Do you ever dream great? Oftentimes, greatness comes from the desire to do extraordinary things. It may simply be the urge to reach beyond the status quo by relentlessly chasing your dreams. But to become great, one must choose to be great. It might just be a matter of living as one would never die. Desire; basic desire could be your tool. Meet Dr. Zachee Pouga Tinhaga, the very first Cameroonian born and one of the very rare Africans to be selected among the top 40 lawyers under the age of 40 in all of America.
"My academic journey is a piece of fascinating history. I topped my class since the Elementary school of Kahn. After my primary school diploma and with no secondary school education offered in Kahn village, coupled with my parents’ inability to pay for my secondary education outside the village, I stayed home and my dream for secondary education stopped. Thereafter, the government opened the CES of Songmbengue, a neighboring village. I took the entrance exam to that school and passed, and I was one of the inaugural students there,” Dr. Zachee Pouga recounted with unquenchable nostalgia.
“I was born in Douala Cameroon on October 28, 1983, the 6th of 10 children from my beautiful mother Josephine Ngo Loten, and my wise father Tinhaga Francois. But very quick after my birth, we left Douala and relocated to the village, where I spent my early years, attending the Elementary School of Kahn in the Sanaga Maritme Division. I have always considered myself to be very lucky to have been born in a family, which though very poor, was and continues to be extremely loving, caring and in perfect harmony with each other. I do currently have three brothers (Luc, Gustave and Paul) and four sisters (Marie, Julienne, Francoise and Josephine).” Turning Point “My University studies start at the Faculty of law and political sciences at the University of Douala.
While serving on several student leadership positions, I managed to continue my academic excellence there, obtaining my degree ranked as Vice Major; and then obtaining my Master I there, in Business law. In April 2009, I was lucky enough to get a visa to travel to the United States to continue my education. Speaking very little English then, I started at Wayne State University in Detroit, learning English and in just three months, I was able to acquire great English proficiency.” Breaking the myths “That same year, having developed a deep interest in International tax law, I attempted what most thought was unthinkable: I applied for admission at the University of Michigan Law School, in their International Tax Law LLM program, the University of Michigan being the best public University in all of America. I completed my LLM from Michigan law school in the top of my class (4.000 GPA).
During my LLM at Michigan, I developed a very innovative theory and policy for the restructuration of international tax law. The faculty at Michigan law school was so impressed with my creative theory that they offered me a full scholarship to develop my theory and policy into a doctoral dissertation.” The harvest is ripe “I first worked at a regional giant law firm in Ford Field called Bodman LLP; then I spent a few months in Cameroon as a special counsel for CAC International, helping negotiate very high level contracts.
My professional journey fully takes off when I was hired full time lawyer in the iconic Manhattan office of Ernst & Young. After 3 years working at Ernst & Young in Manhattan, I was presented with another exciting opportunity to join the international law firm Gide, in their offices in Manhattan, New York. I am still currently affiliated with Gide, and we currently have over 500 lawyers globally.
I still work and represent very large multinational companies mostly American and European multinational companies. I help my clients navigate tax laws and tax treaties around the world, planning, mitigating, optimizing, and structuring their tax positions and postures around the globe.” Facing America “The profession of Lawyer is arguably the most prestigious profession in America. However, blacks are very rare in that prestigious profession. According to the statistics from the American Bar Association, just about 4% of lawyers in America are black.
The good side of this is that this is America, fortunately. And here in America, talent, expertise, and work ethic are still given the respect they deserve. Unlike most other majority white countries where a black lawyer even with expertise will only be seen as a black lawyer and nothing more; here in America, generally, a black lawyer with expertise will be generally respected.
Of course, discrimination exists everywhere, black people are discriminated against in almost all majority white societies. However, I would prefer to live in a society where there is also very high value attached to hard work and expertise. The bad thing about being a black lawyer in an overwhelmingly white profession is that it is sometime hard to relate; it is hard to find people who look like you and whom you can immediately trust, even with my fellow black lawyers, African American, there is also a disconnect as an African.” Out of home with family forever? “I did not chose to be born in Cameroon, I did not decide to be born African, I was born Cameroonian, I was born African. So I am Cameroon, I am Africa, and Africa and Cameroon are me. It is very sad that most Cameroonian talents feel like they have to leave Cameroon in order to express their full potential.
I am highly indebted to my beautiful and lovely wife, Kathryn Pouga Tinhaga. She was born in Hamilton Michigan and she is the first in her family to go to University. A very brilliant student, she holds two Masters: one in Social Work and another in Public Administration (specializing in non-profit leadership). She currently works in the Manhattan office of the tech giant, Salesforce. She is my rock, my very special one!”