Cameroon: Silicon Mountain Techies Seek Internet Refuge

Internet Refugees

With each passing day, new experiences are gained as well as new words and phrases take up entries in dictionaries. In a few weeks, a new phrase has been born in Cameroon – Internet Refugees. Who are they and why were they so labelled?

Silicon Mountain is the heart of innovation in Cameroon with the country’s biggest number of innovative tech startups. All her startups depend on the internet to work, but Cameroon’s government has taken their internet away. Now in frustration, they must take long hours of a daily commute or relocate to seek refuge in other cities with the internet, creating a situation they have now coined as Digital or Internet “Refugees”.

It has become a ‘new normal’ as Silicon mountain techies seek internet refuge. Here’s how it all started:

The two English-speaking regions of Cameroon experienced an internet blackout on January 17, 2017, following a  protest orchestrated by lawyers and teachers of the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon. It should be noted that the protest is taking part in areas formerly known historically as Southern Cameroons and West Cameroon and is of the Anglo-Saxon culture.

According to the government, the internet blockade is a measure put in place to protect national unity and integration, the misuse of social media to propagate wrong information and hate by the angry protesters. This irrational decision by the Cameroon government to shut down the internet in the English speaking regions has received criticisms of all time with the #Bringbackourinternet campaign.

Silicon Mountain founders and top software developers expected 2017 to be a year of growth and achievement in the tech ecosystem. Hoping for the best, but served the worst (internet outage).

Cameroon, an emerging economy, has got no regards for techpreneurship. The sudden internet outage in anglophone Cameroon has led to an enormous loss in the vibrant Silicon Mountain tech community of Cameroon. The young techpreneurs of the community have suddenly become internet refugees and nomads in search for the internet to sustain their various startups. This migration for internet did not go unnoticed by one of the administrative staff of ActivSpaces Douala and so he tweeted “I am glad to be hosting so many #digitalrefugees in the office today.”

Ayuk Etta, the founder of Skylabase, a tech startup that builds financial software and supports digital banking activities commutes to Douala on a daily routine just to catch up with his client’s projects. “Tech companies rely on the internet to stay in business and how can we scale our companies without the internet?” Says Ayuk Etta

This young techpreneur recently acquired a significant Fintech partner- Mifos, at the end of 2016. Skylabase partnered with Mifos initiative to transform digital banking in Africa. Nonetheless, this startup also made an incredible move to partner with a data analytic company known as SiQueries aimed to help financial institutions grow via data. Etta confirmed that internet outage in West Cameroon is teetering on the brinks of jeopardising these established partnerships.

Silicon mountain techies seek internet refuge migrating to the economic capital city of Douala and other nearby cities for an internet hunt (Digital migration). Most of them presently share the ActiveSpaces Douala co-working space, whereas others go in for hotels. “This is a huge cost to bear,” said Otto Akama the community development specialist of ActivSpaces Buea and Founder of Makonjo Media.

The Silicon Mountain tech community ”the home of tech innovation and Africa’s next tech hub”, built from scratch by young, talented Cameroonians, which has never enjoyed subvention from the Cameroon Government is presently facing a threat to its very existence. According to Internet Sans Frontiere, the blocking access to the internet over the previous two weeks in west Cameroon costs businesses up to $723,000 (£570,000). The united nations have declared internet access a basic human right. A trendy hashtag #Bringbackourinternet is used by twitter users to denounce internet shut in anglophone Cameroon.

Young tech startups striving to grow in the Silicon Mountain and the digital economy of anglophone Cameroon need the internet to stay afloat. Silicon Mountain’s internet refugees need to return to their workspace in Buea. #Bringbackourinternet

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