Accusations of state corruption over Chinese computers

Students in Cameroon were allegedly bribed to take part in a march to thank President Paul Biya for providing them with 500,000 Chinese laptops – an operation, said critics, that smacked of corruption and for which taxpayers would have to pay FCFA75 billion (US$127.5 million), a sum that could have been better spent.

Higher education in the country has also been plagued by student cheating, while lack of student housing has reached crisis point at one university.

Biya announced on 27 July that he was buying the computers for students enrolled for the 2016-17 academic year. According to Jacques Fame Ndongo, the higher education minister, the purchase was part of the president’s Special Youth Plan launched in February, reported of Brussels.

On 3 August a student march in support of Biya and thanking him for the computers took place in Yaoundé, reported Cameroon-Info.

Stevy, a student at Yaoundé II University, praised the president’s move: “I had a friend from a modest family who had all the world’s problems to get his masters dissertation. So an initiative like this of the head of state is commendable,” he said.

But others were less impressed and did not attend to praise the president, reported Cameroon-Info, which quoted another student as saying: “We can’t even get enough to eat, but they give us laptops... Me, I came to get my FCFA2,500 [US$4], that’s all.”

At the end of the march “the students gathered in groups to receive their FCFA2,500 provided for the demonstrators”, reported Cameroon-info.

Accusations of corruption

The revelation that the ‘thankful’ students were paid prompted Actu Cameroun to make the accusation that the “march in support of Paul Biya [was] based on corruption”.

It questioned who was financing the operation and why the parading students were being paid to demonstrate and thank the president for the ‘gift’ of 500,000 computers – when the country was bogged down with a debt of FCFA75 billion that all its citizens, whether they wanted or not, must pay back to China.

Actu Cameroun also criticised the 'academic excellence bonus' granted by the head of state, which gave successful students FCFA50,000 (US$85) and cost an annual FCFA6 billion (US$10 million). It accused Biya of acting as a monarch who concentrated all power in his hands.

Tony Smith, a Cameroonian technology expert and founder of Limitless Electronics, was a prominent voice who criticised the deal and said Biya could have used the FCFA75 billion better than by purchasing the laptops, reported La Nouvelle Expression.

Buying from the Chinese computers designed for the Chinese was an economically incomprehensible decision, first because the investment was not urgent but also because it was not certain that offering the computers to 500,000 students would encourage the digital economy or persuade students to choose careers in the sector, La Nouvelle Expression reported Smith as saying.

He said that instead the money could have created 15,000 jobs and produced two million laptops a year, enabling Cameroon to become an exporter of computers in Africa.

Opposition spokesman Robert Wafo called for a legal inquiry into the sale and denounced a lie by the state and embezzlement of public funds, reported Cameroon-Info.

It said Wafo believed the government had not given true information about the acquisition of the computers and that the 75 billion francs was too high, as a computer in China cost “hardly 40,000 francs in the catalogue”.

This implied fraud of some FCFA55 billion (US$ 93 million) “which will unfortunately be borne by the Cameroonian taxpayer”, said Wafo.

Student cheats

Meanwhile, the expulsion for cheating of five students from an elite school was only the tip of an iceberg, reported, and many students in public and private universities recognised the practice had become common.

The five were expelled from ENAM, the prestigious Ecole Nationale d’Administration et de Magistrature in Yaoundé.

Paola Tang, a first year student at Yaoundé I University, told that cheating was common and, worse, accepted by the students. “Cheating generally takes place during continuous control because during normal sessions monitoring is increased so it’s more difficult except for the most daring.”

In an interview with, Professor François Xavier Etoa, rector of the University of Douala, said there had been several major cases of cheating recently – some students wanted to take the easy way.

“The habit of making an effort is progressively vanishing and it’s our duty to restore it. To do that we make use of the entire arsenal at our disposal – in particular, we carry out increased supervision during evaluations, making sure students have no papers or other instruments that would enable them to cheat.”

Examinations were considered as an intellectual competition, with all starting from the same base, said Etoa. “At the start of the university year we raise students’ awareness on the harmful consequences of cheating. We ask them to work, cultivate personal effort.”

Students had developed many cunning tricks for cheating. “During our last evaluations, we surprised some advanced students who were standing in for students of a lower level. They were all excluded.”

When a student was excluded for cheating, especially when caught in the act, there was no chance for negotiation, “otherwise it would encourage others to do the same”,
said Etoa.

“When you have already been excluded from one university for this kind of thing, it is difficult to be accepted at another.”

Lack of student beds also drew attention to the desperate student housing situation at Ngaoundéré University.

Since it had changed status from a university centre to a full university in 1993, four blocks each with 120 bedrooms served as student accommodation, and no further units had been built in spite of increased numbers of students, said

It was estimated that the number of students in the coming academic year could rise to 32,000, but the university provided only 516 bedrooms, including 36 rooms reserved for doctoral students.

To be housed, students had to pay FCFA10,000 (US$17) a month, or FCFA15,000 for one of the doctoral rooms, reported

* This article is drawn from local media. University World News cannot vouch for the accuracy of the original reports.