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Cameroon Anti-corruption Mobile App Still Awaited 

By Ntaryike Divine Jr

The delay may be protracting.  But undoubtedly, there is still bad news in gestation for corruption adepts in Cameroon whenever a mobile telephone application designed to gag the endemic cankerworm finally becomes operational. 

The proposed anticorruption therapy has been undergoing trial since mid-2011.  It is christened “NoBakchich.” “Baksheesh" in Arabic implies offering money to crooked officials to get rid of red-tape.  And so “NoBakchich” semantically implies “no more bribes.” 

It has been conceived to primarily run on android mobile handsets which merge typical mobile telephony and internet applications like emailing, information searching and social networking. Its architect, 24-year-old Cameroonian, Hervé Djia and fellow developers say progressively it will be lodged on a website to serve more users.

Initially, Djia intended to have the service go functional last August.  The plan was to have “NoBakchich” furnish users real-time information on demand regarding exact public service procedures and their costs. All users are required to do is install the application on their android phones, then click to find procedures for getting services from government and some private services.

On the eve of the planned launch of “NoBakchich,” Djia indicated he was in talks with several government institutions to have them provide required information on services.  But there has been curious silence over the project over the past few months.  Indeed, the grapevine has repeatedly insinuated that Djia may have been intimidated into abandoning the venture by unnamed Yaounde regime barons, for whom graft has become daily bread.  Meantime, several attempts at reaching Djia have all ricocheted from brick-walls of silence.

Meantime, explaining the innovative initiative months ago, Djia said the idea was hinged on the premise that ignorance among his compatriots has been substantially accountable for prevalent bribery in the country.  The software developer and e-entrepreneur said if public service consumers got the right information, the number of people fleeced of money will certainly drop.

“What gives corrupt civil servants power, is users’ ignorance of the steps to obtain a service. ‘NoBackchich’ users can find details on the cost and steps to get a driver’s license, a business license, a birth or death certificate and many more documents.  That way they won’t fall prey to unscrupulous officials and their middle men who ask them to pay bribes here and there to deliver a service,” Djia told the free legal assistance website, TrustLaw in an interview.

Whenever it comes to light, “NoBakchich” users will have the power to name and shame corrupt officials via social networking.  The application creator says they can then share their experiences with fellow users and create social media communities of whistle blowers.  “If millions of people, through the magic of social media exert pressure on corrupt officials, something could happen,” he said.

The venture’s trial phase was flagged off last 5 July in partnership with a local anti-graft NGO Un Monde Avenir. Some 20 business people in the capital Yaounde and economic hub Douala were announced to be testing the application.  “These are people who regularly use administrative services and often have to regularize several documents.  They have been giving us feedback and initial results are promising,” Djia said at the time.

However, critics have been quick to note that the novel android telephones are beyond the reach of the majority of Cameroonians, the bulk of them living below the poverty line.  The country is home to 20 million inhabitants with a 41.3 percent mobile penetration and only about 750,000 internet users according to statistics from the Telecommunications Regulatory Board.  Djia agrees, but notes that with steady drops in mobile telephone call and internet access rates android usage will soon be “democratic” especially as Africa offers a fast-expanding market for the products.

But Djia says a beta version of the application is in the pipeline for non-android mobile phones.
On two successive occasions in the last decade, the global corruption watchdog, Transparency International ranked Cameroon world corruption champions.  Frequently the country’s taxation, customs, law enforcement, healthcare delivery, judiciary and media sectors have been hoisted as dripping with corruption.

Skeptics argue Cameroon needs a moral revolution to weed out corruption. But Djia believes a thousand-mile journey begins with a first step.  “It is true that corruption has become a way of life for us in Cameroon. We are not claiming we have a full-fledged panacea. What we are offering is not an end to corruption but a step towards reducing the ill,” he explained. 

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