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Anybody Without Computer Knowledge Is An Illiterate – UK Computer Aid Official 

Interviewed By Yerima Kini Nsom

A senior official of Computer Aid International (CAI), a UK-based NGO that supplies non-for-profit computers to the developing world, says anybody without computer knowledge is like one who did not go to school and therefore is an illiterate. Martha Gatheru, CAI Program Officer for Central Africa, made the remark in an exclusive interview with The Post at the start of a weeklong working visit to Cameroon.

Stating  that her organisation has already provided 10,000 computers to Cameroon, Gatheru said she was in the country to expand provision by establishing partnership with a distribution channel and identify schools, universities and NGOs in need of affordable high quality refurbished computers. Excerpts:

The Post: What good tiding brings you to Cameroon?

As you have mentioned, I am Martha Gatheru. I work for an organisation called the Computer Aid International, and I am here in Cameroon because our mission is to bridge the digital divide that exists between the industrialized nations and the developing countries.

When you talk of computer aid, what would you want the ordinary Cameroonian to understand?

I would like the ordinary man to know that somebody who is not educated today is not somebody who has not gone to school but somebody who does not know what Information and Communication Technology, ICT, is all about, and we know that a lot of ICT products are very expensive for a lot of people and that is why we are coming to bridge this gap and bring you affordable ICT.

Who started Computer Aid International?

Computer Aid International is a UK-based charity NGO that was formed in 1988 in London and as I said, it is when the former Director, Mr. Tony Robert, became concerned about the digital divide when he traveled to developing countries and saw that unfortunately some of the children, students or organisations were not as well connected as those in the UK. So he decided to do something about it and here we are today.

Cameroon is a poverty-stricken country, a majority of Cameroonians are poor, they live on less than one dollar a day, does your programme have any connection with fighting poverty?

Before I came to Cameroon, I must say we had distributed over 180,000 computers in the world and about 10,000 of those have come to Cameroon. If I can talk of one of our partners like Education Information Service International, ERSERVI, we have provided computers where during the holidays, young children can come and learn how to use a computer and we know that these are the engineers and mathematicians of tomorrow.

So it is a good thing for them to be connected to ICT instead of them sitting at home. Tomorrow they can help build a technologically strong Cameroon. We have also worked with health centres. For example, where you can put in records of the patients and see how they are doing. We have also provided materials for universities and various NGOs.

When did you start operating in Cameroon?

In the early 90s.

You are talking of Computer Aid International, yet people have to pay some money in order to get the computers, is that not a contradiction?

No, it is not because there is the adage which says "cheap is expensive". There are some organisations in the UK known as Buckingham Palace and Virgin Airlines that donate their computers to us, and we do what is known as data sweeping, that is, we remove all the data that existed before, we also test them in the warehouse and we refurbish them to put in a minimum of specifications.

So every product that is given to the beneficiaries has been tested to show that it is working and of course there is the cost of transport from the UK to the beneficiary’s country like Douala in Cameroon. So we don’t sell them, we just ask the beneficiaries to contribute to the cost of refurbishment, because if  we give you a free computer, that means we just get it from a certain office, then you will need to reprogram it yourself but we have already done all this work for you.

Who qualifies to get a computer from you?

Basically, anybody in the community but who is working for a non-profit organization; that means educational institutions, health institutions, ministries, NGOs and community-based organisations.

Given that 10,000 computers have already been distributed in Cameroon, what is your specific mission this time around?

First of all, we are very happy with the work we have done in Cameroon so far, but there are some Cameroonians who are still not connected to ICT. So the main mission right now is to keep raising awareness and to keep reminding people that they have to be absolutely connected to ICT in order to be citizens in their right place today and to contact us so that we can enable them use ICT for their projects.

Do you have a message for any particular group of persons or organisations?

Yes, the person who is illiterate is a person who is not connected to ICT and to all the universities and NGOs, I call on you to make sure you get ICT resources from us so that you can equip your students or communities and build an ICT strong society in Cameroon. If you are not connected today, you have not gone to school.