Interviewed By Pegue Manga
If things work out as planned, a new subject, Computer Science will be introduced in the Cameroon General Certificate of Education, GCE, examination. Augustine Che Mufor, an expert in electronic engineering, who initiated the project and drew up the syllabus for the GCE Board, explains in this interview the different contacts he has made with authorities of the Board.
“I sent the syllabus to the GCE Board and they gave a positive remark,” he says. Che also talks about his stay in Germany and the shabby treatment Cameroonians get from their Embassy in Bonn.
The Post: How long have you been living in Europe?
Che Mufor: I have been living in Europe for close to nine years.
What have you been doing?
I left Cameroon to go and study. I took the German language course and later enrolled in a university to study electronic engineering. I finished my Master's degree at the end of 2003, and now I work as a research scientist at the University of Technology in Brunswick. I will be defending my PhD in the near future.
Are you a computer engineer?
Not really. I studied in the Faculty of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. I specialised in electronics. Today, I am an expert in technology for semi-conductors for application in micro-electronics, auto electronics and speed electronics.
How do you intend to use your skills to help the ordinary Cameroonian?
Studies in Germany are organised in such a way that the student learns in a very wide scope. There are many things that we can do for our local population, especially when it comes to computing. Recently, I prepared a draft syllabus for the Cameroon GCE.
My intention was to convince the Cameroon GCE Board that computer science is a subject that is instrumental to the development of a nation. The starting point is to introduce the subject in the GCE so that students can develop interest in it so that by the time they get into university, they would be able to apply computing and computer sciences in their study areas.
Did the GCE Board accept your proposal?
The Board had been thinking of it because they had already introduced data processing in the Technical GCE. I began talks with Mathew Akoko personally because he is Deputy Registrar in charge of technical matters. I talked with him, about computing, not data processing. Data processing is just a small aspect of computing. It is just like secretarial duties.
Real computing is applied science, the background of which is necessary for real application. For example, if in the commercial sector, I explained to him and he seemed to have understood. He told me to prepare a syllabus. I worked with syllabus from London GCE, and some Cambridge exams, then I tried to work on that which suits our system.
The problem I have noticed in this country is that we pick up something from the West and try to implement it without tailoring it to suit our system. So, I designed the syllabus for application in our own environment.
Are you saying that in a not too distant future we are going to have computer science as a subject in the GCE?
I am very sure.
It is the GCE Board to decide. I spoke to Akoko and he said they would like to meet with me during my stay in Cameroon, so that we could finalise the issue of the syllabus. I sent the syllabus about ten months ago and after going through it, they gave a positive remark. They were sure it would be instituted. I hope that is done this academic year.
Are there enough teachers to teach this subject?
We are going to discuss this with the GCE Board because it is a big problem. We do not have sufficient experts in computer science and the syllabus has been drawn up in such a way that the teachers need to have a background in computing. What happens in our system is that the people who go to learn, Physics, Mathematics and even the Computer Science at the University of Buea are not real computer scientists.
In any case, studies at the University of Buea in Computer and Computer Science are also a good background. We can organise seminars and get people with Bachelor degrees in Computer Science from the University of Buea and train them on how to handle this syllabus. So that they can drill the students towards real application, not theory.
Being the initiator, what do you stand to benefit from this project?
I am only helping my country. I think I am in a position to play a role in our society. If we succeed in introducing Computer Science in our schools, that will be gratifying for me.
How did you get to Europe in the first place?
Greener pastures can be looked at in different ways: it could be with respect to money, or the search for knowledge. I travelled to Europe as a student to study electrical engineering.
Was there a time you felt like abandoning your studies and returning home?
My first two months were quite frustrating. When I got to Germany, I realised that the impression I had back home was different.
What made it different?
Going to Europe as a student without enough money is a critical problem. There are many Cameroonians who end up not achieving any academic qualification because there are so many hurdles in the environment. Language is a problem and the idea of settling down and studying is another problem.
There are many intelligent Cameroonians who had good grades at the GCE end up without a degree in Europe. We are living in a very open society and one needs to organise one's self otherwise one can go astray. While studying also, we have to take care of our families back home.
You must have met many Cameroonians out there, how are they faring?
Faring is relative. If I consider myself as a reference point then I would say there are many Cameroonians who went out there for purposes of study. Some of them have succeeded while large numbers are really suffering. There are many who are not sure of attaining their goals and are not prepared to come back home.
So, how do they live out there?
Living in Europe is not a big problem. If you are living say in Germany, you need to feed, cloth yourself and pay your rents. There are jobs you can do to handle these requirements. If you have the papers.
So people do these jobs just to survive. Many Cameroonians have been misled by their compatriots out there called bush fallers. When they come to Cameroon, they give a different impression of the West as a paradise. Yet, when these Cameroonians go there, they are faced with the grim reality. They begin to regret it.
We hear the immigrants do running battles with the police and some even go into contract marriages to get their papers?
There are many Africans who are married to whites. There are stories of Africans who go into marriage for residence permits. Sometimes, it is a problem for the authorities to prove that these marriages are conceived to enable one of the spouses obtain a residence permit. The issue of residence permit troubles many Cameroonians, so they have to do what they think the can to get the permit.
Have you been in touch with the embassy?
When I went to Germany the capital was still Bonn. In late 1998 the capital was moved to Berlin. The Berlin which houses the Cameroon Embassy in 1976, was constructed by the Cameroon government. When the German embassies were also moved. But the Cameroon Embassy has remained in Berlin.
This embassy serves not only Germany but also Austria, Holland and other countries. We used to look at the embassy as a place where once can feed at home with the Cameroonian flag flying high up in the sky. But the irony is that Cameroonians get tormented in their own Embassy more than the torments they receive from the whiteman. Just to renew passport you are kept waiting for weeks. Before you get anything, you have to bribe.
How much did you give?
I can't estimate. But there are people working in the Embassy who receive money. There is somebody strategically placed there, who tells you that before you get you will have to give this amount. If you want to succeed you must behave yourself.
Is there a Cameroonian union out there?
Cameroonians have not been able to create a national union in Germany you have a lot of tribal meetings. There is an active SCNC meeting in Germany too, though I am not a member of the SCNC.
How old are you?
29, married with a child.
When you look at Cameroon, what annoys you most about the country?
There are many Cameroonians out there who are really patriotic to their fatherland but they find it extremely difficult to transform what they have learnt out there to tangible product. The system here is not encouraging at all. Even Cameroonians who were trained on government scholarships. They are now working for the white man.