Silicon Valley & Technology

Cameroon Teen Is 1st African to Win Google Coding Challenge

A teenager in northwestern Cameroon has become the first African to win Google’s global youth coding challenge, despite an ongoing internet blackout in his hometown.

Nji Patrick Gbah’s tailor shop in Bamenda is buzzing with business and pride. His son, Collins, was recently named one of 34 grand-prize winners in this year’s Google Code-In, a global challenge for young programmers.


He used to punish his son for “joking” with the computer.


“I was feeling that he is just spending his time without doing house chores. At times I used to seize my computer and lock it in the house and I tell him not to use it anymore because I was believing that he is just spending time on that computer for nothing,” said the teen’s father.


Nji Collins Gbah has won a trip to Google headquarters in California this June with the other top finishers. 

The competition was open to students between the ages of 13 and 17. More than 1,300 young people from 62 countries participated this year.


“The only thing I want to say is focus on studies,” Collins said. “Get to know more about the opportunities that are around you and go to sites which have real information about opportunities like this.” 


But that may be hard at the moment for his fellow students in Bamenda. In mid-January, the internet was cut to English-speaking parts of Cameroon, amid ongoing unrest.

Collins had to plead with his uncle for travel money so he could go to to Mbouda, a French-speaking town 30 kilometers away, to get online and compete. He had just a few days to complete 842 programming tasks.

Many believe the government ordered the internet blackout, though there has been no official confirmation.

Teachers and lawyers have been on strike in the English-speaking regions since November. They have been joined by activists calling for secession. Some demonstrations have turned violent and dozens of people have been arrested.

Officials say activists have been using social media to spread anti-government messages.


Cameroon’s minister of post and telecommunication, Libom Li Likeng, told VOA there has to be a responsible use of technology. She says although social networks provide lots of opportunities, they have noticed that many people use them for unhealthy purposes.

African countries have been increasingly responding to unrest by cutting internet access. Uganda, Congo and Mali are just a few other examples.

Last week, a U.N. rights expert called the internet blackout in parts of Cameroon “an appalling violation” of freedom of expression.

Residents in affected areas say it is impacting the economy as money transfer services and ATM’s are not working.

Economy & business

Tourism Industry Feels Financial Fallout from Trump’s Ban

You may have heard this before: uncertainty is bad for business.

With President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban on hold for now — the result of an appeals court decision to uphold a lower court’s temporary restraining order — the approximately $7 billion U.S. travel and tourism industry has taken a breath, but is holding it.

Trump’s executive order was in effect for only one week, but that was long enough for there to be financial damage, particularly given the reality that once it travels through the court system, the travel ban may be back.

“Consumers don’t like uncertainty, and the travel industry doesn’t like uncertainty,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and founder of Atmosphere Research Group.

Global travelers beyond the scope of the seven nations directly impacted by Trump’s ban, immediately felt discouraged from visiting the United States, according to the travel data company ForwardKeys.

Net airline bookings to the U.S. dropped 6.5% overall from the same period in 2016. Regionally, there was a 37.5% drop across the Middle East, 14% in the Asia Pacific region, and 13.6% in Western Europe.

Immediate impact

President Trump says the aim of his executive order is to keep Americans safe.

But the consequences of barring refugees and foreign nationals from certain countries — without definitive proof of an imminent threat — has sparked widespread debate and concern among affected immigrants and the international community at large. The order bans travelers from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen.

In one week, the Global Business Travel Association (GPTA) noted an immediate loss of $185 million in business travel bookings, a number which Harteveldt says only skims the perimeter of a longer-term effect, due in part to continued confusion.

“Right now the United States has a sign on it that says, ‘You may not be welcome here,’ and that’s not very good for our national brand — the United States of America,” Harteveldt told VOA. “The bad image the U.S. has may have people saying, ‘You know, I love the United States, but it’s just not the right environment for us to go visit this year. We’ll wait.'”

According to data compiled by GPTA, U.S. business travel transaction levels in the week before and after the travel ban resulted in a net industry impact of -3.4%.

For every one percent impact on annual U.S. business travel spending, the country either gains or looses $5 billion in gross domestic product along with 71,000 jobs, according to GPTA’s calculations.

Pall over business’

In a January interview with VOA, Dan Ikenson, director of CATO Institute’s Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies, called the ban disruptive to U.S. and foreign professionals who engage in the services trade — and by extension, supply chains.

“Just as important as physical goods moving over borders is the expertise, the know how, the representation of companies to conduct business,” said Ikenson. “The threat of this restriction spreading is something that is going to put a pall over business and over investment.”

Companies that might have previously considered setting up affiliates and subsidiaries in the U.S., and vice-versa, Ikenson added, may suspend those plans for as long as uncertainty persists.

Replicating the US experience’

Harteveldt, who previously served as marketing director for Trump Shuttle, a Donald Trump-owned airline from 1989-1992, believes the president has no “ill will” towards the travel industry. However, he says the long-term unintended consequences of the president’s actions may be felt for many months.

“People start planning their summer holidays 90 days or more in advance,” Harteveldt said. “If we look less attractive — and when you couple that with factors that the dollar is strong right now — it makes the U.S. that much less attractive as a possible destination.”

Harteveldt notes the world is full of destinations — from Disney theme parks to beaches, hiking and fine dining — that are capable of replicating the U.S. experience. 

In New York’s Times Square, the quintessential live-entertainment-and-neon-bright American tourist experience may not be enough to persuade international travelers to return under persistently uncertain circumstances.

“The good thing about New York is the diversity,” said Erika Andrea López, a Colombian tourist. “If that’s impeded, they’ll lose their touch … you’ll feel that you’re coming to a place that discriminates against you.”

“Anything can happen,” added Isaac Quaye, a first-time visitor from Ghana to the United States. When asked if he would return if the ban were reinstated, he shrugged. “I don’t know … I can’t tell.”

Yuthicka Sirohi, from Delhi, India, says everyone has a right to protect their country, but believes a “100% ban” against specific countries goes too far.

While she might not hesitate to return one day, Sirohi says she might feel more comfortable visiting another cosmopolitan city like London to suit her “travel-a-holic” needs.

Still, she hopes it doesn’t get to that.

“I think freedom is in the air here,” she said.

VOA Latin America Division’s Vero Balderas contributed to this report.

Economy & business

China Awards Trump Valuable New Trademark

China has awarded President Donald Trump a valuable new trademark. The win comes after a 10-year dispute and raises a host of ethical questions about the president’s foreign intellectual property.


China’s Trademark Office posted the registration of Trump’s new mark, which became official Feb. 14, to its website Wednesday. It gives Trump the right to use his name for building construction services in China through 2027.


This may be the first foreign trademark Trump has received as president, but it’s unlikely to be the last. He has 49 pending trademark applications in China alone.


Critics say Trump’s foreign intellectual property holdings are a conflict of interest and may violate the U.S. Constitution. But Trump’s lawyer says he has taken adequate steps to distance himself from his trademark portfolio.


Economy & business

Tourism Industry Feels Financial Fallout from Trump’s Travel Ban

Despite a temporary halt to President Trump’s executive order banning travelers from 7 countries, travel and tourism executives are beginning to notice signs of financial damage, which may continue to cripple the multi-trillion dollar industry in the months ahead. VOA’s Ramon Taylor reports

Science & Health

India Puts Record 104 Satellites in Space

An Indian rocket blasted off Wednesday morning from Sriharikota in eastern India putting a record 104 satellites into space in a single launch, surpassing Russia’s previous feat of launching 37 satellites one year ago, according to India’s space agency.

The launch also marked a milestone in the country’s efforts to emerge as a serious contender in the multi-billion dollar global commercial space industry by slashing costs.

Besides a 714 kilogram earth observation satellite, the others were mostly nano satellites — those weighing up to 10 kilograms. A majority of these small satellites came from customers in the United States, others from countries such as Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.

The nationally televised launch showed scientists applauding successive stages in the mission control room.

Calling it a “great moment” for the Indian Space Research Organization, Associate Project Director B Jayakumar said, “as you know doing something new in an innovative way, successfully is always a passion for ISRO people.”

Low-cost program

India’s space program has focused heavily on low-cost access to space. The ability to put a larger number of satellites in space in a single launch brings down the cost significantly, which could help the country grab a larger slice of the commercial launch market, analysts say.

“Doing record-breaking launches in one go does clearly highlight India’s advancement as well as the sophistication to do a lot more maneuvering in India’s space program,” said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, a space analyst from New Delhi’s Observer Research Foundation. Pointing out that it will inspire more confidence in India’s space program, she said “A lot many more countries could be approaching India to do their own space launches.”


The growing demand for more high-tech communication by countries, as well as by private telephone, Internet and other companies, has hugely boosted the demand for such launches. Last year, India launched 75 satellites for foreign customers.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted “This remarkable feat by ISRO is yet another proud moment for our space scientific community and the nation. India salutes our scientists.”


India increased the budget for its space program this year and allocated resources for a potential second mission to Mars and its first to Venus in the coming years.

Mars mission

India’s ambitious space program got international attention after a successful mission to Mars in 2014, whose price tag of $74 million, compared to $670 million outlay of NASA’s Mars mission a few months later, was hailed as an indication that its frugal space program has achieved technological prowess.

ISRO plans to send a second mission to study the surface of the Moon next year and is also eyeing a second mission to Mars and its first to Venus in the years to come.

Many see India’s foray into interplanetary missions as part of its ambitions to be seen as one of the world’s leading countries.

“One of the factors is also Asian nationalism and the competition. There are also lot of things being planned to also show that India is an advanced technology power in this regard,” said Rajagoplanan.

While India has developed the capability of putting smaller satellites in space, it still has some way to go before it can launch heavier ones, according to scientists.

Science & Health

Trump Administration Sued Over Protection for Vanishing Bumble Bee

An environmental group sued U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration on Tuesday for delaying a rule that would designate the rusty patched bumble bee as an endangered species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a branch of the Interior Department, in September proposed bringing the bee under federal safeguards.

The rule formalizing the listing of the vanishing pollinator, once widely found in the upper Midwest and Northeastern United States, was published in the Federal Register on Jan. 11 and was to take effect last Friday.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said the listing has been delayed until March 21 as part of a broader freeze ordered by Trump’s White House on rules issued by the prior administration aimed at protecting public health and the environment.

The group argued in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that U.S. wildlife managers had violated the law by abruptly suspending the bumble bee listing without public notice or comment. They said the rule technically became final when it was published in the Federal Register.

The lawsuit seeks to have a judge declare that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acted unlawfully and to order the agency to rescind the rule delaying the bumble bee’s listing.

“The science is clear – this species is headed toward extinction, and soon. There is no legitimate reason to delay federal protections,” Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney Rebecca Riley said in a statement.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could not immediately be reached for comment.

Bumble bees pollinate wildflowers and about a third of U.S. crops, from blueberries to tomatoes, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

The bee’s population and range have declined by more than 90 percent since the late 1990s due to disease, pesticides, climate change and habitat loss, according to wildlife officials.

The insect is one of 47 varieties of native bumble bees in the United States and Canada, more than a quarter of which face the risk of extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

In September, seven varieties of yellow-faced bees in Hawaii became the first such insects to be added to the U.S. list of endangered species because of losses due to habitat destruction, wildfires and the invasion of nonnative plants and insects.

Science & Health

Researchers Hope to Blunt Impact of Armyworm on African Crops

Southern Africa is beginning to come to grips with an invasive species that is wreaking havoc with its corn crops. It’s a South American insect called a fall armyworm and in Zambia alone, it may be on the way to destroying about 40 percent of that nation’s maize harvest. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

Arts & Entertainment

They Might Be Giants: Life With Westminster’s Big Dog Breeds

They’re pets that need a few accommodations, like a minivan with the seats pulled out, a bed that can approach the size of a twin mattress and a household that doesn’t mind when an animal that weighs in triple digits wants to “share” the sofa.

But owners of some of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show’s giant breeds say there’s no small joy in thinking big.

“It’s a very interesting relationship you can have with a large dog,” Lynn Kiaer of Argyle, New York, said as two of her 10 Scottish deerhounds, Seaforth and Rhionnach, relaxed after competing this week. To her, “their whole manner of living” feels closer to human scale than does life with smaller dogs.

After all, her lean, gentle dogs can come roughly eye-to-eye with a person sitting down: Seaforth, a 6-year-old male, stands about 32 inches tall at the shoulder alone.

Size matters


While canines of all shapes and sizes have won the nation’s most prestigious dog show, large breeds just might win an outsized share of attention outside the ring as visitors mingle with dogs and breeders.

“Those are bigger than the wolves I’ve seen!” one boy exclaimed as he laid eyes on Irish wolfhounds Stuart and Kaviar, members of the tallest breed recognized by the American Kennel Club, the governing body for Westminster and many other canine competitions.

“It’s a good thing,” owner Karen Goodell said, explaining that the dogs’ commanding size — 4-year-old Stuart is about 37 inches at the shoulder and weighs 180 pounds — was an asset when they historically hunted wolves and guarded castles in their native Ireland.

At Goodell’s Colorado Springs farm, a half-dozen wolfhounds enjoy the run of fields and the comfort of lazing around a house with taller-than-usual kitchen countertops and everything from biscuits to bowls in “jumbo” size.

While some giant dogs can be easygoing house pets, owners stress that early, assiduous training is essential for puppies that will grow — quickly — to an imposing size.

“You’re not going to be able, in six months, to pick up this dog if it misbehaves,” notes Newfoundland owner Kathy Wortham of Newport Beach, California. Her dog Xander competed Tuesday.

Shorter lifespan

Big-breed owners also confront the painful reality of losing their dogs relatively soon. While the average lifespan of American dogs of all sizes has roughly doubled in the last 40 years because of factors including better medications and diets, “it’s a fact that larger dogs die earlier and smaller dogs live longer,” said Dr. Joseph Kinnarney, until recently the president of the American Veterinary Medicine Association. He also co-owned the 1995 Westminster best in show winner, a Scottish terrier named Peggy Sue.

The reasons for the lifespan discrepancy aren’t clear, but Kinnarney says he’s hopeful continuing genetic research will shed light over time. For now, though, a long-lived Chihuahua might make it to 18, for instance, while 10 would be an impressive lifespan for an Irish wolfhound.

“That’s the hardest part” of having a wolfhound, Goodell says. “To me, they’re worth it because they’re so wonderful. … They’re smart, they’re loyal and they’re great to live with.”

Any dog owner has his or her share of “it’s worth its,” but the big-breed crowd has perhaps a particularly memorable list.

Big dogs … big beds


For Great Dane owner and breeder Teresa LaBrie, who showed her dog Duesy at Westminster on Tuesday, it’s worth custom-ordering supersized dog beds and using a 13-quart bucket as a water bowl for the 10 Danes who share her Norwich, New York, home with, yes, two Chihuahuas.

“There are times when we sit on the floor because we don’t want to disturb the dogs,” she chuckled.

With four St. Bernards at his home in Lawrenceberg, Kentucky, Dr. BJ Jackson has grown accustomed to sweeping up daily and teaching hundred-pound puppies that they’re too big to jump into laps.

“Absolutely, it’s worth it,” said Jackson, whose dog Rambo competed at Westminster. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”