Born and raised in Cameroon, Diane Audrey Ngako -- recognised by Forbes as one of the most influential under 30s in Africa -- moved to France when she was 12 years old. After building a career at some of France’s most prominent media outlets, she made the bold decision to return home. Since then she’s launched a series of successful businesses and ventures in sectors from tourism to arts and culture. But her journey from the diaspora back to Cameroon has not always been smooth.
From Douala to Paris and back
As an African woman representing African youth, Diane saw it as her duty to return home.
“If everyone leaves, who’s going to be here to do things?” she said.
Prompted by her family to make her transition slowly, she finally moved back four years after she had first considered it. “You have to recognise that you grew up in a different society with a different code. Before you move, go and visit the country and learn about local day-to-day life. Make sure that you want to move your life there. I had to learn a lot about my culture and about my people to feel like I belong here again.”
Nowadays, Diane runs communications agency Omenkart, helping companies like Oracle, Ecobank or Société Générale to develop their image on the continent. “It’s important to build the right culture in your business, to help people feel passionate about your mission,” she advises. “You have to help your employees to understand why you do what you do. The key is to find the right people and create a great company - not necessarily a big one.”
On changing the African narrative
Diane believes that it’s crucial to talk about Africa from within. “There’s a lot of negative narrative about our continent. People think of Africa as just one country - I’ve heard someone saying that they won’t go to Africa because something is going on in one of the countries! We need to build a new image divergent from the stereotypes, without denying the challenges, but amplifying Africa’s strengths and opportunities,” she said.
To offer a truthful image of the continent through Diane’s eyes, she has launched a website called VisiterLAfrique, highlighting the African continent through the arts, culture, and travel.
Together with a team behind VisiterLAfrique, Diane released a book ‘They call it Africa, we call it home’. Alongside seven travel stories, the book features one hundred photos taken by the Instagram community of VisiterLAfrique. Each image was selected by Koyo Koyoh, one of the most influential women in the art world, according to Artsy.
The boom of the African art market
In the last few years, contemporary African art is increasingly attracting the attention of investors worldwide.
A passionate art collector, Diane buys local artwork whenever she can. “African art can’t be on display only in London or New York. It needs to stay in Africa and serve our people. We have to create a generation of African art buyers. That’s why I started the Douala Art Fair to change that, to give an appropriate platform to artists to showcase their work to the public. We organise it every year, always in June.”
Following her frustration with the lack of representation of black artists in museums and galleries worldwide, Diane has built an Instagram community called @blackcollectors. “I want to encourage Black art collectors to use their influence on museum boards to increase the exposure for Black artists,” she said.
A message for young Africans and diaspora communities
When asked about her advice to the next generation, and what she’s learned through her own experiences, Diane shares a powerful message.
“In the field of ideas, everything depends on enthusiasm. In the real world, everything depends on perseverance,” she concludes. “And so, if an opportunity doesn’t knock on your door, then build the door. Sometimes you can feel lonely on your journey, but you have to stay focused on the light, no matter what.”
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