While the private national sector counts a few Congolese companies, women try more and more entrepreneurship in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They lead 23% of the recorded companies, and they generate 70% of the household incomes. Emilie Ngomora Nsimire is one of them, and she leads… a construction company. A men’s job, you said?
By Dounia Ben Mohamed
Who remembered that at the beginning, the Congolese society was matrilineal? During the 12th century, Woot Makup, Kuba’s king, makes his daughter’s children his only heirs, without considering his sons. His kingdom became a matrilineal society where women play a significant role as pillars of the community. One of them ran the country, the queen Ngokady. The history and the oral tradition have many tales and stories about the role women played in political, economic, social, and cultural sectors. Then the men took back their power, relegating women to the background. They even transformed her into a war weapon. More than 500 000 women have been sexually aggressed since 1996. But as their elders, Congolese women are taking back the power today. Still, they are not very represented on the national political stage, but they slowly access the private sector’s highest functions. Helping to shake things up in a country that is just waking up from decades of inaction. Starting by making the mentalities evolve.
“In our culture, we used to see the man bang his fists on the table, and women keep quiet. One day it is important to stand up. I did it!”
“In our culture, we used to see the man bang his fists on the table, and women keep quiet. One day it is important to stand up. I did it !” And today, we find Emilie Ngomora Nsimire on a construction site, next to the Congo River, just outside of Kinshasa. Walking among trucks and backhoes, she remains a woman until the end of her nails. Impeccable brushing and high heels, she’s in her element. But she started in another sector. “I was working in marketing, she recalls with a smile. But I always liked this sector. One day, friends proposed me to support them financially on the market they won in the east Kassaï. I had the money. I said no problems. I end up in a lost part of the forest, total black, with snakes, to bring some equipment. But I went through it. If men could do it, I could too!” When she came back in 2004, she created her construction company, the Générale des constructions et d’assainissement (GCA), without really knowing anything in this area. “But I was passionate, I learn with classes on the internet, read a lot, asked questions to my friends… Today I know how to lead a construction site by myself, correct defects, lead men…” Even if everything is not easy. “To be taken seriously, I have a discipline, a rightness, not give up to corruption, have competent teams.” Leading 20 employees, and even sometimes more than a hundred depending on the contract, Emilie tries to convince women to follow her path. “I’m always looking to recruit women. And I find some. They are meticulous, voluntary. Women are too often marginalized! They have to dare, make themselves known, and create.”
“In the whole country, we build. Roads, bridges, buildings. Things are going forward, and it is giving us openings”
From private individuals to local communities, Emilie gets private and public contracts. After her work on the sanitation of the Congolese capital for the municipality, she’s subcontracting the landscaping project outside of the city, on the Congo River’s side, as a partner of the Chinese company Copec. “I’m in the construction sector, civil engineering, sanitation. It is a dynamic sector. In the whole country, we build. Roads, bridges, buildings. Things are going forward, and it is giving us openings. Now the government needs to value Congolese SMEs. It started by easing administrative procedures. When I started, it was a headache. Today, within three days, it’s done. Our problems now are bank guarantees. With the new law on procurement, we need bank guarantees. When you start, it is not easy. It favors big companies and not SMEs.” Nevertheless, she recalls, SMEs make men and women of this country live, not multinationals…