When a national tragedy occurs, citizens expect their President to be on hand to mourn with the country and chart a course for them to follow. That is exactly what President Paul Biya, the President of Cameroon, did not offer his people when a packed train derailed in late October.
The train derailment had led to the death of over 70 people and 600 others were injured. When it happened, President Paul Biya had been enjoying a luxurious vacation in Switzerland and the octogenarian – who has ruled since 1982 – merely sent a message of condolence.
Criticism had been swift as the people took to social media to harangue the President and express their anger and discontent. Most of the comments surround the fact that President Paul Biya had not returned home fast enough to deal with the national tragedy.
It has been less than a month since the unfortunate occurrence and social media blowout but Cameroon’s government is now labeling social media as a dangerous tool utilized in disseminating false news or information and scaring the public.
Cavaye Yeguie Djibril, the speaker of Cameroon’s assembly, while addressing the parliament, called social media “a new form of terrorism,” according to a version of his speech which was uploaded to the parliament’s website. Djibril insists that social media platforms have created a “social pandemic,” that is perpetuated by “amateurs, whose ranks, unfortunately, continue to swell and who do not have a sense of etiquette and decorum.”
Djibril had also called on “appropriate authorities to see the pressing need to track down and neutralize the culprits of cyber crimes.” His sentiments were again echoed by the Cameroon Tribune, the lone national newspaper, which published a story that, basically, called the widespread use of social media “a threat to peace.”
It is understandable that the government may have been a bit taken aback by the ferocity of the people’s response considering a World Bank report on internet penetration in the country shows a rise from just 5% in 2011 to over 20% in 2015.
Presidential elections in Cameroon are coming up in 2018 and the current mood in the government about social media may see them making moves to curb social media users.