Nji Collins Gbah a 17 year-old Cameroonian learner has become the first African to win the Google Code-in competition hosted by Google Inc. A day after his submission to the competition, the internet connection in English speaking Cameroon was cut off, the teenager barely made it.

Nji lives in Bamenda, a city in north western Cameroon and the capital of the northwest region. The city is currently facing an internet blackout imposed by the government.

The competition which had 1,340 participants from 62 countries aged 13 to 17 completed 6,418 tasks. Collins, who was part of the grand finalists, will be flown to the Google campus in June to meet with Google engineers, participate in an awards ceremony, and spend a day of sightseeing in San Francisco as part of a four day visit.

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According to Google, the winners and finalists were chosen by 17 open source organisations which partner with Google. Google further stated that the competition was meant to inspire pre-university students to participate in open source development, help open source projects identify. The project aims to bring in new contributors and provide pre-university students interested in computer science with exposure to real world soft-ware development, including coding work, documentation, and open source community development, Google noted.

Google HQ. Photo: Ben Nuttall/Flickr

The teenager who attends Government Bilingual High School Bamenda nearly missed out on the opportunity to submit for the competition when the internet connection to Bamenda among other English speaking cities was cut off by the Cameroonian government on the 17th of January, just a day after his submission date.

Part of the requirements for entry into the competition was access to the internet. This forced Nji to travel on an 8 hour journey to Yaounde where he stayed with his cousin. Google’s language of communication with the participants was only English. For Nji, who comes from the English speaking part of Cameroon it was not an issue.

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Nji completed 20 tasks across all 5 categories set by Google. He hopes to work at Google’s Silicon Valley headquarters one day. With congratulations coming in from parents and friends, Nji is yet to receive any form of congratulations from the government.

“I’m trying to develop my own model for data compression, using deep learning and machine learning,” Nji told BBC.

For now, the irony of a place with internet blackout producing Africa’s first Google Code-in winner has drawn more attention to the ongoing internet crisis in Cameroon.