Cameroon Becomes First African Nation to Introduce Cisco Networking Academy to all Universities
July 18, 2007
by Jason Deign, News@Cisco
In addition under the proposal, all secondary schools will also provide children with a foundation in technology through the IT Essentials course.
The move, the centerpiece of a major IT-based country transformation project, became official earlier this year with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Cameroon administration and Cisco Systems Inc.
Egypt and Nigeria have also announced plans to introduce the program as a standard across all universities, marking an important milestone for the Networking Academy, now in its 10th year.
The Cameroon agreement came after Cisco Middle East and Africa Vice President Mark de Simone led a delegation from Cisco that met with the Cameroonian Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni in October 2006.
During the visit, Cisco made a pledge to support the development of IT infrastructure in the African republic, with particular emphasis on the national rollout of broadband Internet access.
Julius Ayuk Tabe, Networking Academy West and Central Africa area Academy manager, says: "Cisco identified an opportunity for country transformation and the initiative was presented to the highest authorities in Cameroon.
"Their concern was to ensure the sustainability of the program. This naturally led to the idea of matching capacity building to the delivery of IT skills across the country."
The result has been an undertaking which mimics-and surpasses-initiatives in countries such as South Africa and Ethiopia, where Networking Academy has been integrated into state education systems in a bid to support massive infrastructure rollout projects.
In Cameroon, the delivery of broadband services across the country will be carried out by the state telco as part of a USD$25 million project.
Cisco is helping to ease the financial burden of the build-out and the government expects the skills needed to complete the project will be home-grown, which is where the Networking Academy comes in.
Cameroon currently has nine Networking Academies, four of which are in the capital, Yaoundé, with the oldest (at the University of Yaoundé 1) having been in existence since early 2001.
Under the proposed expansion of the program, however, the total number of Academies will increase to 30, equivalent to three in each of the country's 10 administrative regions, within the next 18 months and around 80 in three years.
To oversee this undertaking, the director of Cameroon's national Agency of Information and Communication Technologies, Dr Ebot Ebot Enaw, is leading a Networking Academy taskforce.
This includes representatives of the Education and Post & Telecommunications ministries, as well as the United Nations Development Programme, ITU, United Nations Development Fund for Women, U.S. Peace Corps and United States Agency for International Development.
Ayuk Tabe is realistic about the challenges the taskforce faces. Local authorities and government departments will need to set aside their own interests and collaborate to ensure the scheme is a success.
And with only 10 percent of roads tarred, logistics could pose a significant obstacle for the project. "This country could have information highways before it gets real highways," notes Ayuk Tabe.
Nevertheless, he adds: "There is a lot of political will. The President and Prime Minister are committed to making it happen. And we are keen to see the value in terms of social impact. By the close of 2007, we want to see not only people trained, but also people with jobs."
If this seems ambitious, Ayuk Tabe points to the fact that until recently there were virtually no mobile phones in the country and "now people who cannot read or write have one."
In addition, the country's mobile explosion has created wealth, not least through the roadside selling of phone cards. Going forward, the hope is that broadband, supported by skills delivered through the Networking Academy, will have an even greater effect.
John Edwards, Networking Academy director in Europe and Emerging Markets, says: "I am delighted that we are set to play a role in providing the skills to aid the IT transformation of Cameroon, especially as we enter the Academy's 10-year anniversary.
"Having an Academy in 100 percent of a country's universities is a very welcome first for us."
De Simone adds that Cisco is ideally placed to provide the technical and educational expertise to underpin IT capacity building in Cameroon: "The addition of skills to the community can only help improve the country's presence on the global stage.
"Cameroon is one of the many emerging markets where we are working alongside governments with the aim of transforming economies and societies."
Jason Deign is a freelance journalist located in Barcelona, Spain.