Congo Watch: A dream to establish a university in the Congo and grow a Silicon Valley

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A dream to establish a university in the Congo and grow a Silicon Valley

Today, whilst blog hopping, I came across a post by Macnamband, an American in Morocco, dated December 19, 2004. Incase the link becomes broken, here is a copy in full titled "Meeting Mr. Kombo" ...

"Marina and I arrived at the French protestant church in Casablanca about 9:30. A mass was starting. Many clandestines and of course, David Brown, pastor and protector, was there. There were two clandestines as well. He introduced us to two Congolese (Brazzaville) journalists and advocates, Mr. Kombo and his associate, Mr. Bouithy. David's notion was that as journalists we might help each other.

We sat down. Mr. Kombo layed out the problem, which is that as Southern Europe is the object of desire for many Moroccans, Morocco is the object of desire for many Congolese. Particularly students.

According to Mr. Kombo there are more than 500 students and refugees in Casablanca and 35 more in Marrakech. And others in Tanger and Fez. Some number of these are clandestines, which is to say they came to the country illegally, to escape abuses real or imagined and end up in the hills around Tanger or Mellila. Or else they came legally, these are students, but have been unable to secure their cartes de sejours. Then there are the students at the end of their education who can't pay their tuition and so can't take their exams or receive their diplomas. And fnally, the students who come to do graduate work and again because they don't have enough money, fall into local ruin.

Some of these students get Congolese government money to study here, but bureaucratic systems at both ends have made the situation increasingly desperate. They can't open bank accounts or receive checks. They are endlessly threatened with expulsion, even if in school, and can't get regular jobs. They end up in tiny apartments, living as best they can on the black market economy that supports so many Moroccans.

Mr. Kombo patiently explained it all, Mr. Bouithy filled in the blanks. But what do you want? I asked.

How can we get American help? How can we get the attention of the American public?

You can't, I thought. You can't, you're dead. You'll have to find another way.

I suggested they skip trying to get the attention of the American public and approach the private sector. George Soros... Who knows?

But the most interesting part of the conversation came when they suggested their real motive, or dream is perhaps the better word: to establish a university in the Congo. What a dream they have. A large technical university where students could learn the IT trade. They have it clearly in mind.

How could you do it, we asked.

They outlined it how it would work and explained that you could not build it in Brazzaville because of the people who support such a project live in the north. They suggested it could be built near Pointe Noire. Near where the petrol companies are. They would certainly support it, wouldn't they?

And as we talked it seemed like such a small thing to do. Why Bill Gates could probably finance it at the drop of a hat, say a $2 million hat to start. Why not? It could serve people from all over the region, from Angola and Gaban and even the RDC. It could be an engine like Stanford and around it could grow a Silicon Valley. Why not? Everyone wants it, Mr. Kombo said, except perhaps certain ethnic and politcal groups, and actually it might be a trick to get the land and of course you would need to build an infrastructure as well....

He stopped. These are not big problems. Pas de problem.

After nearly two hours Marina and I disappeared into the streets of Casa. And later the more we talked about building the university, the more it occurred to us that it was anything but simple, that in the end, this is why no one wants to touch Africa, even though everyone agrees that the real solution is investment. If you want to keep the clandestines out of Europe, the French should be building factories in the Congo. And sure, someone, should build a university so students wouldn't have to leave... And it could all be done, if only there were the will and if only people would let it happen, would open the way.

But that doesn't happen easily in Africa, whether in Casa or in Brazzaville and so you are stuck with your stone."

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