Cameroon’s plan for a Francophone-led tech hub isn’t being welcomed in its Anglophone region

Quartz | The Cameroon government is backing a new technology hub to be called “Cameroon Silicon River” in its capital city Yaoundé, in a move that is likely to move attention from its small, but already thriving ecosystem in the country’s southwest region.

The new tech hub is modeled after Buea’s Silicon Mountain and will take a sizable portion of the 11.92 billion CFA francs ($ 20.6 million) 2019 budget of Cameroon’s ministry of scientific research and innovation. The government says Cameroon Silicon River will be a platform for research and innovation where young, creative, and enterprising Cameroonian software developers and other technologists will have the infrastructure and support they need.

But the news has not gone down well with tech leaders and entrepreneurs in Silicon Mountain; the already burgeoning tech ecosystem in Buea, in the English-speaking region of Cameroon. It is seen as the latest part of a wider national effort to marginalize the minority English-speaking regions of the country in the southwest and northwest.

For the last two years activists in the English-speaking regions of the country have protested against marginalization by the French-speaking dominated government. Modern Cameroon was formed from part of a former British colony and a much larger French colony, which makes up about 80% of the country’s population. But over the last year, those initially peaceful protests by Anglophone professionals, including lawyers and teachers, have turned into violent clashes with government security forces.

There has also been an information battle conducted mainly online. The government has taken to shutting down the internet for months in the English-speaking regions, ostensibly to prevent anti-government activists organizing.

Tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Mountain have often complained of systematic neglect by the government, citing specifically the lack of tax incentives for their tech start-ups and want of financial support.

Despite the difficulties, some Cameroonian start-ups in Silicon Mountain have received global acclamation and are being scaled up to spread across the world. These include Zuo Bruno (Zuoix)’s Zoomed car-tracking application using SMS and Churchill Mambe Nanje’s Njorku.com – a fast-growing job search engine and aggregator that helps thousands of African job-seekers find employment opportunities in locations nearest to them.

Bruno, an ethical hacker from Silicon Mountain, described the Yaoundé hub plan as a waste of resources. “I think it is a decision that assumes creativity and innovation can be taught and politicized.”

Many techies in Silicon Mountain say government officials often speak with them on how to improve the local ecosystem but their suggestions or proposals often end up being implemented in other parts of the country.

“We had proposed to officials that there was need to put in place an institution in Buea that will help startups in registering their ventures and scaling them up. Now we hear it is Yaounde,” said Otto Akama, co-founder of Makonjo Media. He indicated that same had been done with the creation of a technopole in Kribi, in the country’s French-speaking region.

Internet rights activist, Gwain Colbert Fulai predicted Cameroon Silicon River will die off in a relatively short timeframe.

“When you copy an initiative, you miss out the essential details. Even Silicon Valley in the US was not a government creation,” Colbert said. He argued government should only create an enabling environment for technology to strive.

Despite being Cameroon’s capital city, Yaoundé has few little-known tech entrepreneurs compared with Silicon Mountain. The entrepreneurs believe government should use the striving Silicon Mountain tech ecosystem as a springboard to build and expand other ecosystems in the country.

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7 comments

  1. Thank God, the war will resolve the Anglophone Question.
    Since LRC terrorists can NEVER EVER defeat the INVINCIBLE Ambaboys, only NEGOTIATION under the auspices of an international mediator can and will end the SH*THOLE, FOOLISH, OPEN-ENDED and UNWINNABLE war

  2. IT IS DISTURBING TO SEE THE KIND OF MENTAL DISORIENTATION OUR SUPER DEGREE HOLDERS ARE SUFFERING FROM. ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IS A QUESTION OF STRATEGY. THERE IS CERTAIN LOGIC THAT MUST BE FOLLOWED. IN ODER TO DEVELOPE HIGH END PRODUCTS, A COUNTRY MUST FIRST BUILD AND CONTROL BASIC INDUSTRIES FROM WHERE CAPITAL WILL WILL BE ACCUMULATED TO IMPORT TECHNICALLY SOPHISTICATED MACHINARY TO IMPROVE PRODUCTIVITY AND EFFICIENCY. IN ODER TO BUILD THIS BASIC INDUSTRIES THE AGRICULTURE SECTOR MUST BE ORGANISED TO PRODUCE RAW MATERIALS THAT WILL FEED THE INDUSTRIES CONTINUOUSLY. FOR EXAMPLE IN ODER TO BUILD VEHICLES, A COUNTRY MUST BE ABLE TO BUILD HIGHLY COMPETITIVE STEEL FACTORIES THAT WILL PRODUCE 70 PERCENT OF WHAT IS USED IN BUILDING CARS. WHERE DOES THE CAPITAL TO BUILD STEEL MILLS COME FROM?

    • Mr Bah,

      I will urge us to do MORE and talk (or write) LESS. All of this preaching day-in day-out is not helping to change the current state of affairs. We are not in the INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION ages but TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION times. The lads are using what they have to build or make something and this in your words is “STRATEGY”

      • Which successful project has the government of Cameroun realized under Paul Biya?

      • BAAHBUKE,,,, you must understand that economic competition is war. those who are naive do not survive. Staying in buea using the platform of someone who has 50 SETTLITES in obit while thinking you are doing something reasonable is simply naive. The reality is that by going from the farm, growing raw materials then building industries with the raw materials and commercialising finished products will generate heavy cash to invest in building and launching satellites in obit which gives us the capacity to own and control our own platforms. Then we can talk about a technical hub because it is standing on a solid foundation. It is from there that i have already started. The rest is ignorance.

  3. Really???
    California’s “Garden of Eden” started very modestly with open minds. It attracted talents from far and wide, and grew into the well known Silicon Valley, thanks to input from brains all over the world. With time the good idea spread, first to Bombay in India as Bollywood, then to Nigeria as Nollywood, and to Ghana as Ghollywood. The reception and spirit of the idea in all of these new regions were remarkably the same.

    But what happened when Silicon Mountain came into being in Buea? To find out, go into archives and study the fate of Powercam, PWD, Marketing Board, Cameroon Bank, Tiko International Airport, Tiko Wharf, Bota Wharf, etc. Find out where they are today and ask yourself if the same cancer will spare any new venture in this direction!

  4. The solution is sourcing funding and expertise from the thriving and massive market in next door Nigeria. We have demonstrated immense foresight, creativity and entrepreneurship in our ICT regime. Yaounde will have no choice but to come looking for solutions in Buea…friends this is the information age, Yaounde can’t hide from it. It can choose to be serviced by an unimaginative government setup into which not even Yaounde has CFA 11 B to invest in because of its huge current deficit. They have built all sorts of agriculture institutions in their geographical areas to assist local folks with Cocoa production skills, instead of financing the centers of expertise like Kumba and Muyuka. The blatant cheating in allocation of the countries resources is about to END. Thank God !

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