During a state visit by Cameroonian president Paul Biya to Switzerland in June 2019, Cameroonian exiles protested outside the InterContinental Hotel in Geneva where he and his wife were staying, venting their anger at the eighty-six-year-old’s management of the Anglophone Crisis, among other grievances. Biya’s presidency began in 1982 and will continue at least until 2025 following his 2018 re-election, making him one of the longest serving presidents still alive on the African continent.
These protesters had been mobilized from across Europe through the use of social media, which compelled the Biya administration to form a social media “cyber brigade” in August 2019 to combat anti-Biya sentiments online and in the streets.
Members disseminate pro-Biya messages and challenge anti-Biya commenters
Using a network of false accounts, members of this officially unacknowledged group disseminate pro-Biya messages and challenge anti-Biya commenters. In itself, this demonstrates a worrying manipulation of social media services by state actors, jeopardizing Cameroon’s already precarious internet freedoms. Targeted internet blackouts occurred in 2017 and 2018 in the English-speaking regions of the country to silence dissent and calls for secession. Tit-for-tat accusations have broken out between pro- and anti-Biya internet posters over the use of ethnically charged rhetoric to sow division.
The existence of this group alone demonstrates a disappointing prioritization of government resources. Instead of addressing the root causes of dissatisfaction in Biya’s presidency and the ongoing tensions between Anglophone and Francophone regions of Cameroon, the government has instead chosen to allocate funds to suppress and shape online discourse as a distraction.