By Arison Tamfu, August 29, 2016
Cameroon Journal, Yaounde – The Cameroonian government recently announced it will distribute laptops free of charge to all university students in the country this academic year 2016/2017. In a heavily attended press conference, the Minister of Higher Education, Fame Ndongo, in a follow up, said the move was unprecedented and would significantly boost higher learning institutions in the country.
“It is a timely donation from the President. It consists of a special Presidential offer of 500,000 laptops to university students of the public and private sectors in the country,” Ndongo said. A communiqué from the Presidency added that the laptops would be offered “to each student of a public or private university in Cameroon.”
Falsehood #1 – There Are More Than 500,000 University Students in Cameroon
With a population of over 23 million people, Cameroon has more than 170 Universities including eight state universities according to official information from the Ministry of Higher education. Government’s own data obtained from the ministry shows that students’ enrolment in all the universities in 2014/2015 academic year was over 700,000.
‘‘The statistics on the website of the ministry are not usually updated. There are approximately a million university students in Cameroon” said Emmanuel Ndifor, a University professor.
It is therefore incorrect for the government to claim it will distribute laptops to ‘all university students’ when demand more than surpasses supply.
Falsehood #2 – They’re Not Laptops, They Are Netbooks (Mini Laptops)
A sample of the laptops brandished by the Minister during the press conference revealed that what the government intends to supply are only mini laptop computers. The government has contracted China’s Sichuan Telecom Construction Engineering Co. Ltd to supply the netbooks.
“It will cost 75 billion FCFA (over US$129 millions) to supply the computers,” said the minister.
Falsehood #3 – 500,000 Chinese Laptops Cannot Cost 75billion FCFA
If the Cameroon government is buying 500,000 laptops for 75 billion FCFA, then each laptop should come at the cost of 150,000 FCFA (US$258). The Cameroon Journal reached out to five major laptop manufacturers in China’s leading manufacturing city of Shenzhen, namely Shenzhen Yu Chuang Xing Ye Technology Co., Ltd; Shenzhen Yongjing Digital Limited Company; Shenzhen Sanwo Digital Technology Co., Ltd; Shenzhen Yyhong Technology Co., Limited and Shenzhen Sayirin Technology Co., Limited and requested for Pro forma Invoices (PI) for the highest grade quality of 500,000 mini laptop computers with each having a warranty of 2 years. The prices offered us ranged from 52 dollars (29,350 FCFA) to 79 dollars (46,373 FCFA) per piece. Consequently the 75 billion FCFA to buy 500,000 Chinese mini laptops is a false claim by the government.
“If government is buying 500,000 mini laptop computers for a whopping 150,000 FCFA per piece, it is either a very bad deal or some ministers have added mouth-watery commissions – four times greater than the actual cost – a scenario capable of ‘under-developing’ the Cameroonian people” Raymond Akoson, Secretary General of the Popular Action Party (PAP) said after personally contacting the Chinese computer manufacturing companies himself for pricing.
Falsehood #4 – They Are Not a Gift From President Biya
A statement from the presidency stated that the laptops are “a great gift from the Head of State to students.” That isn’t true. It is obvious that President Biya is using the laptop jamboree as a political weapon to woo the Cameroonian youth as elections draw nearer.
During the press conference, Higher Education Minister, made it clear that the 75billion FCFA – the overall cost of the laptops, was a loan from China EXIM Bank.
A statement by the Cameroon Students Rights Association (CSRA) has denounced gov’t’s manipulation.
“The actual transfer of one PC to each student was presented to the public and students as a ‘gift of the Head of State’. This is heresy. No country in the world that has esteem for its people, can come up to talk about ‘a gift’ while at the same time it is the State that incurred the debt of 75 billion FCFA. It is a debt that the student(s) will have to contribute heavily to pay back with interest included,” the statement said.
“It is ridiculous for Mr. Biya to indebt future generations for an uncalled for and unplanned purchase and calls it a donation; when it is the taxpayer’s money that is at stake.” Opposition leader, John Fru Ndi said.
“PAP notes that the government failed to inform the Cameroonian people of the interest rates of this loan that the country shall incur within this ten year period. We ask that such figures be made known immediately.” said Raymond.
The Other Problems
Fame Ndongo stressed that government decided to offer the laptops to students fundamentally as a measure to facilitate “e-national higher education and improve on the digital economy.”
“Computers are vital for research and other academic course work” he said. But it is hardly true that this will
facilitate studies. Academic research, e-national learning and digital economy all require internet connectivity. But Cameroon is among the worst countries on earth with very poor internet connections.
According to Internet World statistics, less than two million Cameroonians have access to the internet.
“Mr. Biya cannot donate 500’000 laptops when broadband connectivity in Cameron is extremely limited and one of the most expensive in Africa,’’ Fru Ndi added.
“Internet is still a novelty in Cameroon. People are not connected. Even we in universities hardly have access to the internet and it is very expensive when it is available” said Prof. Ndifor.
The Laptops as a Misplaced Priority
In as much as laptops are vital for research, the laptop bait in Cameroon leaves much to be desired. With an unemployment rate of over 40 per cent, Cameroon’s graduates are battling for jobs.
“75 Billions can do a lot. It could provide six thousand jobs to youths with a monthly salary of 100,000 FCFA for the next ten years,” Raymond said.
Although statistics are not available, majority of Cameroon university students already possess laptops.
“Our students need better infrastructure, multimedia centres of excellence, enabling universities that cater for creativity and research rather than laptops that most, if not all students already have. Government would have used the money to create a Computer manufacturing plant,” said Fru Ndi.
Shining Examples from Rwanda and Ivory Coast
Perhaps Cameroon would have learned from Rwanda and Ivory Coast before entertaining the deal. In 2015, for example, Positivo-BGH, a Latin American multinational IT company that manufactures computers, tablets, and other electronic gadgets signed a deal with the government of Rwanda to start its operation at Kigali Special Economic Zone, Masoro.
“We came here to expand our markets and help the country to increase its exports. This computer is made in Rwanda, by Rwandans, for Rwandans and for the rest of the world,” said Juan Ignation Ponelli, Positivo-BGH President in Africa.
Part of the deal provided that the Government of Rwanda will purchase about 150,000 units (electronics) every year, most of them going to the education sector.
“Positivo factory has a big project because after the success of Made in Rwanda computers, I have heard that the firm will soon launch Made in Rwanda cell phones, air conditioners, projectors and so on. So, I am proud of that. These factories are employing our graduate youths from technical and vocational schools,’’ said François Kanimba, Rwandan minister for Trade and Industry.
Still, in early 2016, the government of Ivory Coast signed an agreement with Universite de Cerco, a local higher institution to produce 4000 per day of ‘Made in Cote D’Ivoire’ computers. The deal cost the government only 4billion FCFA
With the initiative, “We will inform, transform and train many youths’’ said Alain Capo Chichi, President of Cerco.
In Cameroon, the laptops will not transform the youth, it will burden them and generations after them. President Biya needs to summon his economic advisers to revisit the contract and if possible totally renege on it.