She was perhaps the most unusual, and certainly one of the most interesting of a galaxy of speakers at the OECD Africa Forum. Céline Victoria Fotso is the founder and director of Ja Wanda Magazine, and she is determined to live the African dream. Stephen Williams learned more.
Among all the grey suits at the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Africa Forum, held at the Paris headquarters of this “club of rich nations”, one speaker stood out. That was Céline Victoria Fotso who, with much skill and determination, has launched her extraordinary online Ja Wanda Magazine, and travelled from her home in Yaounde, Cameroon, to join the Forum.
To be fair, there were not just grey suits at the Forum. Amongst the statesmen, diplomats and academics, such as the OECD president, Angel Gurria, and the prime minister of Togo, Arthème Séléagodji Ahoomey-Zunu, was the former-president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo attended in his traditional, flowing agbada robes.
Many of the female speakers and delegates, such as Bank of Industry managing director Evelyn Oputu, were colourfully attired, too. And that must have made Mme. Fotso very happy, as her magazine covers African fashion (as well as the continent’s culture, entertainment, music, cinema and hi-tech). “We talk about Africa and Africa in a positive way: dynamic Africa, young Africa, the Africa that is difficult to find in the traditional media,” she told New African.
Investigating further, I asked her whether the magazine was actually a business. “Yes,” she says. “I’m working hard on it in order for it to become a viable business, but it is hard. We still have the challenge locally of accessing the Internet. We really need to have a better connectivity. Today, it is very slow and it costs quite a lot too. We need quality, affordable broadband.”
However, whatever the challenges that Fotso is facing, you get the impression that she’ll overcome them. Chief amongst these is generating revenue, which for an online magazine means attracting visitors in order to interest potential advertisers. As Fotso explains: “That would be the main difficulty right now, the access to the Internet.”
Fotso began her project from a single, simple Facebook page that went viral. The page has attracted more than 25,000 friends and people were continually asking her to set up a dedicated website. Hence she decided to launch Je Wanda Magazine on a shoestring budget. “From the beginning I knew that I wanted to promote Africa, to show Africa in a way that few can imagine who are used to a diet of war, poverty and disease,” Fotso says. “I’m reaching out and talking to Africans at home and those in the African diaspora.”
But don’t make the mistake that Fotso is just a webmaster (or should that be webmistress?). “Yes. I’m definitely not a webmaster. I like to be creative, to design, to work with photographers. I want to
give Africans what Africans want, what they dream about. There is an African dream. There used to be an American dream and we young Africans say that there is now an African dream and that African dream would be to own a nice car, have a nice house and nice clothes and to travel the world. I’m not sure I will get to see the Africa I dream about, but I still want to fight for it even if it takes 50 years or 100 years.”
So why, exactly, did Fotso choose to take part in the OECD’s Africa Forum, a Forum that took as its title Promoting Youth Employment?
“I was honoured to be invited to participate in it, and it confirms to me that there is definitely something positive going on with Africa. I think that the Forum’s focus is appropriate because I believe that what I, and others like me, are doing will actually result in additional employment.
“When I see companies like Google or Yahoo, that’s what I dream about, building a company that will create jobs.
“In 2013, hopefully, we will go into print, we will expand, and that will bring more employment opportunities and bring us a step closer to realising my Africa dream.”