Guinean former fash­ion model digs into west African min­ing

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

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 mod­el­ing for jew­elry 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'

Ca­mara had to dig deep into sav­ings-earned on run­ways for big in­ter­na­tional fash­ion la­bels and jew­elry brands and in pro­mot­ing the wares of lux­ury de­sign houses-to launch her Tigui Min­ing Group in 2010 and ac­quire two li­censes to prospect for gold in her home­land. Then last year she fol­lowed up with a min­ing con­ces­sion to look for gold in Ivory Coast, which she has turned into "my base in west Africa". "I'm the owner of a min­ing com­pany that be­longs to me 100 per­cent," says Tigui's founder, stress­ing that she is a con­ti­nen­tal rar­ity, "apart from South Africa, where there are other women bosses, but mostly in part­ner­ships."

In Guin­gouine, in­hab­i­tants have started to dream of the big changes that could ben­e­fit the vil­lage if the site proves to be rich in gold and a mine is opened. "Guin­gouine means hap­pi­ness (in the lo­cal Ya­couba lan­guage), but we lack ev­ery­thing," says vil­lage chief Alphonse Doh, clad in his tra­di­tional blue and white robe. "The school of six classes is a shed with­out elec­tric­ity. Women in labor have to be taken in wheel­bar­rows 10 kilo­me­ters (six miles) to the near­est health cen­ter," Doh ex­plains. For the chief, open­ing a mine could trans­form the lives of thou­sands of peo­ple. Apart from the po­ten­tial eco­nomic gains, he also hopes that Tigu­idanke Ca­mara may serve as a suc­cess­ful role model in a re­gion where more than 80 per­cent of girls are il­lit­er­ate.

In the mean­time, the "min­ing lady" has en­cour­aged the women of the vil­lage to form a co­op­er­a­tive, pro­vid­ing them with agri­cul­tural equip­ment and two so­lar pan­els. "We are very pleased with this co­op­er­a­tion," says Elise Kpan, who runs the Women of Guin­gouine as­so­ci­a­tion. The co­op­er­a­tive has en­abled vil­lagers "to place their farm­ing pro­duce on the mar­ket eas­ily and to make money".

'Fu­ture growth sec­tor'

The min­ing sec­tor, dom­i­nated by the pro­duc­tion of man­ganese (two mines) and gold (five mines) has been grow­ing for a decade in Ivory Coast. Cur­rent ac­tiv­ity ac­counts for five per­cent of the gross do­mes­tic prod­uct of the coun­try, which also has di­a­monds, iron, nickel, baux­ite and cop­per. Women are poorly rep­re­sented in Ivo­rian min­ing, where they ac­count for just 112 of some 6,000 jobs directly in­volved in the sec­tor and about 400 of the 30,000 con­nected sec­ondary jobs.

Con­cerned women have bonded to im­prove this state of af­fairs. The newly launched Femici as­so­ci­a­tion pools the re­sources of women pro­fes­sion­als as di­verse as ge­ol­o­gists, drivers of heavy in­dus­trial ve­hi­cles, lawyers and en­vi­ron­men­tal spe­cial­ists. "Min­ing ac­tiv­ity is a fu­ture growth sec­tor that will at­tract many women," says Chris­tine Logbo-Kossi, di­rec­tor of the Pro­fes­sional Group of Mines in Ivory Coast, the only em­ploy­ers' or­ga­ni­za­tion in the in­dus­try, founded in 2008. "If I flour­ish in the min­ing sec­tor, it's be­cause I have ben­e­fit­ted from the wel­come that men gave me," Ca­mara says. Asked what qual­ity most helps women suc­ceed in busi­ness, she is quick to say: "Pas­sion." — AFP

TMG Tigui Min­ing Com­pany owner Tigu­idanke Ca­mara (sec­ond right) and her em­ploy­ees search for gold and other min­er­als in a sand­bank in the for­est of Guin­gouine.

Em­ploy­ees of TMG Tigui Min­ing Com­pany owned by Tigu­idanke Ca­mara (sec­ond right) search for gold and other min­er­als in a sand­bank in the for­est of Guin­gouine, a small town in the Lo­gouale lo­cal­ity, near Man, western Ivory Coast. — AFP photos

TMG Tigui Min­ing Com­pany owner Tigu­idanke Ca­mara speaks dur­ing an in­ter­view in Guin­gouine.

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