Papa Yusupha Njie risked it all to construct a multi-million buck ISP in The Gambia


My Lifestyles In Tech is placing human faces to the know-how sector all the strategy in which thru Africa.

It’s one thing to depart the UK to return to The Gambia in 1998. It’s but every other thing to depart a proper job and chase the threat of starting up a industry in the early 2000s. Papa Yusupha Njie did each and every of these items and today time he is the chairman of Catch admission to Bank Gambia and his company Distinctive Alternatives is charge thousands and thousands of bucks.

That is his lifestyles in tech.

When Papa Yusupha Njie returned to The Gambia in 1998, each person knowing he was loopy.

None of it made sense to his chums and family. He had factual gotten his stage in Electronic Engineering and Administration from Middlesex College and had a pair of prospects for work in the UK. 

Why was he coming home?

Leaving the UK

When he tells me the legend of returning home, Njie recounts an abilities that assured him that lifestyles in the UK was now not one thing he wished. 

It came about in a TESCO grocery store in London. He was about a weeks from his graduation and was there to do away with his groceries.

As he walked thru the aisles, he picked up the objects he wanted and made his method thru, making sure now not to neglect anything else. No longer too long after he started his wanting, he seen from the corner of his search that without a doubt one of the most grocery store security guards was following him into every aisle.

“Clearly, this guy knowing I was going to procure some stuff. It didn’t topic if I informed him I was a college graduate or irrespective of. He had already made up his mind.”

This was a definitive moment. He realised that his legend was frequently going to be that of the 2nd-class citizen in a country where his gloomy skin, and his skin on my own, was grand of suspicion.

Njie’s return to The Gambia was met with questions. Why was he abet to a country where know-how was restful in its infancy? Where would he win work? Why was he making this error?

At 22, he had been away from home for nearly 6 years. He was younger and taking a gamble on a minute country that was five years into a dictatorship. But this minute country was home.

In 1999, in his contemporary role as an IT engineer at the Nationwide Water and Electricity Firm, a younger Njie was faced with an extraordinarily attention-grabbing disclose.

Because the 20th century got here to an stop, the Y2K frenzy took preserve of the arena. In each pickle, in every country, folks stupefied as rumours unfold that all computer systems had been doomed to prevent working once the dates modified from 1999 to 2000. 

Njie fondly remembers having his face on national tv as he tried to persuade the total nation that nothing would happen to their bank accounts or their electricity.

“I presumed if I was succesful of persuade all of the country that nothing will jog contaminated, possibly if I went out on my possess, I would moreover promote about a computers,” Njie says this as he laughs.

He stop his job soon after and decided to begin a cybercafe under the title Distinctive Alternatives.

Beginning Distinctive Alternatives

After returning to the unsure Gambia and securing a job that got here with a do away with-up truck and truly exact pay, Njie had now stop the job to chase a cybercafe. 

If folks knowing he was loopy ahead of, they had been sure he was bewitched now.

“I had some folks jog to my dad and repeat him that some juju (sic) had been done to me.”

Njie describes his cybercafe as a cubicle with 10 desktop computers all connected to notoriously unhurried dial-up recordsdata superhighway – and this was all there was at the time.

For purchasers who had been thirsty, he sold drinks. And when he wasn’t designing websites, he was teaching folks to exhaust Excel for their accounting.

Njie and susceptible President Obasanjo of Nigeria

The cybercafe grew to turn into home to a rising quite loads of of uncommon younger folks who had been concerned with the guidelines superhighway. At a time when there was no broadband or smartphones, one buck gave them entry to the arena huge web for one hour.

Working a cybercafe in the guts of a dictatorship meant that Njie grew to turn into a helpful asset to journalists at the time. With the federal government of the day controlling the old faculty media, he was instrumental in serving to a pair journalists blueprint up their first e-mail addresses, giving them a formulation to talk with the arena exterior of The Gambia.

Expanding the industry and meeting Awa

When he registered Distinctive Alternatives as a industry, Njie didn’t register it as a cybercafe on fable of for him that was under no situations the total purpose. 

The aim was frequently to provide recordsdata superhighway connectivity to his folks. But with cramped capital, the cybercafe was a exact pickle to begin.

The scurry from cybercafe to a multimillion-buck recordsdata superhighway carrier provider (ISP) is one filled with laborious work and in Njie’s case, love as effectively.

When the industry began to construct bigger and he could possibly possibly hire extra encourage and even blueprint up a 2nd pickle of job, he began to provide extra IT providers and products. 

“We started promoting computers, repairing them, and even configuring servers,” he acknowledged as he reminisced on how grand work he had had to style on his possess at the time. 

As effectively as to the providers and products he supplied, he would assuredly construct condominium calls or style deliveries of printed brochures and posters by himself. These deliveries would design stop him as far as Senegal nonetheless one particular condominium call was in The Gambia at the home of a lady known as Awa.

Awa was home on holidays from the UK where she was education at Leeds College. Her computer had now not too long previously caught a plague and he or she couldn’t continue working on her dissertation. Distinctive Alternatives had a recognition for sorting out complications love this so she made a call and Njie was soon on his method to her.

Attending to her condominium, he blueprint up his dial-up recordsdata superhighway connection and began downloading the antivirus system she would need. There just isn’t this kind of thing as the next descriptor of the chase of dial-up recordsdata superhighway in the early 2000s than the length of time he spent at her condominium.

“Her mum was truly nice to me. The knowledge superhighway was so unhurried that I was there for lunch and they supplied me lunch and when supper time got here they supplied me dinner as effectively.”

When he tells the legend to Awa some years later, he speaks of visiting his industry partner. He had informed his partner regarding the work and the strategy in which he had now not taken any charge. 

Njie had most efficient left his card with Awa and asked her to encourage unfold the observe about Distinctive Alternatives.

“I keep in mind my partner informed me ‘so that you is at probability of be promoting the family jewels when we’ve now not even started? Why now not even call her and demand her out, as compensation for shedding us cash?’”

Njie made that call and effectively, the comfort is history.

Papa and Awa at their wedding

Turning into an ISP in a dictatorship

On the first day in December 2016, The Gambia elected its third president since independence in 1965. The incumbent president, Yahya Jammeh, had taken vitality in a bloodless 1994 coup. The 22 years under Jammeh had been years very most practical probably described as under a dictator.

Within the early 2000s, while Gambians got at threat of a old faculty media controlled by the federal government, Distinctive Alternatives began work on the aim of changing into an ISP.

The first step was to procedure an ISP license from the federal government. The industry had garnered some recognition at the present and with a modern ICT Minister at the helm of affairs, the license was now not a troublesome thing to get. 

Following this was a requirement for a $1 million mortgage from the bank. Now, this was trickier. 

The bank was most efficient succesful of give Njie and his industry partner half of of their demand. This half of got here after they had each and every attach down the deeds to each and every their homes at the time.

“The bank MD, he’s retired now, he informed me that once we introduced the deeds to our homes, he couldn’t mumble no. Here had been two younger males who had factual started households, offering you their homes as collateral. Risking all the pieces.”

With the funding on hand and their sights blueprint on turning into an organization ISP, Distinctive Alternatives joined the checklist of original ISPs who had been, at the time, shopping for skill from Senegal as the Gambia did now not private a submarine cable at the time.

2013 receipt. Fee for 512 kbps recordsdata superhighway connection

Because the industry persisted to develop, Njie faced many situations of the federal government searching to stifle the voices of the oldsters thru the ISPs, now not unlike the disclose in Uganda throughout the factual concluded election.

“You battle thru all that [business development] and they attach a gun on your head and repeat you that whilst you don’t style it [block your services], you jog to prison.”

With these threats and proper shutdowns of the guidelines superhighway, many community operators had been unable to construct cash by promoting to customers. So while the battle was on for justice and the freedom of expression, Njie’s found his footing in the financial sector.

Connecting the banks

To outlive as a industry, niches are helpful. The aim for Distinctive Alternatives soon grew to turn into to be the carrier provider of varied for the financial sector in the Gambia. This day, two of Distinctive Alternatives’ largest purchasers are the central banks in Gambia and Liberia.

Njie’s crusade to construct Gambia’s financial sector better began with his proposal to introduce a switch in the country. This switch would enable customers of a Bank A to exhaust their cards or cash their cheques in a Bank B. 

Njie and Tony Elumelu, Chairman United Bank for Africa

These are providers and products which are identical old today time nonetheless at the time, it took him almost 7 years to persuade the banks to chew.

On the day he signed the contract to blueprint up Gamswitch, Njie cried. And while the oldsters around him figured his tears had been due to the massive size of the contract, he admits that it was due to the duration of time it took to persuade the banks to be a portion of this.

Whereas their resistance was basically based totally on the proven truth that Gambia’s inhabitants of about 2 million merely didn’t private the numbers to construct a switch viable, Njie saved at it and sooner or later with a project led by the Africa Articulate Bank, Distinctive Alternatives was tapped to encourage blueprint up Gamswitch. This was done in collaboration with Nigeria’s Interswitch.

Aiming to style extra for the guidelines superhighway disclose in Gambia, Distinctive Alternatives, partnering with the World Bank and the Gambian government, has moreover been succesful of total a $30 million buck submarine cable to make stronger recordsdata superhighway chase all the strategy in which thru the country.

Getting recognised and desirous to the future

In 2010, at the invitation of President Obama, Njie was without a doubt one of the most entrepreneurs invited to the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship in the U.S. 

When Hilary Clinton, who was the secretary of divulge at the time, read out his citation, he tells me that she pronounced his surname contaminated – /nji/ as a substitute of /njai/. This did nothing to dampen the moment as he listened to her focus on his days in the cybercafe and the laborious work he had attach into rising his industry.

Earlier than he returned to the Gambia, the news made it a reveal reveal that he had met President Obama ahead of President Jammeh. So on his return, he made sure his group gave the press a decided date. 

“Those days you wanted to be under the radar.”

Njie would get but every other invite from President Obama in 2014.

This day, Papa Yusupha Njie lives in The Gambia and other than his work in Distinctive Alternatives, he is moreover the Chairman of Catch admission to Bank Gambia.

No doubt one of Distinctive Alternatives’ agricultural initiatives in The Gambia

Njie describes himself as a social entrepreneur and that’s evident in the work being done by Distinctive Alternatives – increasing into photo voltaic vitality and agriculture; making sure the lives of Gambians are better.

He left a seemingly promising lifestyles in the UK to construct an empire in the Gambia. If that’s loopy, then mark me up.

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