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Judith Yah Sunday épouse Achidi, General Manager CAMTEL (Cameroon Telecom)
You’ve been named one of Cameroon's five most influential women of the year. How does that feel?
Well, to be nominated means that one has achieved something, and that makes me proud. I'm happy to be doing something remarkable.
Can you talk a little bit about the foundation created in the memory of your late husband, the former Prime Minister of Cameroon, Simon Achidi Achu?
We want to continue what my husband had been doing, what he believed in. He loved peace. We believe that with this foundation, we can also work towards building peace around our community, and our country. We also believe in educating underprivileged children. So we're going to look into education to see how to support the underprivileged, and help those that cannot pay their school fees. We also plan to work in the field of agriculture.
The foundation particularly emphasizes gender equality. Can you talk more about the importance of this?
Gender equality is important in Cameroon and the world as a whole. Traditionally, the view is that girls are meant to get married and have children, not necessarily to go to school. My husband believed in giving girls the opportunity to go to school, to empower themselves in a way that helps bring about gender equality.
Everybody should have the choice to do what they want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve. So by giving them the opportunity to go to school, we allow them to choose, to do what is good for them.
Can you talk about your own personal journey to reach your current position as CEO of CamTel (Cameroon Telecommunications)?
When I was younger, I believed I could bring something to help build my community and my country. As an internal auditor, my job was to make sure things were being done right. Usually in our internal audit department, specialists or experts end up having major positions in the organization. So that was my path. I worked as an internal auditor for 15 years, then later as regional director. I was appointed director of CAMTEL in five of Cameroon’s 10 regions. This gave me insight into how things worked, in the field and at headquarters.
Was there any fear when you got promoted? Or were you always, you know, “I know I'm gonna do it, it's gonna be great, no problem”?
Well, usually I'm very bold. I don't fear anything. So whenever I had a position, I just asked myself, “What does it take to make the best out of this position?’ And I just went for it. I did what was necessary to succeed.
Were you in charge mostly of men, or was it men and women?
It was a mix, but in terms of technicians and directors, we had more men. So it was quite funny, actually, because when I had meetings, I’d be the only lady in a conference room, wearing a pink or purple dress. They used to look at me and say, “She is our boss. How come?” Usually the director had a seat at the head of the table, but I decided not to sit there; I sat in the middle of the table instead. I always told them that it is not a seat that gives me the position. Wherever I sit, I am the director. And they would all smile.
Can you can you tell us what it means to you for CamTel to be at the center of innovation.
CamTel is the main state company that deals with telecommunication, and our Head of State said that we should drive the digital economy. So I believe I have an historic position, and I don't take it for granted. I have worked hard to make it possible for Cameroon to go digital by bringing innovation into CamTel. That's a privileged position.
Would you describe Cameroon as an equal or unequal society with respect to gender?
I would describe Cameroon as having gender-equality, in the sense that women have the same opportunities as men and there is no discrimination in school. In Cameroon, you have the opportunity to go to school, and if you want to hold a certain position, you are given the opportunity to do that as well.
Are there any challenges that you're facing there as a woman?
I really can’t say I feel any challenges as a woman, because I hold a position like CEO. Women who are not CEOs may face challenges, but from what I see, women are very strong emotionally. So, they face whatever challenges are in front of them.
As for women in tech, statistically there are definitely more men working in technology than women. Certainly it’s true at CamTel. Why do I think there are more men in technology? I believe it comes from school, where usually it is felt that women cannot do mathematics, so girls are encouraged to study literature or something. You wind up with a lot more men in technical fields.
Do you think there should be more women in technology?
I don't think it is a matter of wanting more women in technology, it's a matter of what you want to accomplish. We want to train young girls so they can do whatever they want, and be whatever they want.
What can a female leader bring to the table that is different from men?
I think a woman can bring a lot to the table. We are sensitive. We pay attention to details. If you go into the details, you make sure you do the things the right way. Women know that they need to keep their word, and to work twice as hard to prove themselves.
How does this apply to your work as a CEO?
As I said earlier, women are sensitive. So we want to make sure our collaborators work in a decent environment. We make sure they have all they need – in terms of comfort, health coverage, or whatever else they're supposed to have.
Also, as a woman, everybody's looking at you, so you work double-hard. I come to my office at 7:20 or 7:30 every morning, and don’t leave until 9:00 PM or 10:00 PM. My colleagues have to do the same: come early, leave late. And we've seen a lot of improvements in Cameroon Telecom in the last three years.
Who are your female role models?
My female role model was the late Queen Elizabeth II. She was a woman of substance. She dedicated her whole life to serving her people.
What three qualities do you personally value the most – and try to embrace in your own life in work?
First, humility. I believe it's important to be humble. Second, loyalty. Third, I believe in being resourceful, being of service and able to help people.
Huawei supported CamTel in building the largest data center in central Africa. What change will this make to the lives of local people, especially women?
Huawei is our strategic and technical partner. All the infrastructure of CamTel is being handled by Huawei. The data center they’ve built will definitely bring innovation to our country, and not only to women. We believe this will help bring all the content from Europe or America closer to the people in Cameroon, and in Africa as a whole. So it's a huge investment and a huge achievement.
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