Violence cripples innovation in troubled Cameroon regions
2 months ago, 20 Sep 13:39
Protracted violence in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon has forced start-ups to ship their businesses. The Cameroon tech industry is one of the fastest growing in Africa, with Buea the former capital of Southern Cameroon termed the “Silicon Mountain” as it hosts a cluster of flourishing tech start-ups.
As violence increases between armed separatists and government troops, displacing thousands and forcing others into neighbouring Nigeria, IT start-ups have been forced to escape as well.
At just 27, Cedric Yengo, inspired by the Silicon Valley success stories, amongst others, has been forced to ship his business Rydz2Go overseas. Rydz2Go plans to shake up the transport technology, currently dominated by Uber and Lyft.
Engineering for Rydz2Go began in Buea, but later moved to the US, after authorities shut down the Internet for several months, crippling the operations of most start-ups.
The Cameroonian government suspended Internet services to the Northwest and Southwest in January last year in what activists described as “human right violation”.
Though Internet access was later restored in April after international pressure from, among others, the United Nations and Pope Francis; the nearly 100 days blockade remains the longest period of Internet disruption by an African government.
According to the Paris-based Internet Without Borders, Egypt and Ethiopia were also among nine countries globally that experienced Internet blockades between January and June 2017.
The initial threat to the start-ups in Cameroon was the offline status of their bases but with increasing violence, the major threat now is safety. Young entrepreneurs like Yengo were at the highest risk of arbitrary arrests and stray bullets. Many civilians have been killed by stray bullets in the regions, including a Roman Catholic priest, the Rev Father Alexander Nougi Sob, who was killed in the Southwestern town of Muyuka.
“It is no longer just our businesses suffering, we as individuals are not safe at all,” said Yengo.
While Rydz2Go and many others were forced to relocate abroad, other young entrepreneurs like Fritz Ekogwe, Founder and CEO of the file transfer app (Feem.io) and a fast secure crypto wallet (intersteller.exchange) was forced to move internally to Yaoundé, Cameroon’s political capital.
Churchill Mambe, founder and CEO of Njorku, an employment and hotel services company, keeps building his business in Southern Cameroons amidst the turmoil.
“Rydz2Go’s goal is to break onto the global market and our move to New York is the best location to achieve that,” Yengo added.
Ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft offer pick up from point A and drop off at point B, but Rydz2Go is different because its offer is time bundles, Yengo explained. He said the latter guarantees maximum flexibility and permits users to have a ride waiting while they do their errands.
“We offer users more control with their perfect service for business appointments, city tours and date nights. Have you ever been to a new city and not know how to get around? Rydz2Go strives to ensure that you have not only a local ride but a local guide as well,” Yengo said of the app which was currently being tested.
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