An international education can open doors to global opportunities, including lucrative multinational corporate careers few would turn down. But for Kah Walla, a Cameroonian national who studied on two continents, staying abroad was never an option.
“For me it was very clear. I wanted to be part of the larger African community. I’m very connected to my country, I’m connected to my family, and I knew that whatever business I did or contribution I was going to make, it had to have an impact on the larger community.”
After completing her studies at Howard University in Washington, D.C., Kah returned to Cameroon and got a job in management consulting. Six years of experience built the foundation she needed to start her own firm, STRATEGIES!, and she committed to holding the company to competitive international standards. Her business would compete not only with the best in Africa, but the best in the world. Today, her Douala office attracts clients from Africa, Europe, the United States, South America, and Asia. The staff offers consulting on leadership, management and marketing to multinational firms, international development organizations and local governments.
The success of her company parallels Kah’s achievement of a lifelong goal: to be an African model of success that is feasible. To be an African, to be a woman, and to be working at a standard of excellence many in the country believe is out of reach. Most Cameroonians struggle to make ends meet. Forty percent of the population lives on less than one dollar a day. Half of the country lacks access to electricity or clean drinking water.
Kah envisions a better life for her fellow Cameroonians. “We don’t have a lack of resources. We don’t have a lack of capacity. We have a very strong deficiency in leadership; in good, strong leadership.”
Leadership — as an entrepreneur, as an activist, and as an elected official — comes naturally to Kah, informed by a simple belief in people that they will build systems that reflect their integrity and dignity.
In 2007, she was elected to the Douala City Council where she has concentrated on transparency and sound budget management.
In 2008 — in collaboration with Vital Voices — Kah launched a pilot program with women sellers in Douala’s Sandaga Market, one of the largest produce hubs in Central Africa. She saw that while women account for nearly 70 percent of market traders, they had virtually no voice in operations. Through the program, women sellers formed an association to advocate collectively — for improved conditions, elimination of double-taxation and for the creation of a level playing field for women in the marketplace.
The market project is part of a grassroots strategy that has become a hallmark of Kah’s advocacy for change locally, and now, at the national level. Only two presidents have served Cameroon since independence in 1961, and the electoral process is widely criticized for lacking transparency. Since 2009, Kah has led a campaign to repair the legitimacy and technical ability of the independent electoral commission. To advance the agenda, she launched Cameroon Ô’Bosso, a citizen movement to register voters and advocate for 11 separate criteria of electoral reform.
On October 23, 2010, Kah Walla officially announced her candidacy for the presidential election of 2011. If elected, she will become the second woman to lead an African nation. She is running on the campaign slogan, The Time is Now!