According to an article published by Cameroon Tribune, Monday November 26, 2018 edition, the government of Cameroon through the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation is planning to create a technology ecosystem in the country’s capital Yaounde with the name “Cameroon Silicon River”. According to the article, the new tech hub which will serve as home for techies, tech startups and budding community of developers, designers and tech business professionals is modeled from Buea’s Silicon Mountain. This plan has been included in the 11.916 Billion Francs budget of the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation (MINRESI) for the year 2019 as presented by Minister Madaleine Tchuinte on November 24, 2018
This decision received mixed feelings especially from those who know the existence of a burgeoning tech community in Fako Division in the South West Region of Cameroon called Silicon Mountain. Though some see it as good idea, others think its a waste of resources and an act to sideline the already existing tech ecosystem in Fako.
The Silicon Mountain has been in existence for almost two decades and is serving as home for techies, designers, tech enthusiasts and techpreneurs from around Cameroon who are comfortable settling in the area – Fako. Why create a new one in Yaounde when one exists already in Buea? Why not support and sustain the already existing community with the budget you have for “densification” of research and development and promotion of innovation?
Startups in Silicon Mountain face a lot of difficulties which they think can partly be solved by the government. 90% of its startups can’t survive because of the taxation system and other laws in the country. If the laws recognized the startup status and its inability to raise funds during its early stage, things would have been lighter on Startups. Therefore, if government revises its laws to favour startups, it will be a win win.
Also, internet connectivity has retarded startup growth. This is the most basic, necessary and primary tool techies use to build their products. There will be no tech product without the internet. The state could subsidize this or give it for free to techies to build their products.
Above all, many startups are suffering from inadequate finance. Some cannot scale due to financial issues. There are startups in SM with so much potentials to scale but inadequate finance has delayed their growth. What if the state invested some of its money in these startups.
However, the government must have a reason for wanting to create a hub in Yaounde.
What some individuals think about this decision
Zuo Bruno, Founder of Zuoix
“I know it is the decision of the government on where, when and why certain structures or organisations are created. I also believe that it is the responsibility of any government to allocate resources to the betterment of its citizens throughout the national territory. For this reason, I personally think that it is not a wise decision to abandon a fertile condition as that which exists at the Silicon mountain to create another ecosystem which might not succeed.
Worst still is the fact that Silicon Mountain already have a proven working ecosystem which have gained both national and international recognition. My grand father would say “We are trying to plant plantains where only cotton excel.” it is not too late though, we can still make things right, we can still use what already works.”
Mpara Faith Muwar, Founder of New Generaytion Technologies
“I think its a great idea. first of all, I am glad that there is a move to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. Most governments around the world have been doing this and it is great to have this in our community too. Talking about creating another tech hub, I think its wonderful. It is an opportunity to observe an alternative startup community model. I don’t think that I fully understand how the Silicon Mountain has evolved to what it is today. But being the adventurer that I am, I expect that the Silicon River will probably take a path different from that of Silicon Mountain. I think it is the start of an exciting journey and I look forward to the future of the hub and all other innovation hubs in our community”.
Bamai Namata, Founder of Maibeta
“This decision by the government to “build” a technology ecosystem betrays a lack of understanding of the best way to support the growth of technology in the country. The best way to support the growth of technology is not by building grand state run and sponsored institutions to drive innovation but by supporting already established innovators and entrepreneurs to scale up their initiatives and creating an enabling environment for technology to thrive. It would have made more sense to support the already established “Silicon Mountain” community in Buea made up of innovators who have proven to develop innovative solutions over time and attracted a lot of local and international support. Building great technology is not just about money but about resilient entrepreneurs who have the courage to start with nothing and build great companies. I really hope there is a review of the policies being put in place to create a better environment for technology companies to not just survive but to thrive in Cameroon.”
Caleb Ngenge, Founder of Karawa Media and Co-founder of Fahrenheit Pictures
“It is fine if the government wants to create a tech hub. It feels better to know the government is interested in working with youths especially those in the tech industry. However, does it sit well to know that there is a Silicon Mountain and a Silicon River in same country? It is very confusing. If I was part of the board making this decision I will rather have them direct these resources to an already existing tech community like the silicon Mountain which has already gotten the world’s attention. I Have a good feeling it will be better managed from there.
ActivSpaces thinks the better way to go is for MINRESI and the entire Cameroon government to look at other countries thriving in tech and learn from them. Rwanda, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Kenya are doing quite well because their governments are collaborative.