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For one Tiguidanke Camara, life was all about walking the runway and posing for photographs for several years. In what was an eventful and successful professional modeling career, the Guinean was particularly known for her poise and panache as she graced the covers of some notable fashion magazines and headlined major fashion events in Guinea and other parts of Africa.
Okay, maybe we can’t exactly say she was of the same mold as Gigi Hadid but technically, she wasn’t that far off having graced the cover of popular magazines like GQ and Marie Claire.
Life as a popular model in her homeland did come with its perks – a lot of glitz and glam. Her closet was laden with some of the finest pieces of couture and jewelry, at least by Guinean standards, and her bags/shoes collection were just as raid-worthy.
A day in the life of Tiguidanke Camara simply meant looking good and having pictures of you taken, and that’s about it. And, oh, did I forget to mention she took home a lot of money too? Well, she did. And she got a lot of free stuff too being something of a local celebrity. Now, who wouldn’t want that kind of life for life?
Apparently, no one else but Tiguidanke Camara herself who in the 2000s walked away from the runway and never returned. And why’d she have done that when it looked like she had everything going for her? Well, for starters, it turns out Tiguidanke had always been more comfortable rolling up her sleeves and literally getting her hands dirty as opposed to putting on flawless dresses and walking runways.
When she opted to abandon her modeling career for a less-glamouring job that involved literally getting her hands dirty – albeit, in a potentially expensive way – many people thought she had plunged into some kind of rut and was now dealing with a mid-life crisis that came far too early.
Now, though, she’s landed something big by soiling those very hands that once waved to adoring crowds. It began in the mud of Guingouine; a residential area west of Ivory Coast. She started out as something of a bounty hunter – looking for gold deposits with very little in the way of finesse. Today, she’s regarded as the first woman in West Africa to own a mine.
The former model currently holds the reins at Tigui Mining Group (TMG); an organisation that handles mining activities in West Africa for the most part, as well as some Agribusiness. Camara Diamond and Gold Trading Network; a subsidiary of TMG, also owns mining licenses in gold, diamond stone, and associated mineral deposits buried within a 356 square-kilometre piece of land in Guinea.
In her former line of work, clothes and jewelry were almost everything, and Tiguidanke did have the opportunity to adorn herself with some of the finest pieces, even though she didn’t get to keep all of them.
She was particularly taken by a piece of jewelry she had worn on a particular modeling assignment and when she asked questions, she was surprised that many of the jewels she had been wearing and displaying were, in fact, made-in-Africa, with her home country, Guinea, particularly a recurrent name in the jewelry business.
As the days rolled by, Tiguidanke was becoming even more interested in what she had newly discovered. And so, she began to pull strings. By working her contacts, she got in touch with some of the importers and learned that one of them had a license to mine precious stones in Guinea, her own backyard. Then, she pried into the matter even further.
“I thought, ‘If he could do it, I could do it.’ He is not even from Africa or Guinea, but he has been successful at doing this. Being a native, why can’t I also be successful?”, she remarked in an interview.
Information that she’d been able to gather told her a lot of money was needed to get the business started. So, she began to save towards that, although, her plans were derailed somewhat in 2001 when she had a set of twins and had to put everything besides family on hold for a while.
When she bounced back, she had one thing in mind; to set up her own mining business. After initially trying her hand in Cote d’Ivoire and achieving mixed results, she returned to Guinea in 2009 and established Camara Diamond & Gold Trading Network, following several consultations with geologists.
Getting the company started was one thing, keeping it going was a whole different ball game. And this was when tornado after tornado threatened to blow she and her dreams away.
First, she got involved with the wrong person for her choice of a business partner. A lot of funds went down the drain due to mismanagement and perhaps embezzlement, and in less than one year, the business was on the brink of collapse. This forced her to effectively ‘restart’ the business.
She needed more investors and more funds and she went searching for those. And luck did look her way when she found another business partner (still her business partner to this day) who shared her vision for the business and was willing to make sacrifices. That effectively put her mining business on the steep trajectory that it’s been coursing through for years now.
Being a woman in a field that is not popular amongst female entrepreneurs, Tiguidanke has had to put in twice the work to shun critics and dismantle stereotypes. And so far, she has thrived in the business.
Many thought her an also-ran that had come to punch above her weight and was inevitably going to get knocked out cold in the first round, but she’s proven all of them wrong. Today, she’s a force to reckon with in West Africa’s mining industry.
The early years of her business coincided with restiveness and violent protests in her homeland, Guinea. And then, there was the Ebola outbreak which did a number on the country’s economy.
But somehow, she’s managed to keep it together. The coming into power of a democratic government in 2010 did stabilize the country to some extent. Since then, her mining business has grown in leaps and bounds.
At the moment, Tiguidanke Camara has set her sights on expanding her projects across West Africa, and she continues to inspire many young African women who are looking to venture into entrepreneurship – especially less-trodden, male-dominated industries like hers.
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