21 April 2018

Cameroon Govt Cracks Down on Social Media Leaks

Photo: VOA
Cameroon

Sixteen government employees have been detained in Cameroon for allegedly leaking official documents on social media since the start of the year.

In an increasingly common phenomenon, the texts of President Paul Biya's two most recent nationwide addresses were circulating before he even delivered them.

And in March, a confidential presidential memo began circulating on the country's social media sites. The memo instructed security agencies to restrict travel for about two dozen senior state workers accused of stealing state funds.

Three police officers are now behind bars awaiting trial in connection with that leak.

In April, another confidential presidential order surfaced online. This one increased the allowances of soldiers deployed to the turbulent English-speaking regions. Two defense ministry staffers were called up for questioning.

Rights groups have long criticized Cameroon and other African governments, for being overly opaque.

Cameroon-born analyst Tem Fuh Mbuh, with the Dakar-based Open Society Initiative for West Africa, said the crackdown is part of a broader campaign against dissent.

"It is not only about those who are leaking official information, but there has been [a] systematic crackdown against all those who try to dissent in Cameroon," he said. "So it's a very alarming situation, and civic space in Cameroon has been closing very considerably in the last few years."

Mbuh said this is particularly concerning ahead of the country's elections in the later part of 2018.

Transparency vs. stability

Often, the response from African governments is that transparency must take a back seat to stability.

In March, Cameroon's Prime Minister Philomen Yang said leaking sensitive official documents threatens both the Biya administration and national security. His office declined VOA's request for an interview.

Lawyers for state employees detained over alleged leaks declined to comment to VOA as the cases are ongoing.

But at a documentation center in Yaounde, VOA found several government workers either printing or typing documents from their offices. They say they lacked the necessary computer equipment or had run short of ink.

Information technology specialist, Peter Suife, said state workers need education on dealing with sensitive information electronically.

"You have government offices that have computers, the operators of these computers don't know how to probably store some documents in their files," he said. "When they type, they take the key to a documentation center for printing. After printing, they are supposed to cancel what they have printed in that documentation, rather than allow it in the machine. Tomorrow, you see the documents already on streets before the state ever makes a statement."

The law in Cameroon says government employees must protect classified and confidential materials. Failure to do so could lead to dismissal, as well as penalties ranging from a $10 (5000 CFA) fine to as much as one year's imprisonment.

Sofia Christensen in Dakar contributed.

Cameroon

Nigerian, Cameroonian Troops Overrun Boko Haram in Borno

Nigerian troops in a joint Counter Insurgency Operation with Cameroonian Defence Forces and the Civilian Joint Task… Read more »

See What Everyone is Watching

Copyright © 2018 Voice of America. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 800 reports a day from more than 140 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.