internet porn site www.pron.com. LulzSec published 26,000 email addresses and associated passwords, in an apparent attempt to embarrass users. These appeared to include two Malaysian government officials and three members of the US military.
- Not all hacktivists work in secret. In 2011, at the start of the Arab Spring, the Egyptian government tried to shut down the internet. This provoked a response from Google, Twitter and SayNow. They collaborated and in a very short time produced a “Speak2Tweet” service allowing anyone, inside or outside Egypt, to leave a message on certain telephone numbers. The messages were then immediately placed on Twitter. The stated motive was: “We hope this will go some way to helping people in Egypt stay connected at this very difficult time.”
- A recent example of hacktivism concerns the activities of hacktivist group Anonymous Africa. During the 2013 Zimbabwean election, it attacked and closed down 50 websites, including those associated with the ruling Zanu PF party as well as those of the regime newspaper, The Herald.
These examples clearly establish that Hacktivism is not a phenomenon to be loved by governments. Any government or government official that has a plan to stay in power will suppress all forms of hacktivism in any way.
The Android Generation
The government of Cameroon is very much aware of the capabilities of her citizens when it comes to using technology for social change. In his speech during the 2016 National Youth Day eve, the president of Cameroon, President Paul Biya code-named the youths “Android Generation”.
The use of technology for social change are seen in the rise of technology startups in Cameroon, the use of the internet to get jobs and the use of social media to attack bad government practices.
The president got very concerned with the ability of the Android Generation when the youths took to Social Media and Blogs after the death of Monique Koumate and her twins; an action that later extended into the streets and almost led to a social unrest in Douala, Cameroon. After this incident, Paul Biya required all his ministers and top officials to join Social Media and stay active on Facebook or else they lose their jobs.
My Idea of a Conclusion
So, what do we say about established Software Engineers, who have tentacles across the world to pull resources in training youths and are actively traveling across the country training and inspiring many people to acquire Computer Programming skills?
AWESOME! That is the word. Pure Awesomeness.
Unfortunately when a government hears that persons who have such capability to use digital tools to create huge social change are in a gathering, holding talks about SCNC – the arch enemy of the government, they become very paranoid. When they look again at what happened during the Arab Spring and other hacktivist attempts, what would they do? Concerns about innocence and guilt of the persons involved become a non-issue. They become too prepared to do anything in order to preserve their safety.
In my opinion, it is such paranoia that is keeping the two engineers in prison for over one month now. However, the hearings are coming up, let’s stay tuned to see if the government will come up with some tangible evidence of a crime committed.
This article is totally my opinion created from questions I asked people and research I did about the story of these Afro Hustlers. It is not the opinion of AfroHustler.com.