A woman with a man’s job

Emilie Ngomora Nsimire : « Women must dare, they must trust themselves and create »

While the fabric of business is still underdeveloped, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), more and more women are getting into entrepreneurship. In 2017, they run more of 20% of registered companies in the country. And they generate 70% of the household income. Meet one of them, Emilie Ngomora Nsimire … At the head of a building and civil engineering company (BTP). A man’s job?

Who remembers that in its early days the Congolese firm was matrilineal? In the twelfth century, Woot Makup, king of the Kuba, made the children of his daughter his only heirs, to the detriment of his sons. His kingdom became a society where women have played a major role, as a pillar of society and main heirs. One of them, Queen Ngokady, ruled the Bantu kingdom for a while.

The story, particularly the oral tradition, contains tales and stories that reflect the role played by women in the Kongo kingdom in the past, both politically, economically, socially and culturally. Then the man took back the power relegating the woman to the back. Worse, he made her a weapon of war. More than 500,000 women have been sexually assaulted since 1996 in the DRC. But like their elders, Congolese women are regaining power today. If they are only very few present in the national political arena, they slowly but surely reach the highest positions in the private and entrepreneurial sector. This movement has contributed to shaking things up, traditions and change mentalities, in a country that is barely recovering from decades of lethargy.

« In our culture, we are too familiar with seeing the man getting up, banging on the table and the women shut up. One day you have to dare to get up. Me, I dared! »

In our culture, we are too familiar with seeing the man getting up, banging on the table and the women shut up. One day you have to dare to get up. Me, I dared! Exclaims Emilie Ngomora Nsimire. We met her on a construction site located on the banks of the Congo River, at the gates of Kinshasa. If she moves without difficulty between the trucks and the excavators, she has nonetheless remained a woman till the end of nails. Brushing impeccable and heels to the feet, she is, in the middle of the work, in her element. A sector she was not made for, at the beginning. «I started in marketing,” she recalls with a laugh. «But I have always been interested in building and civil engineering. One day, some friends asked to support them financially for a contract they had won in Kasaï Occidental. Since I had money, I did not hesitate. I found myself in a lost place in the forest, in the dark, with snakes, where it was necessary to deploy equipment. But I did it. If men could resist, then me too! On her return in 2004, she created in 2004 her own construction company, la Générale des constructions et d’assainissement (GCA), with no real expertise in the domain. «But I was passionate, I took classes online, I read a lot, I asked my friends questions … Today, I know how to manage a site myself, correct defects, lead men …»

Administrative procedures… a real headache

Even if everything is not always easy, she admits. «To be taken seriously, I imposed myself a discipline, a righteousness:, not to succumb to corruption, to surround myself with competent teams …» Result, today, Emilie Ngomora Nsimire wins today many contracts either in the private sector or public. At the head of twenty full-time employees, but up to several hundred employees depending on contracts, Emilie tries, through her experience, to convince other women to follow her path. «On a very contract, I look for and find women to recruit. And I find it. They are conscientious, voluntary. Women are too often marginalized! They must dare, trust themselves and create.»

After working on the sanitation of the Congolese capital, on behalf of the municipality, she is currently subcontracting development projects on the outskirts of the city, on the banks of the Congo River, as a partner of the Chinese company. Copec, mandated by the National Agency of major Works. «I am in civil engineering and sanitation. These are very dynamic sectors today in the DRC. Construction sites are multiplying throughout the territory that needs roads, bridges, buildings. Things are moving forward and enable new development opportunities for my company. The State must now value SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises). Facilitations in administrative procedures have already been put in place. When I started, it was a real headache. Today, in three days, it’s sorted out. Our problem now is bank guarantees. With the new law on procurement, banks need to be more involved with SMEs. When you start, it’s not easy and the absence of a financial guarantee favors the big companies. Yet, she recalls, it is the SMEs that support the men and women of this country. It is not the multinationals …