Leaving behind chic gowns and catwalks to stomp in the mud in heavy work boots, Guinean former fashion model Tiguidanke Camara has made herself west Africa’s first woman mine owner. In the small forest village of Guingouine, in the west of Ivory Coast, Camara runs a team of 10 geologists and labourers who are probing the soil for gold deposits.
She readily wades into a mucky pond to help take laboratory samples. “When I was a model, I showed off for the jewellers. They have licences in Africa to provide their precious stones,” says Camara amid a swarm of gnats, still youthful and trim in her 40s.
She does not recall any macho male resistance to her rise in an industry almost devoid of women, though bemused men have been prompted on occasion to ask whose assistant she might be. “When it got too much one day, I had to produce my CEO’s ID badge!” she protests mildly.
Camara says that modelling for jewellery firms “roused my curiosity. I started to ask myself questions. What if African men or women took charge of business in the mining sector?” “I’m the answer to that question,” declares the entrepreneur, who has been ranked by France’s weekly Jeune Afrique among the 50 most influential businesswomen of Francophone Africa.
Inspired to join forces, she and a number of other women last year created an association of Women in the Mining Network of Ivory Coast (Femici by its French acronym), while Camara is also seen as an example to village girls.
– ‘We lack everything’ –
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