Making communication Enjoyable, Accessible, Available and Affordable to an Average Cameroonian
My testimony is structured into two sections. The first part is my general frustration and challenges regarding digital policies in Cameroon. The second point is how I became part of this digital world and how it has been of immense impact in my life; personally, socially and academically. In addition, I have outlined a few recommendations.
I feel very frustrated writing this journal on Access Now. As a Cameroonian, I find it extremely difficult to contribute my thought to the global network on virtual knowledge building.
Whenever, I find interest to participate in any online program, my spirit dimples. I immediately imagine the stress involved, especially on sourcing and presenting the exact information needed. In most instances, I have to cover hundreds of (kilo) metres in order to access the internet. This will also depend, if at that particular period of time, I am capable to afford for my internet expenses. As a result, on most occasions, especially on early call for participation, I commence my preparation at least 3 weeks before the usual dates.
Dear Pulsewire sisters, imagine in a year, how many opportunities will I efficiently explore? And how many stories of mine, shall you read? Can you therefore see how disconnected myself and your other sisters are from our space to speak. Yes! I speak for myself, no body speaks for me – is the slogan. Once more, here I stand up to speak.
Over the years, I had heard countless speeches and ceaseless pledge calling on the state and telecommunication sectors to;
1. Lower communication RATES. However, these requests seem to have sunk in the Atlantic Oceans. As nothing as such is mentioned during political conversation.
2. Improve QUALITY services, most especially the connection speed. Cameroon is among the few exceptional countries with exorbitant communication rate when the services that accompany are very poor – e.g. mobile calls, cyber connections. I must admit, I always tell myself that I am still living in the ancient ages as far as freedom to communicate is concern.
In addition, I have observed that as much as very little is done in meeting the communication demands of the people, there isn't a political will in solving the security threats involve. These threats varies and are not however limited to; digital insecurity (cyber harassment),Tele Threats and vocal abuse etc
ii. Tele threat: This occurs when people receive threat phone calls or emails. And, in this situation, very little security has been set to address these threats.
iii. Hackers – no measures has been set to trap those illegal acts in the cyber space.
The key issues I wish to see is to ensuring that communication services are Enjoyable, Accessible, Available and Affordable to all Cameroonians. However, my engagement into this digital world has had (and still having) very strong impact in my life. As earlier mentioned, here is how the cyberspace have impacted me both Personally, Socially and Academic.
It all started by mid-2007, when I attended the UNEP International Tunza conference. By then, I was a potential graduate from the Dept. of Environmental Sciences, University of Buea. During the conference, I had the chance to interact with high profile personalities, working on issues very pertinent on how social activities ( unfriendly environmental attitude) affects the environment. This was such an inspiring moment in my life, as I got the space to interact with environmental experts and other young scholars like myself.
I will like you to know that during that period I had very shallow understanding about World Wide Web. However, I made a commitment to myself in keeping my network alive. As a means in keeping my commitment, I offered to use 2 hours in every fortnight for internet surf. Slowly by slowly, I started gaining useful insights in to the virtual reality. This was a big transition for me and thanks to two persons;
1. Strike Mkandla, Representative to AU, UNECA & Ethiopia, who subscribed me to the UNECA eNewsletter and yahoogroups.
2. Eric Fonyuyson, who encouraged me to register for this UNEP Tunza conference.
These two people supported me in different ways - maybe knowingly or unknowingly, all the same, that was an entry point for me.
Personally, I found the digital space very active and non-seasonal. I saw it as a new world with no specific time frame or date (year) to get involve. This was the kind of world I needed. I embraced it with open arms. I defined my status and re-defined myself. I became so content and satisfied with myself. I opened up to new opportunities, encouraged my peers to join me in this new world of global conversation. It was due to this concern and passion to challenge the status quo, that-
In 2010, I created an online African women under 30 (w30) programs www.zoneziowhshow.com - a transition from the zoneziowhshow (TV talk show which began in 2008). W30 works with women who think independently and are passionate in bringing change. The commitment demonstrated from both participants and team mates, have witnessed tremendous influence in some communities, which are still to be recognized by some the local satellites. .
In 2009, I was able to meaningfully transfer virtual knowledge into the communities via the initiation of Wfac Buea, which is an affiliation of an online women’s movement advocating against Violence on Women www.asafeworldforwomen.org . Wfac Buea however became the connection between the virtual world and the non-virtual. These two groups all aimed t campaigning on VAW. As a young women’s group, working in the midst of strong patriarchy structures, Wfac Buea has been doing remarkable efforts within the University community in advocating against Violence on Women.
Socially, I am very aware of the social realities and diversities in life. I needed not visit or be present in any place before knowing what was happening. The opportunities provided became far exciting than what I had envisioned. After my experience at UNEP, and with the resourceful eNewsletters, I developed the quest to explore more. Suddenly, I came across an online News Media; www.thesop.org – founded by Judyth Piazza, and American Italian, who encouraged me to share my-Story. It was due to that I developed the habit of writing. I value the opportunity, because I was able to assess my writing skills, connecting with prolific writers in the diaspora.
My online interaction has linked me up with outstanding men and women across the globe; all committed in building positive change. I have been able to build lasting relationship (family) with people who have influence my life in various ways –
1) Rituu Nanda, India, Community Manager of www.aidscompetence.org she is like a sister and a mentor to me. I have never met Rituu but we communicate on constant bases. She has inspired me a lot.
2) Janet Feldman, USA, founder of www.actalive.org . Just like Rituu, I have never met. But each time we exchanges mails, it doesn’t feel like we have not met. I can’t count the numbers of valuable online sites, Janet has subscribed (or introduced) me to. The most remarkable is Pulse wire www.worldpulse.org . The information shared in these groups have had significant impact in my life. I feel very proud and privilege to know Janet, not only as a mentor but also as a powerful change maker.
Academically, how best can I express the many lessons learnt? Professionally, I can access e-Libraries, audit classes. In addition, I can also to organize and attend Video conferences, Telepresence (WebEx) etc.
To cut the long genesis short, I have been using the cyber net to submit my applications and exchange my lesson notes. This has eased me from the postal mails inconveniences and the non-reliability of post offices in Cameroon. For instance, I am presently an MA (non-degree program) Fellow at the Conflict Security and Development, CSDG, King’s College London and African Leadership Centre Nairobi. During the call for applications, I submitted my applications together with all other supporting documents online. Honestly, I am unable to qualify or even quantify my benefits from the program. I have tremendously benefited.
Secondly, I love researching and publications. But, living in a country like mine, where my digital accessibility and availability is limited and restricted, already hinders my opportunities. For instance, during my last visit home in the month of April - May 2011, www.twitter.com was unavailable, and I do not know whether it was due to technical problems as usual or it is a deliberate restriction from the state (as rumors goes). And till date, there has been no official statement from the state denying the allegations. In such situations of on-and-off connectivity, imagine the delay and limitation, I experienced participating in my academic debates and other inspiring conversations which usually take places on twitter?
Previously I used to stress about meetings, forums etc. Now, I have less worries as I must not necessary be physically present in order to participate in meetings and conference. and in case, i don't wish to participate visually, i can as well download the videos to be watched at my convenient.
Cyberspaces have spared me a lot of cost and time too. In addition, I am able to run a campaign and petition online without necessary embarking on a thousand miles journey in order to distribute campaign flyers etc.
Last but not the least, I use cyberspace in conducting my survey, questionnaires, and interviews (via Skype, Telepresence, WebEx etc). Unlike before, I had no alternative but to embark on a journey to distribute the questionnaires, which were never all the time a success. Sometime, the trips were quite cumbersome and exhausting, or, my interviewee weren't always on seat or the interviewee will be on seats but busy.
The worse scenarios of these were when the filled hardcopies of the questionnaires will get lost (misplaced) either by the interviewee or myself. Unlike now, I am very confident in my works.
My recommendations to this is that –
1. The Cameroon state should lower communication rates to a reasonable amount and also to improve the quality of internet services significantly. Currently, an hour at the Cybercafés ranges within $1.5 and on the phone it is cynical - $3 for 2minutes. Thus, the privilege in using smart phones is not encouraged.
2. The government shouldn’t restrict internet sites from the consumption of the population. Cameroon being a signatory to the Universal Declaration to Human Rights (UDHR,1948), agreeing to respect and implement the fundamental principles of UDHR which clearly proclaim the rights of all human beings to choose…it is therefore unlawful to deny any body the freedom of opinion and expression of thought through any media and regardless of the frontiers - see Article 19 of the UDHR. Thus, denying a person just one right is denying that person all other rights.
3. Computer lessons should be encouraged in schools. I know it is currently taught in school but I am referring to the one student – one desk computer lesson, and not the twenty-thirty students on one-desk computer. Each student should have the chance to own a computer.
4. Special lessons to be taught to women, especially elderly women. Most women spend more time on domestic work and other functions. Majority of these women think that Computer knowledge is un-usefull to them. It is time to enlighten the women on the value and opportunities available in having a computer knowledge.
5. A holistic approach must be put in place to enlighten men, women and children on the benefits involved to own a digital gadget. Many women are not allowed by their husbands to own gadgets. Similarly are some parents denying their kids (above 18 years) to own a phone nor visiting the cyber world. This is denying the kid/woman the freedom of becoming innovative.
6. Civil society organization, NGOs, Journalists and university institutions etc should become more flexible and involve in the cyber world. Very little is known about Cameroon programs on the digital media. Meanwhile, there are a lot of happenings making news in the country.
7. Violators of cyberspace rights should be adequately punish. It is true this is a free world but states should have accurate laws to sanction perpetrators of violence (or abuses) in the cyber space. In fact, this is very critical even with the online social media such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. An additional provision should be included in the policy page, This is to make new users ( signing-up) / existing users to understand that there is no impunity for any person guilty of violating the opportunities provided.
8. More computers be available at affordable prices.
It was my pleasure to join the cause demanding for a universal access and digital freedom. I strongly believe that our testimonies presented here on Pulsewire shall serve as a road map to influencing policy makers to understand the value of digital freedom in the society. I look forward to having a better communication service in Cameroon.
In a time when freedom of expression and equal access to knowledge and ideas has become synonymous with access to the Internet, World Pulse is asking women worldwide: What does "Universal Internet Access and Digital Freedom" mean to YOU? This month, we invite you to raise your voice by writing about the everyday obstacles you face and risks you take in accessing the Internet, or how you have used it to change lives and bring about positive change in your community. Click here to learn more about this campaign and how to participate.