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Humans · Technology

How to become a Google’s coding champion in Cameroon

May 03rd, 2017
in:Humans, Technology
by:Bob Koigi
located in:Cameroon
tags:Cameroon, internet, Internet shutdown, Nji Collins Gbah, youth

Nji Collins Gbah is not your ordinary teenager. At a time when his mates would be obsessed with keeping up with current trends and remaining hip, the 17 year old Cameroonian has overcome the odds to become a Google champion.

Nji Collins Gbah became the first ever African to win the prestigious Google Code-In, a global hacking challenge targeting students between the ages of 13 and 17.

It has been a Herculean task for the teenager, who attends Government Bilingual High School Bamenda in the North Western region. With a huge passion for coding and largely relying on his father’s computer, Collins has in the last two years trained himself to code from online sources and books. So when the annual coding competition by Google was announced, he decided to give it a shot. Over 1,300 young people drawn from 62 countries entered the competition whose winners were announced this year.

Collins was able to complete the 20 tasks, covering all five categories set by Google with some tasks lasting an entire week. He was using Open Medical Record System, a platform that aims at improving healthcare services in developing countries, attributing this to his wanting to find solutions for his people.

But a day after submitting his project, the largely Francophone government shut down the internet in the largely English speaking North Western region. Collins nearly missed the deadline.

In Bamenda the capital city of the North Western Cameroon with 500,000 residents, there has been systemic protests by teachers and lawyers critical of the government for marginalization and segregation. Civil society groups and activists have taken to the internet and social media to vent out their frustrations at government’s neglect in what has inspired more protests.

Government aware of the potential threat such a move posed to the country’s stability, moved ahead to cut off the internet in the region. A day before the shutdown of the internet, the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications had issued a scathing statement warning Cameroonians of what awaited anyone found to be using social media to ‘destabilize the government’. “In today’s digital era, the role of social media in issuing and disseminating information and images in the public arena, especially in Cameroon has become critical. A common citizen possessing an appropriate mobile phone is usually the start point, or a relay in the chain of dissemination of an image or information. No matter whether the latter are true or false, they spread so rapidly that they end up impacting the public opinion and tarnishing the image of the country,” the statement read in part. “It is worth recalling that issuing as well as spreading messages in Cameroon are regulated by legal instruments. In addition to prison sentences, these legal provisions also include fines against those who issue or spread information, including by way of electronic communications or information technology systems, without any evidence,” it continued.

But to coding virtuosos like Collins, internet is king and he couldn’t imagine being offline. He therefore borrowed bus fare from his uncle and traveled 30 kilometres to the French speaking town of Mbouda to monitor the Google competition and continue with his online learning.

Collins who hopes to study Computer Science and work for Google, will be among winners visiting the technology company later this year. But it is his tenacity and resilience in the face of monumental challenges that has not only inspired a new generation of champions in his country but Africa and worldwide. Although he hasn’t received any congratulatory message from the government despite having positioned his country in the global map, Collins has been receiving an outpouring of love and congratulations from Africa and beyond.

With the irony of a teenager winning a distinguished global competition at a time when his country’s government has been actively suppressing dissenting voices through internet shutdown, the clarion call has reverberated beyond the Central African country that the internet is more powerful than any regime.

“Collins win is not just a win for Cameroon but especially for young African developers and tech enthusiasts who only want what is best for their fellow countrymen but who still operate under harsh ecosystems where powers that be will try to suppress information access. This, despite these young ones being apolitical. Collins win has heralded a new dawn for the millions of young Africans in the digital era,” Marcus Phiri a trainer at the ICT University in Cameroon said.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Author
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Nji Collins Gbah became the first ever African to win the prestigious Google Code-In, a global hacking challenge targeting students between the ages of 13 and 17.
Collins who hopes to study Computer Science and work for Google, will be among winners visiting the technology company later this year.
“Collins win is not just a win for Cameroon but especially for young African developers and tech enthusiasts who only want what is best for their fellow countrymen."

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