Cornell Bowers College of Computing and Information Science
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Code Afrique returns to Ghana to share opportunities in tech

March 11, 2024

By Patricia Waldron

Ghana’s fledgling tech sector has a chicken-and-egg problem: To grow, it needs trained, local workers, but without existing job opportunities, students don’t pursue degrees in computer science. Code Afrique aims to address this problem while creating awareness and opportunities for African students interested in tech.

Organized by a small team of alumni, students, faculty, and staff in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, Code Afrique returned to Ghana this year, after a three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The team held a three-day coding bootcamp, which culminated in a programming contest. More than 150 students from 10 high schools participated in the workshop, held at the KNUST Junior High School in Kumasi, Jan. 8-10.

Cynoc Boahene ’20, now a software engineer at Google, founded the program while a sophomore at Cornell. He said companies like Google, Uber, and Amazon have struggled to expand into African countries. 

“We think differently, so they would want Ghanaians who understand the culture and the terrain – and also know how to code – to be the ones driving the innovation there,” Boahene said.    

Boahene held the first Code Afrique in 2018 with support from family and friends. For 2019, he recruited Robbert van Renesse and Hakim Weatherspoon, both professors of computer science, who helped expand the program into two workshops, at Accra and Kumasi in Ghana. In 2020, they held the program in Eswatini and Ghana. To date, the group has reached more than 1,000 students, with nearly equal numbers of girls and boys.

This year, the Cornell Bowers CIS’s Office of DEI took over the organization and funding of the program, led by its director, LeeAnn Roberts.

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LeeAnn Roberts (second from right) and participants at Code Afrique. Credit: Lesley Greene

“In addition to piquing students’ interest in programming, we try to give them tools and resources to develop their careers in the tech field, with advice on applying to universities abroad and accessing financial aid,” Roberts said.

Additional faculty, including Lorenzo Alvisi M.S. ’94, Ph.D. ’96, Tisch University Professor of computer science, assisted with the planning. 

Boahene initially planned to major in biomedical engineering and go to medical school, but ultimately chose computer science after enjoying an intro course and finding more success with tech internships than medical ones. He wants current Ghanaian students – who cannot change their major once they enter college – to be aware of career opportunities beyond medicine. Many past participants have gone on to receive a computer science education, either in the U.S. or Europe.

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Cornelius Boateng (left), Cynoc Boahene (center) and Robbert van Renesse (second from right) with two teachers from Prempeh College. Credit: Lesley Greene
​“It’s been very emotional seeing people benefiting from the program,” Boahene said.

One of those participants is Cornelius Boateng ‘24, a computer science major from Kumasi who did the program in 2018. 

“I didn’t know anything about computer science,” Boateng said. “I had zero knowledge.” 

But his team won the programming contest, and later, he took online programming courses and wrote computer programs for fun. Boateng had also planned to be pre-med at Cornell, but switched after a Ghanaian classmate told him about opportunities in tech. Post-graduation, he’ll begin a job at Microsoft.

Boateng was the student coordinator this year, which involved re-establishing connections with high schools that were lost during the pandemic, visiting schools to encourage participation, and installing software in computer labs.

He hopes the exposure to coding will open student’s eyes to different pathways in tech. “Not many people know what they can do with knowledge in computing,” he said. “People can do amazing things with it.”

In addition to high school students, the volunteers trained 22 local teachers, covering the same programming material. Van Renesse and Boahene also discussed how to start a computing curriculum and found computer clubs. To encourage those advances, each teacher received a refurbished, donated laptop and joined a WhatsApp group to share ideas and resources.

Van Renesse, along with a group of Cornell students, also visited with administrators and faculty at local universities, with the hope of building relationships with Cornell that will advance local computer science education.

Another goal of Code Afrique is to broaden the teaching experience of current Cornell students. “Here’s a new generation of computer scientists who are interested in potentially going to Africa and teaching CS, or who maybe will get more interested in an academic or teaching career,” van Renesse said.  

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Goretti Muriithi (right) with students from Serwaa Nyarko Senior High School. Credit: Lesley Green
Goretti Muriithi ’26, an information science major, acted as a mentor for the program, helping students to troubleshoot coding problems and think more like computer programmers. “It was awesome bringing in my knowledge about Python and programming and giving that back to the students,” she said.

Muriithi is originally from Kenya but has lived in the U.S. since 2006. She said the students were so involved in the lessons, they did not want to take breaks. “They wanted to be in the classroom,” she said. “They were so ready to learn more code.”

She hopes this experience inspires students to pursue information science and computer science degrees – especially at Cornell.

Now that Code Afrique is back, the organizers aim to make it even bigger in future years, while supporting efforts to broaden participation in computer science at Cornell Bowers CIS. They plan to hold the workshop not only in Ghana, but possibly Eswatini, Nigeria, or Kenya.

“If we do want to catch up to the rest of the world,” Boahene said, “we need our best minds tackling these kinds of problems and designing systems and solutions that fit the needs of Africa.”

Boahene thanks Jesse Odame Phillips '20, Samuel Opoku Agyemang '19, Samuel Appiah Kubi of Duke University, and Sena Katako '19 for their major contributions to Code Afrique in 2018–2020. 

Patricia Waldron is a writer for the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.