afrol News, 9 March - The government of Cameroon has ordered mobile operator MTN to suspend an SMS service that had proven a powerful tool for protest movements in North Africa.
Since November 2010, MTN Cameroon has provided a little noticed service of large potentials. The major mobile phone operator was the first in Cameroon to provide access to Twitter messages by SMS on the mobile network.
Twitter headquarters in San Francisco, US, yesterday however could verify that this service now had been cancelled. "Twitter SMS on MTN Cameroon has been suspended by the Cameroonian government," the social media confirmed. MTN also set out a message to its users, saying the service ad been suspended. No further reasons were given, neither by MTN nor by authorities.
One could question why authorities would bother to cut this seemingly insignificant commercial service, which had yet to get a wider popularity in Cameroon. Cameroon's online society has no doubt about why, holding that Twitter via SMS is a powerful weapon.
According to Cameroonian blogger Dibussi Tande, the suspension order was nothing else that "a bid to insulate Cameroon against popular uprisings similar to those that have toppled regimes in Tunisia and Egypt in recent months." Twitter via SMS services had allowed protesters in North Africa to constantly update other protesters and international media from the spot.
Before the ban, "very few Cameroonians were even aware that Twitter was available in Cameroon via SMS, and the majority of those who were did not even grasp its potential as a tool for political activism," according to Mr Tande.
Others agree. "With the revolution sweeping through North Africa, this is a sign of fear to deter the citizens from protesting the over 20 years government of Paul Biya in the country," analysts from WebTends in neighbouring Nigeria hold.
There had indeed been an attempt of igniting North Africa inspired mass protests in Cameroon on 23 February. In particular exiled Cameroonians had been active in social media such as Twitter and Facebook, trying to motivate the widely discontent masses inside Cameroon to tae to the streets.
But the mass protest movement proved to be too much directed from abroad, with main dissident and opposition groups within Cameroon not being involved in the planning. The 23 February protests therefore - and due to massive police presence - failed to attract broader masses.
Cameroonian Communication Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary strongly attacked the protest movement for being directed from abroad, with the ill-informed Diaspora using Facebook and Twitter to try and launch Egypt-type protests in Cameroon. According to Mr Tande, this belief was probably what caused government to suspend the MTN Twitter service.
But Mr Tande holds that Yaoundé authorities had understood little from the dynamics of the protests in North Africa, where governments also had attempted to cut access to the internet altogether. There were many other powerful channels to spread the word of revolution for Cameroonians, he holds.
"Every Cameroonian with a cell phone - that is about 6 million individuals - knows what a text message is, and has texted at least once before. Increasingly smartphones are making their way into Cameroon, and practically every phone in the market has a camera. The combination of standard SMS and smartphones is where the potential 'threat' to national security really lies," the Cameroonian blogger concludes.
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