Modern IT infrastructure for Cameroon – with know-how made in Germany and a healthy dose of patriotism

Three years ago, Romeo Nwansi resigned from his permanent job as a systems engineer at one of Germany’s biggest IT companies and swapped it for a life of uncertainty in Cameroon. The straitjacket of salaried employment never sat comfortably with him, says the 38-year-old self-confessed IT nerd.

Romeo Nwansi

‘I’m not one of those Cameroonians who go back home and paint a rosy picture of the country to justify the move and are ashamed to tell the truth. My life as an entrepreneur in Cameroon is much tougher than my life in Germany was. More work, less money and a lot of obstacles along the way. But, if we want to change things in Cameroon, we have to roll up our sleeves ourselves and get on with it.’

The difficult first step

Romeo clearly remembers the day when he handed in his notice. Shortly beforehand, he had telephoned his Cameroonian friend Giscard and asked him: ‘I’m biting the bullet and quitting. Are you absolutely certain that we’re going back to Cameroon and starting up a company?’ At the time, his friend had two weeks longer than Romeo to hand in his notice. ‘Yes, I’m certain,’ his friend replied. But, two weeks later, it was his turn to call Romeo and ask him whether he was still sure and had indeed handed in his notice.

The business idea

In 2016, two IT nerds educated in Germany, one a software developer, the other a network engineer, came up with a well-thought-out business plan while on the way to Douala. They reluctantly left their wives and children behind in Germany to devote all their energy to establishing and running their company, ‘Toltec Consulting’, in Cameroon. Their vision was nothing less than to use modern IT applications to improve processes in Cameroon’s institutions, which were still mainly paper-based, and make them more efficient. Says Romeo: ‘We suspected that we’d have our work cut out trying to persuade everyone, because digital processes put question marks over existing structures and values. In fact, they completely alter the relationships between the state, society and the private sector. IT applications, for example, can improve transparency and accountability. But what do you do when potential customers in Cameroon don’t see it as an improvement at all, but as a highly unpredictable risk?’

Romeo Nwansi visiting another customer: Mr Gweningom from Gima Bambot Healthcare, a provider of consulting, training and medical devices in the health sector. © Jean-Pierre Kepseu

Romeo Nwansi pays regular visits to one of his most important customers, the Centre Médical La Cathedrale in Yaoundé. Here, he is being welcomed by the hospital’s Deputy Managing Director, Sylvie Tagni Zukam. © Jean-Pierre Kepseu

Sleepless nights

The first customer that Romeo landed was a big hospital, the Centre Médical La Cathedrale. Toltec Consulting scrutinised the hospital’s workflows and developed custom-made IT applications to optimise them, speed them up and make them less error-prone. This included digitalising patient, salary and invoice management and getting a firmer hand on stocks of medicines, the availability of beds and also communication with various insurers. Romeo recalls: ‘So as not to bring the running of the hospital to a standstill, we, or I, always did our test runs at night. During that period, I spent many long nights in the hospital at the computer, and three hours later I would be back in the office.’

The Deputy Managing Director of the Centre Médical La Cathedrale, Sylvie Tagni Zukam, says: ‘The external IT companies we worked with before Toltec Consulting didn’t have a proper understanding of our very specific issues and left us with applications that didn’t work well. With Toltec Consulting, it’s different. We have a very smooth working relationship and we always feel well understood, advised and supported, particularly when it comes to making important decisions. Even though the new IT applications cost us money to start with, they also enable us to make savings in quite some areas.’

Romeo Nwansi in his element. Fiddly IT tasks are the 38-year-old IT nerd’s passion. © Jean-Pierre Kepseu

The two founders of Toltec Consulting, Romeo Nwansi (back right) and Giscard Chamou (back middle), together with their team in their office in Douala. © Jean-Pierre Kepseu

Toltec Consulting

  • Founded in 2016
  • Initially two, now three managing directors
  • Five employees and two interns (as of October 2019)
  • Supported by Business Ideas for Development/Centre for International Migration and Development (CIM)
  • www.toltec-consulting.com

Gaining momentum

The first hospital was followed by two more customers, a hotel and a travel company. Although the business is now up and running, customers’ payment practices sometimes cause Romeo and his now two business partners to despair. ‘We’ve learned a lot over the last few years. For example, we now only take on large-scale contracts if part of the payment is made in advance,’ says the entrepreneur and IT nerd who, at the end of day, sometimes realises he has forgotten to eat, and has very high expectations not just of himself, but also of his staff. He has now completely given up the idea of long discussions during job interviews. Romeo sets applicants a specific task and gives them two hours to complete it. The catch: the problem is impossible to solve. ‘The person who, after four or five hours, confesses that they still haven’t solved the task is our man,’ says Romeo.

The biggest personal sacrifice he has made for his business is the huge distance separating him and his two children. ‘They’re basically growing up without me and Skype helps only to some extent. My two-year-old daughter refuses to skype with me at the moment. Sometimes, that breaks my heart. Without the support of my wife and family, who really believe in me, and without my healthy sense of patriotism, I may well have given up by now. But, what really helps when I get frustrated, is to laugh. And we laugh a lot in the office.’

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