In high school, I happened to be good friends with two amazing actors who went on to Julliard and Tisch acting schools, respectively, in New York. Working for a writer in New York, I spent two summers with them and their friends, meeting some of the most promising young singers, actors and dancers in the city. Zigoto Tchaya Tchameni, a prolific all around entertainer and artist that I became close friends with this month in Yaounde, Cameroon, is easily as talented as any of the performers I met in New York. However, being born in Cameroon instead of America, Zigoto got the short end of resources and support when it comes to the arts and entertainment. To me, this juxtaposition embodies the challenges that young African entrepreneurs with great talents and ideas face.
The most ambitious project Zigoto has undertaken is to create a Cameroonian film industry out of thin air. Cameroon's neighbor, Nigeria, is famous for producing more films that any other country besides India, but no other Sub-Saharan African country (besides South Africa) has made inroads into the industry. Zoomer's Pictures, Zigoto's company, envisions the Cameroonian film industry as the 'art house' of West African film making, focusing on high quality, thought provoking pictures instead of exclusively on commercializing their content. This is smart, considering that Cameroon has less than 20% of the population of Nigeria and far less of a global reputation.
Zigoto assembled the Zoomers team for our group one night in Yaounde, where we saw a viewing of their premier film, Taboo. Taboo is a film that says a lot, and illustrates the challenging topics of marijuana smoking, lesbianism and more. The movie seems to have successfully struck the nerves of many Cameroonians to whom these issues cause significant tension. However, Zigoto and the Zoomers team recognize the importance of getting into a debate about what the Cameroonian culture values. That's what I like about their work.
In terms of the international networking that unfortunately seems to be obligatory for African entrepreneurs, Zigoto has done quite well for himself, linking up with the British Council, as well as with supporters in Belgium and France (covering both sides of the bilingual support available in Cameroon), but I am certain that Zigoto is only just getting started with what he has to contribute to Cameroonian culture and business.
When I got home from Cameroon, I started catching up with the TED Global talks from last month's landmark conference in Arusha. By far, my favorite talk was by Hans Rosling, a international health professor from Stockholm. At the end of the talk, he elegantly pointed out (through a on-stage sword swallowing demonstration!) that the end of any people's struggle to make life better is not economic development, for this is simply a means. The end, rather, is creating and engaging in culture, the stuff that gives our lives meaning. In this sense, Zigoto and his team at Zoomers are doing some of the most important work taking place in Cameroon.