Josefina Bonsundy-Nvumba
   18 December 2018

Picture: Studio XL

This story has been brought to you by us, WorldRemit in partnership with Rootencial. Rootencial is a social initiative celebrating the roots and potential of African and African diaspora communities, while also aiming to create opportunities for them.

Our story is of Diane Audrey Ngako – a shining example of someone who has fulfilled her potential by making the most of her African roots.

After forging a career at some of France’s most prominent media outlets, Diane took the bold decision of returning to Cameroon, the country where she was born and raised.

Since then she’s launched a series of successful businesses and ventures in sectors from tourism to arts and culture. But the road to returning to Africa has not always been smooth.

Josefina Bonsundy-Nvumba, the founder of Rootencial, spoke to Diane about re-integrating into Cameroon, misconceptions about visiting Africa, and tips for aspiring entrepreneurs.

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Please tell us about yourself and your journey.

I was born and raised in Douala, Cameroon, but moved to France when I was 12 years old. I studied in France and worked as a journalist at Le Monde and TV 5. But two years ago, I decided to come back home and live in Cameroon. I launched and now run a communications agency called Omenkart. As an African woman, representing African youth, I saw it as my duty to return home. I said to myself,

“If everyone just leaves, who’s going to be here to do things?”

I definitely wanted to inspire my generation to believe in their full potential. Sometimes we can be scared to do things. But if we achieve something and share our success with our 1,000 followers online, maybe 10 people will go on and achieve something, too. That’s how you change things!

You organised the first-ever Douala Art Fair back in June this year. Please tell us a bit about it.

Six months after I moved back to Cameroon, I started to feel a bit down; I was questioning how I’d be able to manage. But I spoke a great deal with different artists and that helped a lot. Artists are able to dream. As a young Cameroonian, I know it can be tough to dream here. And I was always surprised about how these artists can keep dreaming, keep thinking about how the world can be, how Cameroon can be.

So I said to myself, ‘OK, I’m going to buy these artists’ work whenever I can’. But that’s not enough - we need to create an African generation of art buyers. We can’t just go to see our art on display in London and New York.

There’s a boom in African art around the world. But we Africans don’t know our own artists, and their work is being bought mainly by people in Europe, America, and now the Middle East and Asia. I started the Douala Art Fair to change that, and give a platform to those dreamers. We’re going to organise it every year, always in June.

You also launched VisiterLAfrique, a platform dedicated to tourism in Africa. Why?

A lot of the non-Africans talking about Africa focus on negative things like Ebola, Boko Haram etc. We need everyone who lives on the continent to be able to tell the whole story of Africa and build more positive perceptions.

Most people think Africa is just one country. When they hear that something wrong’s going on in Egypt, they’re like, “oh my god, I won’t go to Africa!”. We’ve got to let them know, Africa is a continent made up of 54 countries! We also have to tell them that there’s more to Africa than going on safari.

That’s why I launched VisiterLAfrique – to dispel these misconceptions.

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How do you think the narrative on Africa needs to change?

I think things have already changed since creating VisiterLAfrique four years ago. However, even today, Africa is mainly represented by non-Africans. They mostly offer a negative portrayal of Africa saying it’s home only to scourges like famine, war and poverty.

Africans are beginning to change this perception by leveraging the power of the Internet. We need to show Africa as it is. We need to build a new image divergent from the stereotypes, without denying the challenges, but instead amplifying Africa’s strengths and opportunities.

"We need to build a new image of Africa divergent from the stereotypes."

What are the most significant challenges that you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge has been financing. People don’t pay on time in Cameroon – that’s just normal! At the beginning I used to cry, asking why, why, why! But now I just let it go; if the money comes in then great. If not, then I can’t lose my mind over it.

Second is building the right culture in your business - making people believe they belong here, and helping them understand why we do what we do. It’s not always easy to find the right people in Cameroon.

Diane Ngako WorldRemit

Picture: Studio XL

What advice do you wish you’d been given and that you’d now give to others?

Less talking; just do it. For people who want to be entrepreneurs, just go for it. If you feel like it’s not for you after six months or one year, then stop. Maybe it’s not for you. Some think they have the skills to be an entrepreneur, but they might not. They keep pushing and pushing, and then they burn out. It’s good to know your own limits.

What key messages would you share with young Africans and diaspora communities?

Even in the darkest places, there is light. Sometimes you can feel really lonely on your journey, but you have to stay focused on that light, no matter what. That’s how you make things happen.

I love the quote saying that ‘If an opportunity doesn’t knock on your door, build the door.’ That’s my life. I always keep those words in my head. If something doesn’t just come to me, then I have to make it happen.

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