This weekend Cameroon will host the country’s first BarCamp in Douala on November 7, 2009 at Le Meridien Hotel. Be sure to check out their blog and Twitter streams for live updates on the nearly sold out event. Corporate support has really shown up big to help support the event with the likes of Google, Microsoft, Open Solutions Cameroun, Africa 2.0, Africa Startup Challenge and Limbe Labs as a sampling of some of the major sponsors.
The event is heavily tech-centered, judging by the caliber of sponsors. Considering it is a “unconference” format, I am pretty sure anything goes and those lucky enough to attend will get a full plate of exciting presentations.
I managed to catch up with Jean-Francis Ahanda, the main organizer behind this gathering, for a short Q & A over Skype. Ironically, due to bandwidth limitations, we were limited to an interview over IM. Even more ironic is the connection kept dropping out, so it took quite a few tries just to get the questions below answered.
BarCampCameroon is lining up to be very tech-centered, even though your internet speeds are still very much in need of an upgrade, how is the tech sector innovating with this limitation?
I think innovation is good but of course could be better if we had better infrastructure, better formation in school and of course one of the purpose of the barcamp is push inovation by sharing experience and ideas.
What motivated you to organize this BarCamp in Cameroon and tell me how this event came about?
The first motivation was the lack of tech events in Cameroon , the second was to put Cameroonian web community in the same room to share ideas, experiences, create connections between projects. I would like to add that this was not my idea alone. It was a group decision to make a BarCamp happen. To name just a few: Jeremy Brown and Bill Zimmerman from Limbelabs, Joel Nlepe from Africa 2.0, Fritz Ekwoge from http://kerawa.com and Leslie Tita from Ringo.
I see we are suffering from connection issues, is that due to lack of power or bad internet connection. Can you describe your typical internet connection setup and costs associated with being online? It’s true that we have some power issues. Now regarding the internet access I think Cameroon made a lot of progress in last 18 months, we have multiple internet providers and due to that, cost has fallen. One of the major internet providers, RINGO is actually a major sponsor for barcamp and will provide us high speed internet acces during the event. In my case i’m using a WIMAX connection , the monthly cost is less than 30 USD for 256K. The’re also some providers that are using CDMA or DSL. We need more competion to bring the cost down and push providers to improve the quality of the service.
True, competition is always good in such a young market. What would you say is the percentage of the population able to afford a personal internet connection? Computer are much cheaper than a few year ago but i’m don’t think we will see the same numbers as for mobile phone users for sure.
In that case, do you see much of a future need for desktop computing in the country if the mobile is the lowest common technology accesible to the masses? Are we looking at yet another case of leap-frogging as smart phones get smarter, more powerful and cheaper? We will still need desktops, anyway most of computers that are sold here are secondhand coming from Europe or the US, this the only way to get cheap one. I don’t think the smartphone is an option especially because [they] can be more expensive than most of the computer sold here. And smartphone would mean 3G or HSPA or even LTE which is something we can’t dream about here for the moment as we are still hopping to have nationwide EDGE.
WOW! So truly Cameroon is just now getting its foot in the connectivity pool. What other kinds of technology sectors are beginning to emerge in Cameroon. Clearly telecommunications can’t be the only growing sector? We have innovation in every sector, [for example] Customs are now using GPS to track container in transit as an example of innovation. For me ICT innovation is the one driving the others sectors such as education.
So in terms of the BarCamp itself, what do you hope to be the knock on effect of so many sponsors and presenters gathering for the first time in Cameroon’s tech history? It’s going to be the biggest tech event ever in Cameroon and also in central africa ! we have more than 200 attendees, and around 20 journalist. All operators (mobile, fixed, internet) are represented. This is for me the birth certificate of the web community in Cameroon.
Of course you know I am going to ask if there’s a vibrant Cameroon Diaspora involved in your event this weekend? Is there a vocal Diapora in the Cameroon tech sector at all? Oh Yeah! The diaspora has taken an active part in the organization of this first edtion, we even have guys coming from the US and France.
Will you have enough bandwidth for a live-stream of some kind? Is there a Twitter hashtag for the event? “Internet Independence for Cameroon” is a Must Attend!
Will you have enough bandwidth for a live-stream of some kind? Is there a Twitter hashtag for the event? Yes our internet provider and sponsor will provide WIFI connection with full bandwith for the event. The hashtag we have been using so far is #barcampcameroon.