The University of Rome II, also known as the University of Tor Vergata, has awarded President Biya a prize for his percieved successes in the promotion of education and culture in Cameroon and the Central African subregion.
President Biya described the gold medal as a “mark of honour”, according to state-run Cameroon Tribune.
Pr. Vittorio Colizzi, of the UNESCO office of the varsity, in address during the award ceremony in Italy, enumerated 20 points to justify the “high distinction” among which is the controversial decision to offer 500,000 laptops to university students in Cameroon.
Observers have criticised the inclusion of this decision among the list of achievements, arguing the decision had turned out to be one of the biggest scams of the Biya regime. It should be recalled that Tamfu Arison, multiple award winning Cameroonian journalist, won the Africa Fact Checking Award for pointing out many falsehoods in the laptops deal. In the article published online on August 29, 2016 the reporter predicted that the jubilation that swept across institutions of higher learning will be short-lived because of the incongruities in the announced gift- it came to pass.
The report pointed out among other things, that contrary to declarations that every student in institutions of higher education was going to benefit from the gesture, government data showed there were over 700,000 students enrolled in 170 institutions of higher education; 200 students more than the number of laptops.
It also proved that the ICT equipment displayed by Minister Fame Ndongo, indicated that government was planning to distribute Netbooks not laptops. Government had also noted that the 500,000 devices were going to cost 75billion FCFA. But the award winning reporter proved the total cost would be four times less than the declared amount.
It was also proven in the report that the laptops were not a gift from President Biya as stated by the presidency, but rather a debt (loan from China EXIM Bank) that the students will have to contribute heavily to pay back with interest included.
To prove the 500,000 “laptops” deal was not worth an applause, Tamfu cited the case of Ivory Coast. He wrote; “In early 2016, the government of Ivory Coast signed an agreement with Universite de Cerco, a local higher institution to produce 4000 per day of ‘Made in Cote D’Ivoire’ computers. The deal cost the government only 4billion FCFA”.
Analyst however say the medal cannot be discredited because of a single hitch. Among the other 19 justifications were, the adoption of the Bachelor–Master–Doctorate (BMD) system and other university reforms; the creation of several ministries for the advancement of education, the growth in the number of schools in Cameroon(though reports say hundreds of schools exist only on documents), the putting in place of the 1998 law on the orientation of education, the rehabilitation of the national museum, the introduction of bonuses for deserving university students etc.
The award ceremony, organised on the sidelines of President Biya’s three-day visit to Italy on the invitation of the Italian President, took place in the premises of the University of Tor Vergata which has a long-standing with the Chantal Biya Research Centre in Yaounde.