An entrepreneurial journey from the diaspora: Diane Audrey Ngako

Rootencial is delighted to introduce Diane Audrey Ngako, a Cameroonian entrepreneur based in Douala. After spending her teenage and early adulthood years in Paris, Diane returned to her native Cameroon to build her business legacy.

She’s since launched Omenkart, a communications agency. She helped build VisiterLAfrique, a website dedicated to travel in Africa. And she organised the first-ever Douala Art Fair in June 2018, a convening of artists and cultural influencers that will now be replicated every year. In a wide array of different industries, Diane is already making her mark.

Both parents discouraged Diane from returning to Cameroon when she first expressed an interest in doing so, around her 21st birthday. Her father encouraged her to come back three or four times per year first, to come to understand the context before diving in – underscoring the importance of ‘acclimatisation’.

In Paris, Diane used to write about Africa for Le Monde, a leading French newspaper. She was also involved in a group of young African descendants organising conferences and events focused on Africa – passionate about Africa realising its full potential, and sharing their dreams about what the continent is and can become. Many of them also yearned to go back to the countries where they grew up, or where their families moved to France from.

Diane advises all to think carefully before making this leap. “People tell themselves ‘I was not born in Africa, but Africa is born in me’, just because they like to eat fufu and use our slang! I can see a lot of my group were people born in France, seeking a connection but who still really knew nothing about daily life in Africa. You have to ask yourself, ‘do I really want to come back?’ Don’t just go home because you want more money. You have to be committed to coming and making things happen.” Many countries, including Cameroon, don’t allow dual citizenship – you are either French or Cameroonian. For anyone, this can be a big decision to make.

 

You have to come back and accept that, yeah, I was born here in Cameroon but actually I’m very Parisian! It’s a fact… You have to recognise that you grew up in a different society with a different code, and now you have to learn about this code. I want to learn about my culture, about my people, and to integrate here.

But Diane felt like she “had a hole” inside her, and needed to go back to the country of her birth – she saw her role as being a changemaker for the next generation, building a new Cameroon. She finally moved back when she was 25, four years after she’d first considered it.

The cultural differences between France and Cameroon are vast, Diane discovered. Jokes that elicit laughter in Paris can shock people in Douala. “You have to come back and accept that, yeah, I was born here in Cameroon but actually I’m very Parisian! It’s a fact… You have to recognise that you grew up in a different society with a different code, and now you have to learn about this code. I want to learn about my culture, about my people, and to integrate here.”

There’s a lot of work to be done to strengthen the relationship between Africans in the diaspora and on the continent, Diane says. “Those living in the diaspora must not see themselves as being ‘higher’ than people on the ground – they’re not. Sometimes those living abroad try to make those still in Africa feel small. They visit and say things like ‘Oh that’s cool what you’re doing here, but Paris is amazing… Oh, yeah, but in New York they did that like 15 or 20 years ago.’ No, we are supposed to walk together and learn from each other.”

I’m inspired by my friends, and I tell them so! I try to take care of them. Focus on the people around you. We are the sum of the people around us

Diane’s own parents straddle this connection between the diaspora and the continent, with her mother in France and her father in Cameroon. They are her main source of inspiration; she praises her dad’s humility and dedication. “My mother is a real go-getter” Diane says. “She has a goal, and she goes and gets it, something that I learned from her. I’m very grateful for that.”

Asked about her advice to the next generation, and what she’s learned through her own experiences, Diane underscores the importance of good friendships. “I’m inspired by my friends, and I tell them so! I try to take care of them. Focus on the people around you. We are the sum of the people around us.”

Diane ends by sharing three powerful messages to young African and African diaspora communities to remember:

    • Even in the darkest places there’s light, underscoring the importance of always keeping eyes on the light. No matter what;
    • “If opportunity doesn’t knock on your door, build the doora message which Diane says has always tried to keep in mind in her entrepreneurial journey to make things happen;
    • “Don’t be afraid to create a great company, but not a big company, emphasising the importance of taking the time to create quality, as being a big company doesn’t guarantee being a great one.

    Rootencial has been honoured to interview Diane and learn about her experiences as an African in the diaspora, returning to her country of origin. We see value in these experiences as it is just an example of the existing opportunities to transform the Continent with the involvement of both its African populations and its diaspora.

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