Cameroonian rural communities hail StarTimes for bringing AFCON into their homes

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It’s an important day for Jackson Bessala Ndongo, a football fan. His country, Cameroon, will be playing against Ethiopia in a football match that will determine their qualification for the knockout stage in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).

When it was six in the morning, the father of three was already up to complete his domestic chores, go to the farm and return just in time for him to arrange chairs at his uncle’s place where he and several other villagers will watch the crucial match on TV.

Three years ago, it was not possible to follow the live broadcast of matches on TV in the village.

“It wasn’t easy to watch matches here in the village. I had to trek for over one kilometre sometimes because I had to go watch the match at the (Centre town). Sometimes we missed the opening or first half because we arrived late,” said 34-year-old Ndongo, a passionate viewer of Champions League competition.

Many families did not have a TV and even if there was, they could only watch two or three channels, digital TV was beyond their imagination, added Ndongo.

That’s when StarTimes stepped in. It was in 2019 when the Pay-TV service operator came to Ndongo’s village, Djounyat, located some 75 km north of Cameroon’s capital Yaounde to help set up a satellite TV signal for free as part of a Chinese-aided project that aims to offer the service to 10,000 villages in Africa.

The service helps rural Africans keep up with current events and news through more than 480 channels.

At the home of the traditional leader of the village, Faustin Bessala, where chickens roam the yard and birds chirp and sing on trees, StarTimes built a large satellite dish that connects his television set to hundreds of channels.

Bessala, who is also Ndongo’s uncle, used a projector, a gift from StarTimes, to set up a big screen in his parlour. That is where Ndongo and others will watch the live broadcast of Cameroon versus Ethiopia match which has already started.

“This project has been well received in our community because they even installed it at people’s houses who didn’t own a TV set. And they made it in such a way that those who didn’t have anything to do in the evening hours, can sit in front of their TVs and catch fun. That’s what I do all the time,” said Bessala, a football enthusiast.

StarTimes wants to make sure that Cameroonians in rural communities enjoy a live broadcast of Africa’s biggest football event, AFCON which kicked off on January 9 in the Central African nation.

Every now and then, Laurent Balla and several other young Cameroonians trained by StarTimes, patrol the villages to maintain the TV material and ensure a steady flow of quality images.

“I think the work I have done with StarTimes is extraordinary. StarTimes employs lots of young Cameroonians. Every young man working with StarTimes has an added advantage. First professionally from the knowledge gained in technology, finance and even with their personal lives, StarTimes brings in a lot,” said Balla, manager of StarTimes Centre region.

Laurent Balla, a StarTimes technician troubleshoots the television power batteries to allow people of Nkoat-Abang village to watch the AFCON matches, in Nkoat-Abang, Cameroon, Jan. 12, 2022. (Xinhua/Kepseu)

“We started working on doing installations. We had a training course and examination. Even the technicians who were doing installations with us, lots of them were recruited, and had to go through a trial,” added the 32-year-old technician.

Since 2019, StarTimes has successfully installed for free satellite TV signals in 300 Cameroonian villages benefitting more than 6,000 people, said Balla.

To overcome the problem of power shortages which is perpetual in Cameroon’s rural areas, StarTimes provided television sets that were outfitted with a solar power system, allowing people to watch TV for six hours after sunset.

Such is the case in Nkoat-Abang, a predominantly agrarian community on the outskirts of Yaounde where villagers gathered in group of 15 and were watching AFCON matches when Xinhua reporters arrived.

“StarTimes in this village is an innovation. It’s a great discovery. Even when it rains, we still have a power supply with StarTimes. We are at ease, not having to deal with the issue of power shortage. Let StarTimes continue doing good things in our locality. You can see the hall is full of joy as people watch and live AFCON experience,” said 62-year-old Louis Marie Olinga Assama, a respected community figure of Nkoat-Abang in whose house villagers assembled to follow the matches.

Back in Djounyat, Ndongo and several other villagers had already taken their seats to follow the live broadcast of Cameroon versus Ethiopia game. It was already half-time, and the game was tied at 1-1.

StarTimes project is an example of how Chinese companies can make profits and be socially responsible at the same time, said Ndongo and added that the subscription television service provider has some of the world’s most affordable digital TV packages.

“From the price, which is good, you have bouquets for 1,500 (about 3.6 USD) to 5,000 Central African Francs which is really flexible as compared to others. Now, the attached batteries (solar energy), I don’t know if it’s like this elsewhere, it helps us to do other things aside from watching images. That’s a plus that others can’t give us, it can only be from StarTimes,” Ndongo said just as the second half of the game resumed.

There’ve been real behavioural changes among villagers since StarTimes installed TV signal, said Bessala.

“People can now have debates within a circle of friends. Because after watching programs on TV, they see, hear and can sustain an argument with the information gotten,” said Bessala.

In the second half of the game, Cameroon scored again, again and again, and when the referee sounded the final whistle, it was Cameroon 4 Ethiopia 1, much to the delight of the vociferous fans who were proud of their country for qualifying for the knockout stage of the 24-nation-tournament.

“I’m very pleased with the performance of the indomitable Lions this evening. They brought joy to our hearts. I’m even happier that, there were no disruptions in signals from StarTimes, the image quality was perfect. We had the chance to watch the full match in play. We hope that it shall continue this way with StarTimes,” Ndongo said.

The government of Cameroon attaches great importance to the project, said Didier Kaba Aliguen, director of communication engineering in the Ministry of Communication who was charged by the government to supervise satellite installations in villages.

“We simply hope that the 300 villages will not be the last, 300 villages in Cameroon it is the minimum, we can do more,” said Aliguen, adding that Cameroon was working with StarTimes to initiate several projects nationwide.

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