Pamela Nkeng, the new civil engineering and construction player in Cameroon
Douala, 15 December, 2017, it’s 12.30 pm and Pamela Nkeng has agreed to meet me in Bali, a working-class district of town. She wants to celebrate the recent opening of a restaurant, “Café Rouge”, that she conceived from start to finish. “I thought of everything, from the layout to the decoration and the colours. I’m so happy to see what the 3D plans I created in my office have become”, she says.
And she has every right to be proud; it’s a wonderful place serving excellent food.
After she got her baccalaureate at Joss de Douala high school in Cameroon, Pamela flew to the French city of Lille, where she studied architecture and civil engineering. As a child, she would accompany her father on construction sites. Her future career was therefore obvious given that she grew up alongside architects and labourers. Once she had graduated, she started out working for the city in a housing improvement programme. However, this would only ever be a short-term position, as she admits she always intended to return to her home country of Cameroon.
In August 2012, she took an Air France flight to Yaoundé. It has been 5 years since Pamela Nkeng returned home to run the Bak’s Engineering family business, which specialises in civil engineering and construction. Like more and more young African graduates in the diaspora, Pamela Nkeng chose to return to her country of birth. “Generally speaking, returning home isn’t always easy, because we have to readapt to our environment. And often when you’ve arrived from elsewhere people expect even more of you; you’re tested to see if you can cope. Professionally, I have to admit that it isn’t always easy to establish yourself in a male-dominated field such as civil engineering, and it’s even more difficult when you’re young. Your point of view is always challenged, your authority questioned, etc. You often need to raise the tone”, she says.
None of this deterred her, far from it. Indeed it just made her more motivated. She thus submitted bid after bid until her first major success: the construction of a service station for Tradex, which specialises in the marketing of oil products in Cameroon. In around 8 months, she very proudly delivered the completed facility. She then built stores for telephone giant Huawei. “I also like to construct homes, individual buildings and small projects, because you’re closer to people. You can meet their expectations and requirements even more precisely”, Pamela adds.
In Cameroon, civil engineering activity mostly takes place between December and June because the weather is more conducive (dry season); the teams spend less time working at a slower pace, unlike the rainy season when work frequently has to stop because of heavy downpours: “That’s the reason why I developed my interior designer activity, so work can continue throughout the year. During the dry half of the year I’m outside, and during the rainy half of the year I’m inside redesigning layouts”.
“When I get to a location to look at the interior design, my civil engineering eyes help me ensure that construction work has been successfully undertaken and completed, which is very reassuring for my clients – bearing in mind that many of them don’t properly understand this activity”, Pamela Nkeng remarks.
It’s 3 pm and we’ve just finished our lunch, Pamela has to rush off because she has an appointment with a client who wants to construct a building in Yaoundé. Our conversation, although very interesting, has to come to an end, and as usual listening to her has made me want to believe, dream and succeed.