Some university students in Cameroon have been parading the street of the capital Yaoundé brandishing placards to thank President Paul Biya who has ruled the country for more than 34years for offering them laptops gratis. But the euphoria might not last for long. A scrutiny of the government’s ‘gift’ reveals many false claims by the government.
By Arison TAMFU, Cameroon
The Cameroonian government recently announced it will distribute laptops free of charge to all university students in the country by the start of next academic year 2016/2017.
In a heavily attended press conference, the Minister of higher education,Prof. Fame Ndongo said the move was unprecedented and would significantly boost higher learning institutions in Cameroon.
“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” minister Fame 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”.
Are there 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 Prof. Emmanuel Ndifor, a University lecturer.
It is therefore incorrect for the government to claim it will distribute laptops to ‘all university students’
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 computers.
“It will cost 75 billion FCFA (over US$129 millions) to supply the computers” said Fame Ndongo.
Can 500,000 Chinese laptops cost 75 billion FCFA?
If the Cameroonian government is buying 500000 laptops for 75 billion FCFA, then each laptop will cost 150000 FCFA (US$258).
We contacted 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 ranged from 52 dollars (29,350 FCFA) to 79 dollars (46,373 FCFA) per piece. A mean of the best prices these factories accept to provide is 65.5 dollars (38,448.5 FCFA).
Consequently the 75 billion FCFA to buy 500,000 Chinese 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 People’s Action Party (PAP) said after personally contacting the Chinese computer manufacturing companies for the Pro forma Invoices.
A gift from the President?
President Paul Biya is using the laptop saga as a political weapon to woo the Cameroonian youths as elections draw to a close.
A release from the presidency stated that the laptop was “a great gift from the Head of State to students”
But this is not correct. During the press conference, minister Ndongo himself made it clear that, the 75billion FCFA was a loan from China EXIM Bank.
A statement by the Cameroon Students Rights Association (CSRA) denounced any manipulation by the government.
“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 call it a donation; when it is the taxpayer’s money that is at stake” Cameroon’s 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.
Mr. 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 countries on earth with very poor internet.
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’’ said John FRU NDI.
“Internet is still a novelty in Cameroon. People are not connected. Even us in university hardly have access to the internet and it is very expensive when it is available” said Prof. Ndifor
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 20 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” said Raymond.
Although statistics are not available, the majority of Cameroonian university students already possess a laptop.
“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 John Fr Ndi.
Shining Examples from Rwanda and Ivory Coast
Perhaps Cameroon would have learned from Rwanda and Ivory Coast before entertaining the deal. In 2015, Positivo- BGH, a Latin American multinational IT company, which manufactures laptops, 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 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 production of Made in Rwanda computer, 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 graduates youth from technical and vocational schools’’ said François Kanimba, Rwandan minister for Trade and Industry.
In early 2016, the government of Ivory Coast signed an agreement with Universite de Cerco, a local higher institution to produce 4000 of ‘Made In Cote D’Ivoire’ computers per day. The deal cost the government 4billion FCFA
“We will inform, transform and train many youths’’ said Dr. Alain Capo Chichi, President of Cerco.
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