Cameroon Begins Campaign Against Hate Speech

Cameroon has launched a campaign against what it calls online hate speech, which officials blame for social conflict and damaging the central African state’s image. Rights groups, however, note that along with xenophobic statements, authorities also define hate speech as criticism of the state and President Paul Biya.

More than 700 people from churches, political parties and universities listen to Cameroonian officials in the courtyard of the Yaounde City Council.

The officials are asking the crowd to stop using xenophobic terms and stop portraying a negative image of the country, especially on social media platforms.

Among the listeners is 47-year old electrician Alex Ndikum. Ndikum says he was scandalized when some French-speaking Cameroonians called him an Anglofou, a term derived from “Anglophone” that means uncivilized.

“All of us, we are citizens of Cameroon and another citizen will address you Biafra {Nigerian activist}. All those types of things make one feel so bad,” Ndikum told VOA. “If people are being sensitized on how to behave, on how to react with one another, I think that will go a long way to curb hate speech.”

Chi Asafor Cornelius is secretary general of Cameroon’s National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, which helped organized the campaign.

He warns hate speech in Cameroon has a political element that is heightening tensions between ethnic groups. Asafor calls for what he calls a national coalition against hate speech and xenophobia.

“This coalition should be put in place to better tackle this issue that is taking a very dangerous turn in our country, and to have the perpetrators of that hate speech truly punished,” Asafor said. “Sensitize political parties on the necessity to educate on the dangers of hate speech and xenophobia in our country.”

The campaigners also want Cameroonians to show love of their country and its institutions. They say that means Cameroonians outside the country should stop protests against President Biya. The most recent protest took place in Belgium last Saturday.

Prince Ekosso is president of the opposition United Socialist Democratic Party. He says Cameroonians protest in Europe because they are denied the right to protest in Cameroon.

“Our constitution provides freedom of expression and democracy, and if some of the values of democracy are not respected by the same government that is supposed to be the guarantor of the constitution, it makes it possible for Cameroonians to express themselves out of Cameroon because in those countries there is democracy,” Ekosso said.

Asafor said clashes between communities have increased in Cameroon since the disputed 2018 presidential election in which President Biya was declared the winner. Opposition leader Maurice Kamto also claimed victory.

Willibroad Dze-Ngwa is executive director of Africa Network Against Illiteracy, Conflict and Human Rights Abuse. He says politicians use hate speech to promote dissent among opponents and prevent them from uniting in opposition.

“I think if there was legislation to bar politicians who engage in hate speech from occupying public offices, it would be important. And for current vote holders, if they are found guilty of hate speech, I think they should be publicly sanctioned,” he said.

The International Crisis Group warned in a December report that social media platforms, especially Facebook, were increasingly being used by Cameroonian youths to heighten political and ethnic tensions.

Cameroon says the ongoing campaign will reduce the tensions if youths who constitute about 65% of the population agree to stop hurting the image of their country over social media.

Source: Voice of America

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