Aug 10, 2009, 6:06 AM
Papa Yusupha Njie founder and CEO of Unique Solutions is a qualified electronic engineer and management graduate of Middlesex University in the United Kingdom.
A trained electronic and computer engineer, he has passionately driven the strategic agenda of Unique Solutions over the past 10 years, together with other members of his dedicated management team, a young and dynamic staff taking Unique Solutions from very humble beginnings to its current status as one of the leading ICT service providers in The Gambia.
Mr. Njie serves as the 1st Vice-Chairman of the Sub-Regional ICT Employers' Organisation in West Africa, championing the acquisition, facilitation and implementation of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) in developing countries, to benefit especially young people and the community at large.
He was recipient of the Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2006 award from the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) and was nominated for same award in 2008 in addition to being nominated for the GCCI Business Man of the Year 2008 award. Augustine Kanjia caught up with this fine young and enterprising young man to answer questions about what gives Unique Solutions the edge in the world of ICTs.
S&D: How did your establishment come about?
Papa Y. Njie: Unique is a labour of love in many ways. It came about when some young Gambians returned from studies abroad. There was no university at that time so we had to go and study overseas, and we came back with a vision of using what we had studied to add to the national development process. I studied Electronic Engineering.
S&D: When was Unique Solutions set up and with what?
Papa Y. Njie: It was set up about ten years ago. We started with ten computers, an internet connection and a lot of hope and belief in Allah the Almighty. I remember selling my car to use that as startup capital, other friends and family like Jaine Senghore, Lamin Manga, Max Badjan, Aisha Baldeh, Ancha Gaye and MS Njie and a few of our close family members within the group also contributed a great deal for Unique Solutions to come about.
S&D: But you had other helpers?
Papa Y. Njie: A bit of cliché maybe here, but Trust Bank trusted us and helped a great deal, and continues to do so. Pa Macoumba Njie, the MD of Trust Bank, was the first guy to give us a break. It was a mixture of guts and service that pushed us forward. We had ICT training for people, internet services, design and printing; computer repairs and maintenance, web design and hosting, amongst other small business services. We also produced and filmed the first HIV/AIDS documentary on The Gambia which was broadcast on GRTS on World AIDS Day. It was basically a mixture of ICT and multimedia services. There was also a genuine cooperation from most people within the neighbourhood we operated in. Most of the staff were from the area. By running our annual Internet summer camp, we took in school going children during the summer to be trained on basic computer skills, Internet, web design etc. Some have excelled now, working in the banks, graduated from universities here and abroad, some have gone on to be employed by us.
S&D: Have there been visible changes in the company?
Papa Y. Njie: The company has gone through a metamorphosis over the past few years. We have recapitalized to meet our growing business needs and expansion plans. We have done a lot of things over the past few years in making sure the business stands the test of time. The aim is to create a structure that will allow employees, their children and our children to take over some day. You are as successful as the staff capacity you have and, in this vein, the issue of human resource capacity building is something that has been a priority from day one. The business should not revolve around one person. It is a team game and, as we normally say, we are ONE TEAM, ONE MISSION and that is what makes us truly unique.
S&D: Do you have any other unique features?
Papa Y. Njie: Yes! We brought in qualified Gambians from the Diaspora; we now have four of them as part of management. We also have young Gambians too with a mixture of technical expertise. We have a strong partnership with Motorola and this has resulted in two consultants inhouse supporting the company and the country at large in the services we provide. We have a mixture of Diaspora talent and African expatriate talent and this wealth in capacity and experience is helping us stand out in a very competitive market. I call it Unique!
S&D: What is Unique Solutions?
Papa Y. Njie: Unique Solutions is a total ICT solutions provider, a One Stop Shop ICT Broadband ICT provider. We have deployed a high quality, robust network infrastructure with the support of Motorola that can last the test of time and keep up with the latest advances in technology.
S&D: What are your main areas of activity at Unique?
Papa Yusupha Njie: They include Wireless ISP- Internet and VPN Services, IT Hardware and Software Sales, Networking, Web Design and Hosting, Outsourced IT-Managed Services.
S&D: What is your intention now for the country?
Papa Yusupha Njie: We intend to roll out a scalable Broadband Wireless IP Network which, as I am speaking to you, is almost country-wide. The Internet and VPN network is now present in most of rural Gambia. With the regulatory framework almost in place, we hope to take advantage of the opening up process and add other value added services in the coming years making us strategic players in the telecoms market. The network is also able to take advantage of triple play technology giving us the opportunity to add these services and many others in the near future.
S&D: What do you think about the ICT industry in The Gambia?
Papa Yusupha Njie: The ICT industry in The Gambia is growing really fast and some wonderful incentives are being introduced by the government offering tax breaks, free land and other incentives. This year promises to be an exciting year in the Internet and data market in The Gambia. One of the main factors is the Telecoms bill which was passed into law at the end of June 2009 opening a whole new set of opportunities, including Triple Play opportunities. Internet growth and demand in The Gambia is set to continue with a major focus on Internet infrastructure, addressing bandwidth constraints and the implementation of value added services.
S&D: When would you think of launching any other product to add a name to your services?
Papa Yusupha Njie: We have just expanded our groundbreaking Broadband Internet and Data services via a robust network infrastructure using the latest Motorola broadband Wireless Technology into rural Gambia, and the addition of value added services running on this platform is what is coming next.
S&D: Have you any vision for the country in line with ICTs?
Papa Yusupha Njie: Our vision is to be Gambia's premier Wireless Internet Service Provider providing wireless and fixed Internet and Data connections to homes and business users, schools, hospitals and government institutions. Our project places a great emphasis on health and education facilities, which stand to benefit in both the rural and urban areas. The project was launched on the 1st of February 2008. It is being done in three phases and the first phase covered Banjul to Brikama. The second phase which is almost completed will see us introduce our WIMAX base stations and give coverage to the rest of the country and the third phase will see us launch various rural initiatives to meet our Universal Access objectives in making sure people in the hinterland have access to cheap and life changing technologies in their daily lives.
S&D: What of the very remote areas of the country?
The current Motorola network infrastructure deployed by Unique Solutions has had its coverage expanded from the Greater Banjul Area providing VPN and Internet services to include Brikama, Kabakor and Kanilai and the latest being Essau, Barra, Fass, Kwinella, Farrefenni with Kaur, Kudang, Brikamaba, Soma, Bansang and Basse. Our goal is to make Unique Solutions the first private Internet service provider to have the furthest rural connectivity coverage meeting the Gambia's universal service objectives in ensuring people in the hinterland have access to cheap and life changing technologies.
I have to commend our great friends and partners at AFRICELL for their continued support in achieving this. They continue to make us champions.
S&D: Why expand in rural areas?
Papa Yusupha Njie: Our feeling is that it is the right of every Gambian to enjoy first class services no matter where you are. By us investing in these remote areas, we will encourage the Gambian private sector, be it banks, small businesses, other corporates and NGOs alike to also follow suit and invest in these areas using our services to drive their businesses, creating local employment opportunities along the way and play a significant role in reducing the rural-urban migration. I am very passionate about this subject. Gambia is our country, and we are doing it for our children's children and for generations to come. It is a capital intensive project; you invest money it takes 5-10 years to recoup your investment, but we believe that by playing a part in the development of these areas, as explained earlier, our investment would have been recouped from day one in so many other ways other than the obvious.
S&D: Mr. Njie, May I ask - what did God have in mind when the internet was invented?
Papa Yusupha Njie: Laughs -I would say God had Africa in mind. We have education without visas, staying at home and getting qualified. I am highlighting e-learning here with so many virtual universities now available. St. John's School for the Deaf is very dear to me, and we do a lot with them in terms of Corporate Social Responsibility. It is amazing to see what people who are considered "disabled" by society can do when given Internet and computer access. They are as able as you and me or even better. Their principal Daniel Mendy is a dedicated and hard working man who believes that the technology we have at our fingertips can make a huge difference in their lives. Technology makes us equal in the eyes of those who invented them.
The list goes on and on, Mobile phones, Telemedicine, e-agriculture, money transfer; remember the days money was sent by snail mail?I rest my case.
S&D: Any constraints?
Papa Yusupha Njie: Gambia does not have its own Internet Landing point for much needed Internet Bandwidth; we have to go through Senegal via Gamtel. If they have problems then the whole country loses connectivity or vice versa; if Gamtel goes down, the whole country loses connectivity too. Internet Bandwidth is now as important for a country as discovering oil, gold or diamonds. We are all striving to have a Landing point in the shortest possible time meaning that the ISPs, Mobile Operators, Gamtel, MOCIIT are working with PURA. It needs huge financial resources in the 10s of millions of dollars and a concerted and united effort to get it. We need to learn from Kenya, South Africa and Mauritius who through various consortia have several landing points in their countries. We have a very forward looking ICT bill passed by the National Assembly which paves the way to achieve some of these things.
S&D: What is making you happy in your work?
Papa Y. Njie: That we have helped in nation building and continue to be part of that process. That has been my lifelong dream and I am hoping that this trend will continue for many years to come. Making a difference in people's lives by virtue of what we do is reason enough to be optimistic about the future of this country.
S&D: Any last words?
Papa Yusupha Njie: We ask the young people of the Gambia to use the Internet as their best tool for education. They should learn and avoid the pitfalls of using the backway to Europe. Education without visas is indeed a reality with the technology we have at our fingertips. Also people should avoid the Pull Him Down Syndrome that is currently prevalent within our societies. If as Gambians we can accommodate refugees in the most pleasant and peaceful of manners, why not ourselves? By virtue of our demographics, from religions, to family, we have a God given right to support and work for each other. Let us support ourselves. We want to project the image that, above all else, Gambia is uniquely good for business!
S&D: Thanks for your time.
Papa: You are welcome and thanks for coming; keep it up!