Papa Njie: The returnee shining light on remote villages in The Gambia

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This story was contributed to TechCaba by Momodou L Jaiteh/bird story agency

Like many educated Africans, Papa Njie left his homeland after school to go in search of greener pastures. But after completing a degree in the UK, he returned home to The Gambia to fulfil a lifelong ambition – create opportunities. Today, he offers inspiration to millions of ambitious young Africans. His message: find opportunities at home.

Located in the northern region of The Gambia, Nyamanarr village is neglected. Characterised by a lack of electricity, a poor road network, and low education levels, the area was bypassed by successive development programmes. However, on February 25th, 2022, this tiny village got a new lease of life.

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Gambian President Adama Barrow was on hand as a 120-kilowatt peak power solar mini-grid was commissioned in the remote village near the country’s border with Senegal.

“The Gambia has significant solar energy resources which can be deployed via solar PV plants and other renewable energy solutions,” Barrow said.

He plans to ensure universal access to electricity and to make sure that 35% of energy generation in is generated by renewable sources, by 2030.

The person behind the project, which aims to generate and distribute clean, reliable, and metered renewable energy to the doorstep of the more than 6,500 residents of Nyamanarr, servicing more than 200 households and businesses, is the entrepreneur known locally as Papa Y Njie.

Njie, or Papa Yususpha Njie,  is a Gambian engineer and tech entrepreneur, who, in 1998 started out as the founder of a cyber cafe. Today, Njie aims to change lives, especially those in the remoter parts of Gambia. Njie thanked Barrow for giving him the opportunity to showcase what he could do as part of his legacy as a Gambian entrepreneur.

“I saw an opportunity in this locality…if you are not given an opportunity to show what you can do, it is very difficult to have a legacy,” Njie said.

“This is an old village, I have learned that their traditions and customs predate our grandfathers,” he added.

“The generation and distribution network being inaugurated will for the first time bring clean, reliable, and metered renewable energy to the doorsteps of the people of Nyamanarr for the first time in about 145 years.”

In 1997, at the age of 21, Njie, graduated from Middlesex University in the UK with a degree in electronic engineering and management. He took a risk and returned home to chase his dream. His friends and family thought he was mad, he explained.

His first job back in The Gambia – a high-paying position at the country’s power and water company (Nawec) – was short-lived. Again, his family, friends, and peers could not comprehend why he would leave the comfort and perks of a dream job, to venture out into the streets. Which is what he did.

Armed with a determination to succeed, as well as some savings from his salary, Njie opened a small streetside cybercafé business, Unique Solutions, with barely 10 desktop computers.