Nji Collins Gbah, a 17-year-old student from Cameroon, is the latest winner of the Google Code-In Challenge, an annual contest that encourages young students around the world to show off their programming skills. Nji has certainly made his nation proud by becoming the first African to earn this prestigious award; moreover, he did so from a town that currently lacks internet access due to a government censorship campaign against alleged political dissidents.
The young Cameroonian is now expected to travel to California along with other teenagers from around the world to participate in a special summer camp, mingle with Google engineers and sharpen his coding skills. The project that Nji worked on was sponsored by OpenMRS, a market leader in the development of technology solutions for the health care industry on a global level.
In a BBC interview conducted from the capital of Cameroon, located seven hours away from his hometown of Bamenda, Nji explained that his coding knowledge comes mainly from self-learning efforts conducted over two years. Between books and online sessions, Nji sharpened his programming skills enough to complete more than a dozen tasks across five categories set by Google code engineers. Nji was able to submit the final portion of the challenge, which ran from late 2016 to early 2017, just one day before political protests resulted in the government’s decision to suspend internet access in Bamenda.
Nji lives in the northwestern corner of Cameroon, a populous Anglophone region that has been at odds against the French-speaking government, which has declined to acknowledge English as an official language in this African nation. As befits our modern times, English-speaking Cameroonians have taken to online social networks and internet messaging apps to organize protests against what they believe is a matter of linguistic and cultural intolerance. Despite the current lack of internet access in Bamenda, Nji hopes to be able to finish secondary school and seek admission to a technical university where he can continue his education in software programming. He refuses to take a political stance in the current strife between his birth region and the government. Nji has greater plans to develop data compression techniques that interact with artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions; and such plans do not involve politics or groups who do not contribute towards development of the Continent.