My first trip in Africa was in Cameroon : Another tale on our knowledge illusion

Cameroon

Here is a little background on myself and why I went to Cameroon. I have lived two years in Europe and traveled there frequently over the past 30 years. Although there are so many places that I have not seen, Sub-Sahara Africa interested me because it is not a common destination for Canadians and I need to get out of my comfort zone. My knowledge on Africa was completely biased by the media that surrounded me.

Now, how did I leave my comfortable chair in Montreal to finally go to Africa?

It all started with a TedTalk about how Mobile Technology was reshaping Africa. Although I don’t remember the name of the Ted, what I heard just blew me away. It was like learning about the Linux and the internet 35 years ago. The Ted explained how people in different parts of Africa are using cell phones and creating applications to solve real problems like money transfers, like keeping farmers in touch with weather patterns, road conditions and medical needs. Keep in mind that I’m not talking about “Smart phones” like Android nor iPhone but flip phones. (a lot of people have smart phones in Africa). The innovation is amazing and I was hooked!

Martin decelles au cameroun

By pure coincidence, I shared the Ted with one of my colleagues from work and from there he introduced me to Kongossa .That was the last push that I needed and I didn’t regret it at all.

 

The Trip

My trip did not start when I got off the plane but months before. I was like a sponge where I wanted to know how technology was changing Africa. I attended my first Kongossa conference where a group of engineers who had invented a mobile turbine to generate electricity into villages had been invited to present their project. They had a few prototypes that they had been tested in Quebec weather condition.

After leaving Montreal during a December ice storm where the plane stayed on the runway for 4 hours before taking off, thus missing my connecting flight, I stayed overnight in Paris, flew to Brussels the next day to finally land in Yaoundé 8 hours later. Friends picked me up at the airport and I rolled down the windows to try to get a feel of the country at night while driving through the city. It was Xmas holidays and you could feel the festive mode around us.

 

Mobile technology

I needed to stay in touch with my clients so the next day, I purchased a mobile monthly plan for $15/day for 1GB. WOW!!! I tried to use my 1GB per day but was not able to do it. A week into the trip, and I realized that people are highly educated but the infrastructure (electricity, cable, roads) did not follow their needs. Everyone uses at least 2 cell phones with different providers. Cameroon skipped the copper cable era and jumped directly in the wireless age. As the power grid in Cameroon is not reliable, solar power is the next step and I would not be surprised if they beat us………..

Franck NLEMBA visiting Silicon Mountain

Farming

I had the privilege of visiting a few farms that practice permaculture free of pesticides and herbicides. Farmers don’t use pesticides nor herbicides because of the cost and the road conditions that make it hard to transport the products to the fields. Again, outside forces have forced the people to use a way of cultivating that we in Canada are trying to get back to.

If you choose one day to visit a Sub-Saharans country, I highly recommend that you stay with families and not hotels so you can get a real sense of the people and the country.

Before leaving, I was told to watch out for a bug. Yeah, I got it and this bug makes you fall in love with Africa.

 

I am fortunate to have a job that allows people with reduced mobility to access any other place that one has to attend daily