The Pros and Cons with tech entrepreneurship in Cameroon.

Cameroon has for the past 5 years now experienced a significant growth in the interest of technology in some parts of the country, Buea (silicon mountain) being at the center of it all. The country has seen a few young energetic talents spring up from their 4 walled bedroom and throw amazing things at the world. These few are inspiring and leading many upcoming young ones to get involved and find interest in using tech to bring out innovative solutions for their community while upholding a bigger picture. However, there are some issues when people just get excited and feel they can just dive in without ‘doing their homework’. It sure takes a lot (time, money and strength) for talent to be recognized in this country and out to valuable use. I believe that innovation is not limited by a zip code, but that it’s value actually is. In this short first version of the post, i talk about the cons to this new frontier in the country and actors involved that need to be examined, questioned and mentioned.

Many people who are getting into tech entrepreneurship nowadays think it’s a prestige to be a tech entrepreneur seeing what the big names (Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Larry and sergey etc) have become. They don’t understand the effort it requires to make it work. This maybe due to lack of orientation from elder peers who have gone ahead and got the experience or just lack of communication with among themselves. Today @the university of buea and the catholic university (CUIB) most noted to be bringing out most of the so called ‘entrepreneurs’, every young freshman or even sophomore who owns a laptop and can program a computer in a language used in the 70’s now thinks he or she can automatically be a tech entrepreneur like Gates or Zuckerberg and the rest. They don’t sit down and actually reflect on the requirements of their society in order to identify what technology can yet address and what it can’t address. This is a problem as such an approach generally leads to failure because it is like failing to plan, which is planning to fail. You have failed before you even start when you adopt such an approach, which unfortunately is what over 95% of the youths around here (Cameroon) do. They just set out to start building a solution without like i always say, ‘doing their homework’. Consequently they end up building useless solutions nobody ever wants or uses. This is because they practically used the wrong approach or did it at the wrong time. It is important to have a thorough knowledge on the operating sector before using tech to address a problem. Sometimes many people just think they can use a tech solution to solve a problem when the community actually isn’t welcoming the tech. This causes many people to waste time and energy for things that would otherwise have been addressed differently. Technology entrepreneurship in our community suffers a lot from isolationism. Many tech geeks around aspiring to be entrepreneurs don’t actually understand the importance of team work. Most of them are in the francophone zones and have this tendency of working alone like a lone wolf. It makes it very difficult or takes a long time for the solution to be realized, if at all it does. Some usually use this argument when asked why they preferred working alone, ‘my idea will be stolen from me’. Now i ask this question, ‘How many messaging applications can we find for example?’ This is an example to show that ideas are nobody’s property and whether you share it or not, just rest assured that another has it. There are over 7 billion people out there over 20% have the skill to think and realize what you are thinking. When you share it, you even have a better chance of making something new from it. Isolationism is not what we should practice in a successful tech entrepreneurship venture.

Tech entrepreneurs are a generation of connected entrepreneurs. This means that access to basic and reliable internet connectivity is key. Tech entrepreneurs need to stay up-to-date with the trends in their various domains and this requires stable and reliable internet connectivity. One should be able to afford internet the same way one buys soap from the local store. This is not the case in the country at the moment. Prices are still exorbitant for the most people and efficiency/reliability hangs around 30%. This is a key problem to tech entrepreneurship in this country. The  major providers MTN, Orange, NexTel seem to be out exclusively to make their profits not caring about the customer service they need to provide. They are still making the profits but aren’t serving the consumers with what they are asking at at optimal rate. These are the actors slowing down the tech ecosystem in the country. Soon they try to camouflage it with startup competitions for tech entrepreneurs when in fact they can’t give proper follow-ups and respect deadlines, let alone provide seamless access to local technology resources used by entrants.

Since it is mostly youths who are getting involved in tech entrepreneurship, they are yet to understand their ecosystem and accept the reality about it before getting into building their solutions.We have a political and economic situation based on the theory of ‘conservation of power’. One which requires you to have a handler in a given sector for your affairs to move ahead. The government’s role in every society is to ensure the atmosphere, whether political, economical or social is conducive for people to build businesses that attract investors and bring jobs. It is reported in the US that  Silicon Valley companies(tech companies) have contributed to more than  25% of the country’s employment rate and these companies are even employing people oversees. In Cameroon tech entrepreneurship is not something the government is paying attention to until recent when they hear of few youths proving their worth, then they may be willing to pay more attention to that sector. They are hindering the development of the tech ecosystem with the high levels of corruption and unnecessary legislation. The law for SMEs in the country is still not good enough to favor tech entrepreneurship in the country. One of such is the idea of ‘PATANTE’ as they call it. This due should not be imposed upon young starting tech entrepreneurs but the government can setup operational inspectory units to see that these people are really willing to build something useful.

In general, some tech solutions can’t be applied to the current context in the country. One needs to look outside the triangle to calculate it’s dimensions, then go in and label them. While all these things obscure the future of tech entrepreneurship in the country, there are a few pros as well, and we will be looking at those in my next post.